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

What is the American Institute for Conservation?

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The Mariners’ Museum and Park’s own Paige Schmidt (left) working as part of the Wooden Artifacts Group Programs Chairs

If you’ve ever read any of our blog posts about conservation, taken a lab tour, or talked to a conservator at any museum, you might have heard one of us mention “AIC” or the American Institute for Conservation. AIC is a national organization with thousands of members, including conservators and other museum professionals. It is a vital way for conservators to share information. So for this blog post, we thought we’d tell you a bit about what AIC is, how it helps us inform conservation decisions at The Mariners’ Museum and Park, and what we do at the Museum to contribute to AIC.

AIC holds an annual conference, which is usually located in a different city every year, giving conservators opportunities to not only attend lectures, but visit museums and conservation labs across the country. The conservation department at the Mariners’ makes an effort to present any new research produced at the annual conference. (You may have read about unique treatments we have been conducting in the conservation department in this blog before.) We make a concentrated effort to share our  results at the annual conference, so that other conservators can benefit from our research. Even if experiments do not yield the results we were hoping for, the information helps other conservators when making treatment decisions. Additionally, we often find colleagues from other museums who want to collaborate in continued research through AIC conferences.    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

A Byte of History

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People who remember traveling on the great ship have bought bits of the places that were special to them, like the Promenade Deck pictured above. From The Mariners' Museum Collection.

Hello readers, and welcome back to the Library blog. Julie Zauzmer, a staff writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, posted an interesting article on Philly.com today (article HERE). The SS United States Conservancy has created a virtual copy of the SS United States in order to raise money for the conservation of the real ship. Donors can purchase virtual pieces of the vessel for the price of $1 per square inch, and use that space to display things like photographs and messages. Creating a virtual ship like this is an interesting step not just the SS United States, but for museums in general: when you need to quickly raise funds or awareness for a project, what better way than by using the internet? The Conservancy has given an electronic version of the ship to the people, and let them run with it.

Financially, the project is off to an admirable start. The Conservancy needs $25 million to renovate the ship and convert its interior into a museum, and has raised $6 million already. The catch is that their current allotment of money will only allow them to hold on to the ship until November of this year. After that, the SS United States will be sold for scrap metal. A poor end for the flagship of the American merchant fleet and the world’s fastest transatlantic passenger ship.   Read more

Lady in red…

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The visitor of the week has somewhat of a personal anecdote, but focuses on a charming leittle lady who was part of a group of senoir citizens from Charlottesville
touring the museum. This charming and petite lady was dressed in a fire engine red outfit and a classy matching hat, and walked with a cane. Somewhere during the tour, she mentioned a Curtiss airplane, and I said we do not have any here, but there was a Curtiss air museum in upstate Ne York. She replied that she knew of it, and that she was from Penn Yann, N.Y. I asked her if she knew of the name “Warder” of Geneva, N.Y. (which is just a few miles from Penn Yann , Senator Warder having been wife’s father and 18 year State Senator from N.Y. She said she must have left N.Y. before the Warder name became known to the public.

So, I recounted this story to my wife, who said that her family went back to 1876 in Geneva. She said to me “do you think that lady left before then! ?”