Friday, July 31, 2015

A Fish Story: New Painting for Mystic Seaport

A painting entitled “Off Block Island” by Ellery Thompson is a recent gift to the collections at Mystic Seaport. Thompson was a local fisherman, author, artist and raconteur of some note. His story-telling ability landed him in the New Yorker in 1947, subject of a profile by writer Joseph Mitchell. Afterwards, Thompson went on to write his own books about life as a Connecticut fisherman.  Draggerman’s Haul: the Personal History of a Connecticut Fishing Captain and Come Aboard the Draggers, were published in the 1950’s when Thompson was in his 50’s. 

"Off Block Island," by Ellery Thompson.

Ellery Thompson painted hundreds of pictures in a primitive style and many of these made their way into friends’ homes and not a few into local museums and historical societies. Mystic Seaport is glad to have a number of his works. Mystic Seaport owns a western-rigged dragger named FLORENCE, and one of the boats seen here is purported to be her. Thompson was born in 1899 and died in 1986, but his character lives on in his books, some oral histories and, of course, his brightly-colored paintings depicting scenes from his life experiences.

Monday, June 29, 2015

H.M.S. BURFORD Puts into Safe Harbor

The H.M.S. BURFORD model has returned to the Collections Research Center after a stint on exhibit. British Naval historian William Laird Clowes once called it one of the finest models of its type ever built. The model at Mystic Seaport was acquired in 1973 and has been one of the premier objects in the collection ever since. H.M.S. BURFORD was a 70-gun, 3rd rate ship of the British Navy built in 1722. One of her commanding officers was Admiral Edmund Vernon, after whom Mt. Vernon is named. While there is some question as to the date the model was built, it was certainly done in the first half of the 18th century, if not in 1722. It came into Admiral Vernon’s possession and stayed in his family until it was purchased at auction in London in 1929 by Junius Morgan, grandson of J.P. Morgan.

The magnificent model has a white bottom, varnish topsides and a black boot stripe. She has 4 anchors and 68 gun positions with two full gun decks, a square bow, lateen mizzen, and a two-level poop deck. There is a lion's head painted on the inside surface of each of the gunpost covers. Her poop-deck railing has a painted scene of nudes in grass on a blue background. Two quarter galleries, one stern walk, a painted decorative strip and two gunports below her lower windows on the stern also grace this model. An elaborate carving on her stern shows a bust of a king at the center framed by two gods, with a lion on each side with Neptune. Her figurehead is a crowned lion and the model is mounted on a mahogany veneer stand with 2 metal braces amidships. One can easily spend an hour picking out all the details her model makers put into her.

Curator Fred Calabretta maneuvers the model from building to van.

Until last month the BURFORD was a part of our Treasures from the Collections Exhibit in the R. J. Schaefer Building. With the advent of the new Ships, Clocks and Stars Exhibit coming this Fall, the model was moved back to the Collections Research Center, a nice safe harbor, until she next goes on display. A delicate job, she was moved from the exhibit to the CRC by our Collections Manager Chris White, our Curator of Collections seen here, Fred Calabretta, and a number of other Museum staff. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Happy Fourth of July!

The Collections Research Center will be closed on Friday, July 3rd in honor of Independence Day.

Sailing Card. Collection 112, Manuscripts Collection,
G.W. Blunt White Library, Mystic Seaport.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The MAYFLOWER in Lilliput

With the departure of MAYFLOWER II from Mystic Seaport in May, 2015, the Museum will not be left without any Pilgrim representation. The Museum owns a number of MAYFLOWER models and one, a model of Lilliputian proportions, was donated to the Museum in 1952 by its maker, Henry R. Stiles of New London. Mr. Stiles was born just after the Civil War and graduated from Yale in 1888. His career was that of an optical surgeon and he spent a number of years as such in the U.S. Army. He retired with a disability acquired in the line of duty with the rank of Major in 1905 but was eventually lifted to the rank of Lt. Colonel. He donated seven of his creations to Mystic Seaport in 1952 when he was 86 years old. Using his exacting skills and surgical tools, Col. Stiles spent many hours creating miniature models of sloops, schooners, brigs, sampans and more. The 5 3/8 inch MAYFLOWER alone took Col. Stiles more than 615 hours by the time he completed it in 1939. The scale of the MAYFLOWER model is 1 inch to 22.5 feet and her rigging blocks are so small that their details cannot be seen with the naked eye.

Model of MAYFLOWER. Henry R. Stiles, 1939.
Mystic Seaport accession number 1952.1573
(Click for larger view)

A long-time trustee of Mystic Seaport noted that in the early 1950's this model was one of the first things that was seen as you entered into what was then the Museum's main exhibit building. See the changes coming to Mystic Seaport in the form of the Thompson Exhibition Building and the McGraw Gallery Quadrangle, giving the Museum substantially more exhibit space than could have even been dreamt about in 1952.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Remembering Gallipoli

One hundred years ago the invasion of Gallipoli, conceived by Winston Churchill, began and became one of the low points of World War I for the Allies. When Allied troops landed on the beach at Gallipoli on April 25th, 1915 a small British minesweeper, a converted Great Eastern Railway channel packet named the CLACTON, was at the forefront of the action. The image here depicts that day’s deadly action in a fanciful sketchbook/diary kept by CLACTON’s commander, William Herbert Coates. Coates seemingly coped with the exigencies of war by depicting daily action and activities in his version of early English language and images. His minesweeper, used primarily for hauling cargo and troops while in this conflict, was portrayed as a 17th or 18th  century brig. The day’s date, “ye yeere 1915, April ye 25th,” can be seen in the lower right hand corner of the drawing. Click on the image to see the enlarged version.

