Monday, November 15, 2010

Robert Louis Stevenson and Mystic Seaport

A number of objects belonging to Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and numerous other well-known works, came to the Museum in the 1950's. Stevenson spent his last years in Samoa, dying there of a probable cerebral hemorrhage in 1894 at just 44 years of age.

Stevenson speaks frequently of drinking kava (or ava) in numerous letters written while in Samoa and kava appears in some of his novels as well. He describes the process of making this "intoxicating" drink from the root of a pepper plant, where the root is chewed by "fair damsels" to soften it and then it is combined with water and strained in a wooden bowl. That wooden bowl is known as a kava bowl. The kava bowl pictured here is from Stevenson's household in Samoa. It is carved from a single piece of wood, has eight legs and is four and a half inches deep. Kava was a ceremonial drink and Stevenson writes of making speeches to, and listening to speeches by, chiefs in Samoa before imbibing. To drink kava, one traditionally used a kava bowl or a cup made from a coconut. Our collection also contains one of Stevenson's coconut cups and numerous other objects from his years in the South Pacific.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Frightful Sight

No, this is not part of the skeletal remains of some maritime ghoul, but something far more scary to those that have had experience with such things. It is a kidney stone. And not just ANY kidney stone. It is fully eight inches across and weighs in the neighborhood of five pounds! The poor soul who suffered with this stone was not a lonesome sailor drifting on the high seas, but a pained mammal making their way beneath the waves. It is a kidney stone from a whale.

The stone came into the Collection in the Museum's early days in 1939. In 1965, a Museum member, Chief of Urology at a New York Hospital, spotted the stone in an exhibit and was granted permission to make a study of it. His findings concluded that, unlike a human kidney stone which is made primarily of calcium, this stone is chiefly made of magnesium. His conclusion was that the whale's diet of creatures with high magnesium content caused the unusual growth.

So this Halloween, be grateful that your night-time visitors are pirates and aliens and not, luckily, a five-pound kidney stone.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mystic Seaport selected Patrick O'Brien's "Great White Fleet in the Straits of Magellan" as its Museum Purchase Award at the 31st Annual International Marine Art Exhibition held at the Museum's Art Gallery.

Mr. O'Brien's extraordinary painting shows the pride of the American Navy in the first decade of the 20th century as it navigates its way through the Straits of Magellan and around Cape Horn. While the Museum often picks a painting with a modern commercial seafaring aspect to it, this painting spoke so strongly to the Museum's charge as the "Museum of America and the Sea" that it was just too difficult to pass up. The fact that the largest vessel, and flagship of the fleet, was the U.S.S. CONNECTICUT made this a tailor-made painting for the Museum's permanent collection.

Congratulations on a fine job, Patrick.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Scrimshaw Treasure? Think again....

While visiting a flea market or a small antiques shop off in the middle of nowhere, you come across a hidden old walrus tusk with the image of a whaling scene on it and the name of a famous whaling ship, the CHARLES W. grab for your wallet, shell out your cash and call Mystic Seaport to tell them you've found a treasure that you are sure they will want....unfortunately, they already have about a dozen of the same piece! How could this be? Yours is the original, so how did they get a copy? Well, the answer is easy...Fakeshaw, as it has been termed.

Over the years a number of companies have created pieces of "scrimshaw" by forming molds that resemble walrus tusks or sperm whale teeth and embedding information in them to make them look and feel like real scrimshaw. Unless you have a piece of real scrimshaw in your hand with which to compare it, the fake can seem quite authentic.

Pictured here is a MORGAN tusk, showing both sides, and cut in pieces to show that it is indeed, if you find one of these pieces, you may still want to buy it to decorate your home, but don't expect any collectors or Museums to come knocking at your door...For more information on fakeshaw, visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum's webpage on the subject where you can find numerous pieces described.
Visit the following page.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Flying the Colors

Flying the Colors is Mystic Seaport's newest book about the unseen treasures of nineteenth-century American Marine Art.

America has a long and distinguished history of notable marine art and artists such as James Buttersworth, Robert Salmon, and Fitz Henry Lane, whose special genius was to put down on canvas truly memorable representations of such marine themes as the sailing ships and yachts that plied oceanic waters. Often some of the best of these paintings have not been readily accessible to the general public. Now a compendium of those marvelous paintings have been compiled in "Flying The Colors: The Unseen Treasures Of Nineteenth-Century American Marine Art" by the team of Alan Granby and Janice Hyland. Beautiful images flawless reproduced in full color are enhanced with an informative essay by Stuart M. Frank. Readers are also provided with succinct biographical descriptions of the artists whose works are represented. The result is a coffee-table art book that is a pure delight to browse through and which is unrestrainedly recommended for personal, academic, and community library American Art History reference collections.

