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

Building International Connections through the Collections

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Many museums begin with a person who has spent their life collecting something they love, which family members may jokingly refer to as “hoarding,” until they come to realize the importance of the treasures. That collection then becomes the basis for a new museum. The Mariners’ Museum and Park is different in that we started as a museum with a park, and then had to search out and build a collection. This process of purchasing objects allowed us to build a reputation for integrity and authenticity, which then built relationships that led to donations.

After receiving our charter in 1930 the Museum began work on the Park, developing the land and creating what is now The Mariners’ Lake. The focus then switched to the Museum building itself and the collection, and we sent out buyers to search for significant and representative objects to tell the story of all maritime history, not just American.   Read more

Saving Princess Carolina: Acidification Research and Future Treatment Options

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Figure 3. A degrading area of wood surrounding a fastener hole in one of Princess Carolina’s timbers. Image courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Hi! My name is Christy and I’m a conservation intern here at the Batten Conservation Complex. Over the past eight months I’ve been working on a research project at The Mariners’ Museum and Park for the final year of my graduate program at Durham University. This project has involved a condition analysis and investigation of potential treatments for the Princess Carolina timbers which are currently deteriorating because of acid formation.

Although my time as an intern is almost up, we have recently found out that I’ll be able to continue my work here next year! The Mariners’ has been named one of six museums to receive the Kress Conservation Fellowship which provides funding for a post-graduate fellow at the Museum. I will serve as that fellow as I continue the exciting research I’m about to tell you all about!   Read more

Plastics in Our Collections: Chapter 1

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Collecting latex from a tree
© User:Iamshibukc / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The Plastics Age

History is filled with ages that are tied to the innovation of materials:  The Stone Age, The Bronze Age, and The Iron Age. We are currently in The Plastics Age. Plastics have changed so much in our daily lives. Plastics are around us all the time.  They are in every electrical thing in our houses, in the clothes that we wear, in our furniture and the packaging of our food.

This means that as caretakers of historic objects, museums have to consider how long plastic materials will last in our collections. We focus on what we have to do and learn in order to care for plastic objects. We also study plastics in order to store them in ways that better ensure their survival. This is a complicated thing.  Plastics are not simple materials, and what works for one may damage another.  Some plastics have been around longer than others, so we know more about them. We can see how they’ve aged. For other plastics, we can guess at how they will survive (or not) based on their behaviors and chemistries, while still others are a gigantic question mark.   Read more

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

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Our Future Lies Upon the Water by Arthur Fitger ca 1901

I was going to come up with some witty lyrics; I swear I was, but it was too tough!

I’m fortunate. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind yourself of all the things for which you are grateful. For one, I am thankful that I get to photograph a collection as broad and as deep as that of The Mariners’ Museum. I miss my studio terribly, and I cannot wait to get back to taking photos of some spectacular artifacts. In the meantime, I’ve been taking a look back through some of my favorite images. I love some of these photos because of the object itself. Others I love because they represent breakthroughs in my photographic process. Some I love just because I think they look cool! Here are my ten favorite artifact photos from the last four and a half years.   Read more