Matthew Henson: An Arctic Explorer

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Matthew Alexander Henson, ca. 1910. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/00650163/. You can search their website for additional photos.

A great deal of our collection is related to explorations and discovery, because so many of those took place by way of the oceans and rivers of the world. We have objects related to the big names in exploration and also some who are not as famous. So I was interested a few months ago to hear a news report refer to an explorer I had not heard of: Matthew Henson. I went straight to our database to learn more!

The report I heard discussed the conservation of 20 dioramas built for the American Negro Exposition held in Chicago between July 4 and September 2, 1940. There were originally 33 dioramas but 13 have disappeared. The Legacy Museum at Tuskegee University is using the conservation of the dioramas to help teach Black art students who have preservation experience. This will help build diversity within the conservation field. The dioramas each displayed significant stories in American history that prominently featured Black Americans such as Crispus Attucks, the WWI Harlem Hellfighters, surveyor Benjamin Banneker, and Arctic explorer Matthew Henson.   Read more

Success (and Liquor) on the Rocks

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The Success Wedged on a Rock, LE 1452. The image can be found after page 94 of John Hamilton Moore’s 1778 book, “A New and Complete Collection of Voyages and Travels,” online here.

2020 has been a rocky year but humor has definitely helped me along the way. So when I stumbled onto this print and couldn’t stop laughing, I knew that I had to share it. The print is titled “The Success wedged on a Rock, being at the same time between the fire of the Spanish Fort at Umata and a Ship in the Harbour.” Irony anyone?

With such a hilarious title I dug deeper and just laughed more. The captain of Success was John Clipperton, a British sailor who was born in 1676 and joined Captain William Dampier on Saint George for an expedition to the Pacific from 1703-1704. This voyage gave Clipperton knowledge of the Pacific islands, which he put to good use when he led a mutiny against Dampier and left in a prize ship. That didn’t end well: the Spanish captured and imprisoned him in Panama for four years under Juan Antonio Rocha Carranza, Marquis de Villa-Rocha.   Read more

Native American Heritage Month~ Explored Through the Adney Collection of Canoe Models

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Edwin Tappan Adney 1868-1950. Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Welcome to one of the Interpretation Department’s obsessions! The Edwin Tappan Adney collection at The Mariners’ Museum and Park include 120 canoe models. Adney lived from 1868-1950. He was from the United States but fell in love with canoes when he was on vacation in Canada at the age of 19. For Adney, building canoe models was not a hobby. He felt that it was his duty to document as many of the boats as he could. The models were made ¼ sized and sometimes ⅕ sized. He learned some of the building methods from Native builders. For example, Frank Atwin, Passamaquoddy, was one of his teachers. This is an outstanding photograph, showing the size of the models. 

Adney’s plan was to use the models to illustrate a book about the canoes. Unfortunately, the Depression meant that there were no backers for his idea. He then attempted to sell the models to several different museums, but again, he had no takers. Adney ended up using them as collateral for a $1,000 loan. The Museum’s buyers heard about this, paid off the loan and the $424 interest (!). Upon his death, Adney’s son donated all his papers, notes, sketches, and writings to the Museum.    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

William Henry Bartlett and his Steamship Adventures

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William Henry Bartlett, from volume 1 of “American Scenery” by Nathaniel Parker Willis, 1840. Many of Bartlett’s images appear in Willis’ books. TMMP Library, E165 .W73 Rare.

I have recently spent a lot of time with an artist named William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854*). Not really him, more like the printed engravings made from his artwork, but we have over 100 in the collection so I kind of feel like he is family now. After cataloging so many of his prints I started to notice that I was typing the same thing over and over: steamship in the background, steam coming from the funnels. The more I looked the more I saw them, sometimes featured in the image but often in the far distant background. That made me wonder, what was it about these steamships that fascinated Bartlett so much that he included them in his artwork on a regular basis?

*As an aside, there is a second British artist named William Henry Bartlett who lived from 1858-1932.   Read more