Midwest Book Reviews

New Book on J.E. Buttersworth

Mystic Seaport recently published a 2nd edition of Rudolph J. Schaefer's comprehensive book, J. E. Buttersworth: 19th-Century Marine Painter. With the advice of Janet Schaefer, the new volume includes the details of Buttersworth's life, full-color reproductions of more than 150 works, and a listing of nearly 1,200 known Buttersworth paintings.

The son of a British marine painter, James E. Buttersworth (1817-1894) was among the most prolific marine artists of the nineteenth century. His clipper ship views many of which were published as popular lithographs by N. Currier and his America's Cup race paintings are widely respected for their combination of artistic and documentary qualities. Like his contemporary "luminist" and Hudson River School artists, Buttersworth excelled in the dramatic renderings of sea and sky, elevating the precisely detailed renderings of ships beyond document to art. The completely revised image section, with new or augmented captions, contains more than 200 examples of Buttersworth's work illustrated in full color, more than half of which were not included in the first edition.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

New Bedford Panorama Comes to Mystic Seaport

The New Bedford Whaling Museum recently brought a priceless object to Mystic Seaport for temporary storage while architectural work is being done at the Whaling Museum. Caleb Purrington's and Benjamin Russell's "Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the Worls" is being housed in the Collections research Center at Mystic Seaport until such time as new space is available at the NBWM.

James Russell, the President of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, stated that he was extremely happy with the arrangement as, he noted, "There are many ties that bind Mystic Seaport and the New Bedford Whaling Museum, from shared goals, values and subject matter, to a great interest in the restoration of the CHARLES W. MORGAN. Close cooperation between the museums continues to grow and the New Bedford Whaling Museum is very grateful to Mystic Seaport for storing this masterpiece.....collection storage at Mystic Seaport is second to none and we wanted this in the best and safest place possible until restoration could become a reality."

According to Mary Jean Blasdale's "Artists of New Bedford" the panorama was created by the two artists in 1848 after Russell had completed a whaling voyage and he wanted to document it in images. The panorama is nearly 1,300 feet in length and painted on a canvas eight and one half feet high. It is currently stored on eight separate rolls that are ten feet long. The panorama traveled the United States in the 19th century and, like other panoramas of the time, served as a form of entertainment "similar to the motion picture travelogue of later days," as noted by Blasdale.

For more information on panoramas in general, go to

The accompanying picture is one frame of the panel and the short video shows the placement of one roll of the panorama into its new temporary storage area.

Monday, April 26, 2010

New Maritime Journal!!!!

Coriolis, a prevailing global force that shapes human maritime experience is also the name of the new peer-reviewed Interdisciplinary Journal of Maritime Studies. Volume 1, Number 1 includes an introduction by John Hattendorf , an article on Hawaii's historical whaling economy as revealed through regulation, and the study of colonial household goods as a means to understand local fisheries.

The articles are well-documented, thoroughly enjoyable, and make valuable contributions to the field of Maritime Studies. Coriolis is published in association with the National Maritime Digital Library.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Shooting for TUGS

In my near 3 years of working at MYSTIC SEAPORT I have been granted many a great opportunity. Some of the most exciting include meeting world class sailor Gary Jobson, installing equipment for the amazing Object theater in last year's FROZEN IN exhibit, and of course access to our countless tapes of priceless maritime footage within our secure vault. However, I can honestly say, shooting for the new TUGS exhibit coming in May has given me some of the coolest experiences in my life.

Fall of Last year brought myself and my co-worker Dan Harvison to the harbors of New York City to shoot the annual Tug Games that take place there. He on a historic tug boat, myself on a chase boat, we were both well equipped with some spiffy High Definition cameras!! My were they ever a joy to work with. These cameras not only were lighter and easier to maneuver than anything we've ever worked with previously, but the picture is absolutely indescribable!

