Artifact of the Month – Great Eastern

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As I continue to comb through and photograph our print/poster collection, I am constantly finding pieces that depict incredibly interesting bits of history.  In most cases, bits I never even knew existed, which spurs me to research and learn more.  One print I found earlier this week shows the steamship Great Eastern (1858-1888) on a sandbar covered in advertisements for all kinds of activities available on board, including horse races, a concert and the Swiss Giantess.  It’s quite amazing to look at and so I decided to make it the artifact of the month for October.

And if you look closely at the print, you can see that there are a massive amount of people on the ship with tons more trying to board.  When I find something like this I just have to know more and understand the purpose behind it.   Read more

Hidden Treasures of the Mariner's Museum: A Fine Collection of East Asian Prints

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I am ashamed to say that though I grew up in the Hampton Roads area, I had not visited the Mariner’s Museum until this past spring. I am not terribly interested in boats or maritime equipment, and so always assumed that there would be nothing of interest for me at the Museum. I could not have been more wrong. Aside from the beautiful ship models of all shapes and sizes, the Museum has all sorts of maritime paraphernalia, from old compasses and teapots to uniforms and interactive exhibits. What I was most surprised and excited about, however, was the Museum’s Asian print collection. Hidden away in storage lies about 100 Asian prints, mostly Japanese, dating from the 19th to the 20th centuries. Though the prints are all connected by a reference to maritime themes, they often vary widely in content. From illustrations of Commodore Matthew Perry, who was the first American to enter Japan in the 1850’s, to descriptions about foreign ships and vibrantly colored pictures of everyday Japanese life, the Mariner’s Museum’s prints give the viewer a glimpse into Japanese history from their perspectives, as well as providing visually appealing pieces of art.

Perhaps the most historically interesting pieces in the print collection are the Japanese prints concerning the arrival of Commodore Perry between 1852 and 1854. Perry’s arrival signaled an end to Japan’s long period of self-imposed isolation, and the technology he brought with him, as well as Western clothing and cultural customs, were new to the Japanese, fostering much interest among them. In order to document these new sights, as well as explain them to the general public, Japanese prints such as the one below were created.   Read more