Treasures from the Archives

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Abraham Ortelius, Septentrionalivm regionvm descrip., c. 1609-1612, MSM1– 0125

The Museum’s archives are full of wonderful and seldom seen objects that span over 500 years of maritime history. As the archivist, I derive infinite pleasure from discovering such items and making them accessible to the public.  Some of my favorite discoveries have been in the collection of maps and atlases, including the map illustrated above.

This map of Northwest Europe was originally printed in the 1570 edition of Abraham Ortelius’ Theatrum orbis terrarium (Theatre of the World), which is widely considered as the first modern atlas.  Between 1570 and 1612, thirty-one editions of the Theatrum orbis terrarium were printed.  The Library owns a 1592 edition of the atlas, in addition to a number of separate maps by Ortelius that once graced the many editions of Theatrum orbis terrarium.   Read more

Built with WHAT??! Bones, Hair, and Prisoners: Model Ships of War

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This is an image from The Dance of Death by Hans Holbein the Younger, dated 1538. Public Domain

Model ships made of bone. On this Halloween Eve, that’s a strange and sort of mysterious idea. It might seem even a little bit creepy to think about.

Who would think to use discarded bones to create something as beautiful as a model ship?    Read more

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