Telling a Story: A Documentarian Eye

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Senior Conservator Elsa Sangouard and Archaeological Conservators Laurie King and Lesley Haines screen concretion removed from USS Monitor artifacts.

A man of many hats

I did not expect how many photography styles I would have to be familiar with as a museum photographer. I might have on my technical photographer hat; focused on meeting set standards to ensure precision reproduction is possible. A little later on, I might become a still-life photographer and carefully craft lighting to create a beautiful image of an artifact. That afternoon, I might have to be a documentarian and follow staff members that are doing interesting work. 

If you’re familiar with my photography, you will probably know that I am typically the happiest when I’m in the studio working with lighting to create images that make our artifacts look beautiful. What can I say? I’m a bit of a control freak, and the level of control I get to exert in the studio is comforting to me. That said, every once in a while, it’s good to step out into the wide world outside my studio doors and take photos with less control.    Read more

Can I Get a Connection? Laying the Transatlantic Telephone Cable, 1955-1956

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Workers on the shoreline feeding the transatlantic telephone cable into the water. The cable ship Monarch is in the background.
Workers are laying the shore end of the transatlantic cable at Clarenville, Newfoundland, 1955. Cable ship Monarch is docked in the background. Oil drums floating in the water are used to float the cable. American Telephone & Telegraph Company, 1955. Mariners’ Museum Collection #P0001.004-PC407

Imagine a time before cell phones

when telephone communication simply didn’t exist outside of one’s own country.   Read more

Hidden Histories: The Quest to Put Names to Our Past

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Construction on the arcade of the Library wing, February 1935.

It began a few years ago with a handful of old, unlabeled photos. Images of workers who placed the bricks and the cinder blocks for the Museum’s walls and also installed the statues on Lions Bridge and in the Park. They were literally part of the very foundation of our Museum. Then the questions began. What were their names and their stories? Why were they so important to our Museum, but we didn’t know who they were? What we found, and are still finding, has evolved into one of the most interesting, impactful, heartbreaking, joyous, and eye opening projects we have ever worked on. A project we named “Hidden Histories.”

The earliest beginnings of the project actually started from several other initiatives. A quest to gather as much information about our Park and grounds as possible, and a look forward to our 100th Anniversary coming up in 2030. The emphasis on our Park is part of a long term project focused on issues like conservation, sustainability, ecology, preservation and the history of the area. This work has helped with the formation of our new Park Department which was announced earlier this month. The 100th Anniversary project is taking a look back at our history and also a look forward to see where we are headed in the future.

Both projects led to the discovery of photos showing the men who did the construction on our Museum and Park. As well as a number of images showing members of our Museum team dating from the 1930s and beyond. The photos are part of our Institutional Collection that documents what happens here. They include famous visitors, parties, exhibitions, large artifacts arriving, personnel photos, and just about anything else related to our day to day activities. While we knew what types of photos we would find in the collection, we didn’t anticipate finding out what we didn’t have. The men’s identities and a realization that despite our Museum’s focus on inclusion and connections within our community, we hadn’t made a connection with ourselves. In the 91 years since the first of those photos were taken, we hadn’t made a connection with the men who were the very foundation of our success. And the hard truth is that because of who they were, no one in the 1930s thought it important enough to label these images and ensure they would be known by their names and faces. The time was way overdue to correct this.   Read more

Carta Marina, 1567 Edition

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Carta Marina, from DL45 .O43 1567 Rare, Museum Library

In my previous post, I mentioned that the Library has a 1567 Latin edition of Olaus Magnus’ Historia Olai Magni Gothi archiepi scopi vpsalensis, de gentium septentrionalium (History of the Northern Peoples).  It contains a simplified woodcut of his famous Carta Marina map.  Unfortunately, I was not able to show a photograph of it due to its condition and the difficulty of photographing it.

Thanks to the efforts of Brock Switzer, cultural heritage photographer, and Emilie Duncan, paper conservator, I can now share an image of the 1567 edition of the Carta Marina.

The technical challenges

In order to understand the challenges of photographing the map, it is necessary to describe how it is inserted in the book. According to Emilie, “the map is glued along the central vertical fold to a paper strip called a “stub” or “guard.” The other side of the stub is sewn into the book structure as if it were just another page.”  In the case of our edition, she goes on to explain, the stub is too short, which hides the center portion of the map in the gutter area.

If you look closely at the map, you will note that there is a void vertically along the center.  It is particularly noticeable at the top edge of the map.  To the left of the void are the letters “SEPT” and to the right are the letters “TRIO”.  If you were able to see the entire map, those letter strings would spell out the word SEPTENTRIO.

The fact that the map is folded both vertically and horizontally into the book presents another challenge to the photographer.  Unfolding the map without damaging it and getting in plane (i.e. flat) was no small feat.  Hats off to Brock and Emilie for the care with which they unfolded the map.   Staff and patrons alike can now access the map without having to handle the original.

Wrapping up

While the 1567 edition of the Carta Marina does not have the number and variety of sea monsters as the earlier editions, it does show several sea monsters off the west coast of Scandinavia and in the waters around Iceland.

Adam Henricpetri published the museum’s 1567 Latin edition of the History of The Northern Peoples in Basel, Switzerland.  Scholars initially attributed the woodcut of the Carta Marina to Fickler Weylensis, who translated Magnus’s work into German, basing the attribution on a misreading of the initials in the lower right corner.  More recently, map historians have determined that the initials “TFW” are associated with the woodcut artist Thomas Weber.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a deeper look at the Carta Marina. I’ve certainly enjoyed researching it.

Girl Power–1918 Style

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Girl filing in plant. U.S. Naval Aircraft factory, Navy Yard, Phila., 1918. Mariners’ Museum Collection #P0005—U-PA0087

When the United States Navy’s Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia needed to ramp up their labor force in early 1918, it began to train and employ women. According to William F. Trimble, author of Wings for the Navy: A History of the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1917-1956, the factory’s first female factory worker was Marion Elderton, already on staff as a secretary. That transition happened in December of 1917, and by June of 1918, the labor force included 218 women. One year later (Dec.1918), NAF female employment reached 890, which was 24.5% of the work force.

Yes-they were referred to as girls

Not to put too fine a point on it, I suspect that the writer of the captions on these photographs was male, perhaps referencing the novelty of the subject. Trimble’s use of female and women is fitting for 1990, the time of his publication. Not so in 1918, when women were still fighting for the right to vote.

My mental picture when I see the word “girl” is a pre-teen. Luckily, that is not what the Navy’s caption writer meant. Check out the faces in these photographs and count how many of them fit “girl” in your mind’s eye.

But, I digress. We’re reflecting on the unprecedented opportunities women were given as part of the war effort. That these women were trusted with building aircraft is a testament to their value.

Here, a “girl” is in the process of painting a flying boat, the Curtiss Model F-5-L. The NAF’s assembly line approach increased efficiency dramatically.






Some things haven’t changed

Although many tasks were less demanding, skilled work performed at the NAF by women included drill press operation and machinist positions.

Women worked the same forty-nine hour workweek as men, but were paid less, based on the assumption that “their output had not equaled” that of their male counterparts (Trimble, pg. 32). The Navy attempted to compensate women in other ways, such as expanding restrooms and adding female nurses.

The bottom line: these female factory workers were trailblazers as well as patriots. By wedging themselves into this male-dominated field, they proved that women were capable of much more than had been expected of them in 1918.


Trimble, W. F. (1990). Wings for the Navy: A History of the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1917-1956. Annapolis, MD: United States Naval Institute.