Captain Ahab, Ishmael, and Starbuck, Oh, My! 

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One of the best things about working at a museum with such a vast collection is that I get to work on a variety of projects about so many different topics. I have had the opportunity to be involved with large, long-term exhibits; one-day exhibitions; outreach activities; and educational programs. It’s hard to choose which one is my favorite, because each provided different experiences and interactions with our visitors. But as I have been reminiscing recently, there is one event that prominently stands out, making it one of my favorite days at the Museum thus far.

Such a Great Day!

In March 2019, a school group asked to use our Museum to host a 24-hour read-a-thon of Moby Dick. Yep, you read that right. A class of juniors and seniors spent a full 24 hours (supervised!) at The Mariners’ Museum, camping out overnight, taking turns reading out loud passages from Herman Melville’s classic novel, first published in 1851. This event was led by a wonderful group of AP English high school students of the Norfolk Academic Guild. They came up with the idea and contacted the Museum; and we were all eager to be involved.    Read more

Privateering and the Battle of Groton Heights

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Whaleship in New London, oil painting by D. Walter Blake. QO 25/1933.0213.000001

Sometimes it takes just one object in the Collection to open up a world of exciting stories. In this case, an oil painting caught my eye the other day and reminded me of a history that excited me when I first learned about it.

During the American Revolution the Americans had a fledgling Navy, made up of the small fleets that each state could muster together. These ships were not able to match the well-trained, battle-hardened British Navy, so the Americans turned to privateers to help in the fight. A privateer was a private citizen who owned a ship and offered to arm that ship to fight against the British merchants. They had a better chance of success fighting merchants than a ship of the line, plus we needed the merchants’ cargo and supplies. In return the privateers received a portion of the money from the sale of the captured prize ship and the goods it carried. The profits could be high, but so was the danger. Whether these sailors were pirates or not completely depended on the paperwork and whose side of the war you were on.   Read more

A Look at the Unknown and Hope for the Future: The Artwork of Shipyard and Museum Staff Artist Thomas C. Skinner

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CRUISER USS PORTSMOUTH AT PIER, oil on canvas 1945, by THOMAS C. SKINNER 1956.47.04

Thomas Catlett Skinner’s office was a loft overlooking the dry dock at the Newport News shipyard.  Frequently he would gather his tools and wander through the yard, stopping to observe and document the many scenes unfolding before him.  A vat of molten steel.  Red hot metal beams being bent into shape.  Yards of canvas transformed into sails.  The welcome respite of a lunch break.  The intensity of a foreman’s face.  A ship being refitted for the next voyage.  Scenes that were rarely seen by anyone outside the shipyard and activities that many people never knew existed.

Skinner’s tools were paint, pencils, canvas and paper.  His loft workspace shook with the unending pounding from riveting hammers and vibrations from heavy machinery.  And when he set up his easel beside the piers, dry docks and workers, he was surrounded by noise and dirt and exposed to the fickleness of the weather.   Yet despite the adversity, he created amazing drawings and paintings that transport the viewer back in time.  His body of work contains striking, colorful images that make it easy to imagine all the noises in the shipyard, the sound and feeling of waves acting on a ship and the harsh sounds of battle. Today, as part of our 90th Anniversary celebration, we take a look at the Mariners’ Museum staff artist, Thomas Skinner, some of his work, and its importance.   Read more

The Detective and the Cataloger

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This image from Johann Gottfriedt’s 1655 publication ‘Newe Welt Und Americanische Historien’ was originally identified as the burning and looting of Cuba. Recent research has changed the attribution of the scene to the pillaging and burning of the town of Allegona (Las Palmas) and the fortifications of the island of Gran Canaria by the Dutch in July of 1599. (Accession# 1945.236.01/LE 2361)

Although 2020’s pandemic has not been a good thing for museums there are some museum professionals who are reaping big rewards from being stuck at home. Who are these lucky people? The curators, archivists and collections staff responsible for cataloging objects because finally, FINALLY, there is plenty of time available to review, expand or correct the cataloging of the objects and images in their collections.

Cataloging is the process of researching and recording detailed information about an object.  This process is completed when an object initially enters a museum’s collection but at Mariners it’s pretty obvious that the curators and collections staff didn’t always invest the kind of time necessary to fully and accurately research the objects they were cataloging. The result is misidentifications, misattributions and sometimes a complete lack of information beyond an object’s name or title!   Read more

These Doors Do Heavy Metal!

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The Bronze Doors and a shipyard car and chauffeur, Mr. Fisher. The shipyard ran this car every morning and evening to the Museum and hydraulic lab to carry mail, lab, information, and passengers, July 1939. Image Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Have you ever noticed the big metal doors at the Business Entrance of The Mariners’ Museum and Park? Have you ever thought that maybe they were a little fancy for an entrance where deliveries are made and staff enters to gather our badges and trek to wherever our offices happen to be on-site? Well, those doors, made of bronze, are actually part of our Collection and used to be the Main Entrance to the Museum!

There is a bit of a story behind them. As you have probably read in a previous blog, Archer M. Huntington was the driving force behind the construction of The Mariners’ Museum and Park. It was his vision to have a stunning entrance to the Museum, something that would visually make people stop and say “WOW!”. Incidentally, this is why the original portion of the Museum has the very unusual “Huntington Squeeze” brick and mortar technique. It’s done by not scraping off the mortar as layers of bricks are added in the wall construction.   Read more