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

Way Back Wednesdays

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9-Old Small Craft Bldg

Construction of our old Small Craft Building.  About 11 years ago it was replaced with a newer, more efficient building where a good amount of our small craft is now displayed.

This image shows men in our ship model shop repairing a group of our figureheads on January 23, 1940.  Many of our figureheads came to the museum in rough shape and so needed a bit of work to make sure that they were stable enough to be displayed.  As our old photos show, we used to have a large number of them on the wall of our Great Hall.   Read more

Way Back Wednesday

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Dec 23, 1974, Re-enlistment at naval memorial plaque

This image from December of 1973 shows a re-enlistment in front of Navy Memorial Plaque.  Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the two gentlemen, but behind them to the right you can see a little bit of our walking beam engine from the steamboat Albany.

To people who have seen our courtyard, this should look somewhat familiar.  In 1972, the museum used part of the courtyard area to create the Gibbs Gallery, an exhibition celebrating William Francis Gibbs.   Read more

Way Back Wednesdays

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Sept 1974, Soviet scientists being shown the Crabtree models by August F. Crabtree

Our first image this month shows a group of Russian Scientists getting a tour of the museum in September of 1974.  The man second to the left is August Crabtree, who made a number of beautiful models that are currently on display in our galleries, and is showing one of them to the group in the picture.  We also have an online exhibition for those who cannot make it to the museum.

Here we have the museum’s six millionth visitor receiving a present from Director William Wilkinson on September 11, 1972.  In the background is a painting of Hornet (CV-8), a United States Aircraft Carrier.  The painting was done by Thomas C. Skinner, museum artist, ca 1942-1958.   Read more