La Isabel Project: Part 3

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Fibers used for caulking between two strakes. Image courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Hello again and happy November!

I’m back for another installment of La Isabel project and this week we’re talking about one of my favorite parts of conservation: science! Conservation is an interesting field because it’s highly interdisciplinary. One week I’ll use skills I gained from history courses to research an artifact (check out my 2nd blog post), another I’ll be using technical photography skills for documentation (see my 1st blog post), and then on a week like this I may be using my chemistry and biology knowledge to analyze an artifact!   Read more

The Tales Candy Can Tell

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Riley’s Rum and Butter Toffee, QB68.

In the spirit of Halloween I searched the collection looking for something unique to share. I came across a small candy tin with two ships on the lid. The name across the front said Riley’s Rum and Butter (Flavoured) Toffee, which sounded fun so I started to research.

The British company had fairly humble beginnings on a mother’s dining room table. Ellen Riley was born in 1848 to William and Mary Ann Bates. She worked as a dressmaker until she married John Henry Riley on August 7, 1872. John Henry was a woolstapler, meaning that he sorted and traded wool between the producers and the manufacturers. It kind of sounds like he was a middleman to sort out the details and grade the wool for sale. They had two sons, Frederick William and John Herbert Riley. John Herbert became a bank clerk and Fred initially followed in his father’s footsteps working as a woolstapler by 1901. Those career plans changed a few years later.   Read more

Built with WHAT??! Bones, Hair, and Prisoners: Model Ships of War

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This is an image from The Dance of Death by Hans Holbein the Younger, dated 1538. Public Domain

Model ships made of bone. On this Halloween Eve, that’s a strange and sort of mysterious idea. It might seem even a little bit creepy to think about.

Who would think to use discarded bones to create something as beautiful as a model ship?    Read more

Tattooing…a dead art?

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Tattoo artist Cap Coleman in front of his East Main Street store. Taken by Museum photographer William Radcliffe, July 1936. (Accession# P873)

Many of you are probably aware that the Museum holds a wonderful collection of materials once used by the world famous Norfolk tattooist August Bernard Coleman, known as Cap Coleman. Our Coleman materials are one of our most popular and regularly requested collections for both private viewings and for loan to other institutions. Right now, the figurine of the “Tattooed Man” is currently on display at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts in an exhibition about fashion and design.

A couple of weeks ago a friend at Peabody Essex connected me with Nonie Gadsden, the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Nonie was in the process of coordinating the acquisition of an object for their collection [Since the MFA hasn’t formally announced it yet I won’t spoil their surprise by telling you what it is!] and had some questions about our Coleman collection and how we acquired it. Answering those questions revealed a rather surprising motivation behind the Museum’s decision to acquire the materials.   Read more

Of Two Worlds

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Dugout canoe
Jason Copes/The Mariners’ Museum and Park
The Mariners’ Museum 1969.0001.000001A_01a

Early European explorers and settlers to Virginia found that the Indigenous population had a successful watercraft of their own: the dugout canoe. Canoes were laboriously crafted from a single log.  A fire was allowed to slowly burn into the wood and the accrued char was scraped away using a stone or oyster shell.  The resulting vessel was durable, stable, and capable of carrying between 10 and 20 people.  

The Mariners’ Museum and Park holds a single colonial-era canoe.  And it’s pretty interesting.  The artifact was discovered by fishermen in Powhatan Creek (James City County) in 1963 and housed at Jamestown Festival Park until it was gifted to the Museum in 1969. Composed of three major fragments, the canoe would have originally been over 26 feet in length with a width of around 25 inches. The wood is pine and an approximate count of the annual growth rings would have put the source tree at more than 200 years old.     Read more