Hidden Treasures of the Mariner's Museum: A Fine Collection of East Asian Prints

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I am ashamed to say that though I grew up in the Hampton Roads area, I had not visited the Mariner’s Museum until this past spring. I am not terribly interested in boats or maritime equipment, and so always assumed that there would be nothing of interest for me at the Museum. I could not have been more wrong. Aside from the beautiful ship models of all shapes and sizes, the Museum has all sorts of maritime paraphernalia, from old compasses and teapots to uniforms and interactive exhibits. What I was most surprised and excited about, however, was the Museum’s Asian print collection. Hidden away in storage lies about 100 Asian prints, mostly Japanese, dating from the 19th to the 20th centuries. Though the prints are all connected by a reference to maritime themes, they often vary widely in content. From illustrations of Commodore Matthew Perry, who was the first American to enter Japan in the 1850’s, to descriptions about foreign ships and vibrantly colored pictures of everyday Japanese life, the Mariner’s Museum’s prints give the viewer a glimpse into Japanese history from their perspectives, as well as providing visually appealing pieces of art.

Perhaps the most historically interesting pieces in the print collection are the Japanese prints concerning the arrival of Commodore Perry between 1852 and 1854. Perry’s arrival signaled an end to Japan’s long period of self-imposed isolation, and the technology he brought with him, as well as Western clothing and cultural customs, were new to the Japanese, fostering much interest among them. In order to document these new sights, as well as explain them to the general public, Japanese prints such as the one below were created.   Read more

A New Addition to the Library’s Collection!

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Auld Lang Syne B41 F7 Samaria

Hello readers,

We here at the Library have some exciting news: the Library has been fortunate enough to receive a donated collection of cruise ship paraphernalia from Mr. and Mrs. Beazley. The collection is quite extensive, and includes thousands of items ranging from ship plans to cruise schedules and everything in between. There is a good bit of history in the Beazley Collection, with some of the items dating to the early 20th century. Among the objects in this collection are a set of items I think worth mentioning particularly: menus.   Read more

Food for Thought Series: What a Menu Can Teach About Art

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We usually think of menus in purely functional terms, right? It is a sort of small booklet one gets in a restaurant that lists the possible foods we could order. Ocean liner menus, however, strive to be more than just functional; they are part of a whole vacation experience and therefore play more than just a purely functional role on a cruise. These menus must enhance the guests’ experiences on the voyage and impress them (as presumably the rest of the cruise does). Ocean liner menus are, in effect, part of the “whole package.” Because of this, ocean liner menus, especially older ones, were decorated, aesthetically pleasing pieces of art, as well as menus. The menus in the Beazley Collection exemplify this idea with their often colorful designs:

This menu cover, for example, from the ocean liner Bremen (1929-1939), is like a work of art unto itself. Can these menus then function as more than just utilitarian objects that showcase food? Yes, they can and did. The menu covers often offered the viewer valuable insight into a society’s cultural or aesthetic values.   Read more