From sketchbook by W.H. Coates. VFM 970. G.W Blunt White Library. Mystic Seaport

In his description of the day, Coates states, “Ye littel brigs, ye “NEWMARKET” & ye “CLACTON” closed in to land ye souldiers ____ while ye greate shyppes, ye “ALBION” & ye “CORNWALLIS”, with their gunnes at point blank range, turned EARTH into HELL.  Miseracordia twas ye dreadfulle daie.”

Coates, who was in his fifties when in command of the CLACTON, had written two books in his earlier life on shipping and trade on the Indian ocean. Unfortunately, he did not live to write another as he was killed in action on July 15, 1917 when HMS REDBREAST was torpedoed in the Mediterranean.

The image is one page of many from scrapbooks in the Manuscripts Collection in the G.W. Blunt White Library. See the article from the South African Military History Journal for an interesting account of Gallipoli and the part that the CLACTON played in the invasion.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Ships Plans and the Environment:the Coast Guard Makes Use of a Unique Collection

When the call came into the shipyard at Mystic Seaport on February 26, 2015 the feeling was initially that it was a crank call. Why would the Coast Guard in San Diego be calling Mystic Seaport for help regarding a boat washed ashore after a storm in California? Once the story was told it began to make a bit more sense.

A sea-going motor yacht, the MONA MONA, grounded in the surf at a navy base in Coronado. Fearing that the fuel tanks, which can carry up to 1,200 gallons, might be breached, the Coast Guard sent in a team from their Incident Management Division in the San Diego Sector. Marine Science Technician Petty Officer 3rd class Eben Smith made a call to Nordhavn Yachts who build similar vessels, trying to determine the location of the fuel tanks in the yacht. Unable to accommodate MST3 Smith and his team with the proper technical information, they did the next best thing. They directed him to Mystic Seaport!
The MONA MONA stranded on a beach in Coronado, California.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The MONA MONA, built in 1972, was designed by Captain Robert Beebe, the progenitor of the long-distance trawler cruising movement. MONA MONA was one of Beebe’s early designs, meant for cruising in the Mediterranean, but with large enough fuel tanks to make an Atlantic crossing.  However, the boat, built in Costa Mesa, began and ended its life on the West Coast.

Mystic Seaport maintains the archive of Captain Beebe’s plans, so when Eben Smith called looking for the plans, our Library was able to quickly locate them, photograph the critical portion (see image) and send it via text message to him on site at the wreck. That was at 3:04 p.m. Eastern Time. AT 8:01 p.m., we received a text from an enthusiastic Smith stating, “Just want to let you know the schematics you provided helped remove over 400 gallons of fuel, without a drop in the ocean! Thank you very much to everyone I spoke to over at Mystic Seaport. You truly saved the day!” And while it is likely that such a capable young man would have eventually figured out the problem without our help, it is gratifying to know that Mystic Seaport was able to make his day a bit easier and contribute in a meaningful way.

Detail of plan showing starboard fuel tank of MONA MONA.
Coll. 125, Daniel S. Gregory Ships Plans Library, Mystic Seaport

The fate of the MONA MONA, however, does not have a happy ending. A recent news report mentioned that the boat’s owner and the U.S Navy had not yet determined what to do with the double-decked 50-foot yacht and it was filling up with sand as it sat on the beach. Late word from MST3 Smith, however, is that the yacht was demolished before it could deteriorate more in the surf. At least no petroleum from it will stain that stretch of coast line thanks to the work of the Coast Guard.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Cold and Dark...NYC, January 24, 1925

The saying is usually, "If March comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb..." Well, this February has certainly come in like a lion...and this icy picture of the tugboat LION from 1925 kind of says it all regarding how most of us feel about this winter. On January 24, 1925, Morris Rosenfeld was out with his camera and took this image of the New London Ship and Engine Company tug on the East River, capturing the ice-encrusted boat and the chilly atmosphere of the day.
Tug LION. Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld Collection.

That same day, at about 9.a.m., Morris was taking another shot with his camera. The picture of the full solar eclipse below must have been taken somewhere above 90th Street in Manhattan or up into the Bronx, because that was where the eclipse became total. It was quite an event in New York with dozens of planes and even the Navy's largest dirigible, the LOS ANGELES,  in the air to take photos of the rare happening. The 1925 eclipse was the last total one to be visible in a large U.S. metropolitan area, and Morris was able to get  a number of shots in the short time that the birds were heading back to roost at such an odd time of the day.

Click on the images to get a more detailed view.
1925 Total Eclipse, New York City. Mystic Seaport, Rosenfeld Collection.