Sitting on chase boat I watched and filmed in awe as a river full of Tug boats of all sizes and models raced and frolicked around me. The collective wake of the opening race was massive, nearly toppling me over on the deck. Once the race was over, the fun continued all at once. Some boats move into the dock for a line tossing contest, attempting to lasso the dock brace with a rope the thickness of my arm...some even bigger! Meanwhile, out further into the water, some boats had nose-to-nose contests. Each tug pushing against each other in a sort of "Tug" of war, only in reverse. Surprisingly, even the smaller tugs seemed to hold their own against the massive barge tugs in these contests of brute force.

A few months later, we again found ourselves filming for TUGS with our friends the High Definition cameras. This time, we were aboard a brand spanking new ATB Tug boat. This tug was absolutely massive, it's cockpit rising nearly 80 feet off the water. We were the guests of honor as the captain and crew gave us a full tour and cruised out into open water for a brief, but extremely memorable sea trial. I can't seem to put into words how it feels to be on a ship this massive that can spin nearly in place!

Touring the engine room was like visiting the tug straight off the assembly line. Everything was spotless and shone from the lights above. In some areas, crewmen and engineers worked with various tools making final adjustments before the Tug could be handed off to it's owner.

By far the most amazing thing out of all of these was walking on top of a steel barge while still under construction. We had to be at least the same height as the tug cockpit, the unfinished behemoth being held up only by a few supports allowing work to continue underneath. All around us welders were applying their trade, blinding sparks fixing new plates into place. At one point we were told to be careful where we pointed the camera, for right next door to the manufacturing facility was non other than GENERAL DYNAMICS.

Sadly, TUGS is in post production, and all adventures have long been had and passed. Fortunately a new adventure still awaits us...watching the finished programs in sparkling High Definition!!!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Charles G. Davis Model: The LEXINGTON

In issue two of NAUTICAL QUARTERLY back in 1978, Weston Farmer said of Charles G. Davis' models that were found in "important maritime" museums, "These were the masterpieces of a God-given talent that was literally stunning." Davis was, in turn, a sailor, a naval architect, an engineer, an artist, a writer and more. No wonder Farmer described him as a "Leonardo of the boat-design game." In addition to editing MOTOR BOAT magazine for a number of years, Davis also wrote numerous books on yacht design, sailing and more. One of his books, "The Built-Up Ship Model", written in 1933, was a classic book for modelers, teaching them how to build a model as if building an actual ship. Just recently, through a generous gift, the museum became the proud owner of the brig LEXINGTON, the model used as basis for the book. The LEXINGTON was one of the first private vessels taken into the fledgling U.S. Navy and had her name changed to honor the town where the first battle of the Revolution took place.

The picture shows some of the extraordinary detail of the model, including the workmanship on the ship's boat. The model will spend a couple months in our CO2 chamber to guarantee that no living thing is harming the model in any way before it makes its way back into its case for potential display in the near future.

Mystic Seaport is proud to add the LEXINGTON to its wealth of C.G. Davis material, including other models in the collection, but also a sizable gathering of his plans and manuscript material, including many of the drawings that accompanied his writings.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fishing in the Footsteps of Dr. Charles K. Stillman: A Look into One of Our Founder's Favorite Hobbies

Mystic Seaport will examine the rarely seen Charles K. Stillman Collection in “Fishing in the Footsteps of Dr. Charles K. Stillman: A Look into One of Our Founder's Favorite Hobbies,” the second installment of the “Maritime Surprises from the ...Museum’s Collections” series held Friday, March 12, from 5:30 - 7 p.m.

The four-part series, hosted at the Museum’s Collections Research Center, allows attendees to view significant items that relate to our nation’s maritime heritage. As one of the founders of both Mystic Seaport and the Atlantic Tuna Club, Stillman was an avid freshwater and saltwater fisherman who kept detailed records of his extensive New England fishing experiences. Museum Registrar Krystal Kornegay will discuss almost 30 years of fishing journals that Stillman kept from 1900 to 1931. Stillman’s original fishing gear and watercolor illustrations from his journals will be shown.Kornegay will further discuss her personal experiences in using Stillman’s journal entries and maps to find some of the locales in which he fished, sharing the distinct changes she has recorded along the way.

Sodas and light snacks will be available.
The series continues March 12 and April 9. For more information on “Maritime Surprises,” visit

Tickets are $12 per program (members: $10) and can be purchased online at or by calling 860.572.5322. Tickets must be purchased in advance as seating is limited. Free parking is available adjacent to the Collections Research Center in the Museum’s north parking lot.

Founded in 1929, Mystic Seaport is the nation’s leading maritime museum and features tall ships, a re-created 19th-century village, exhibits and a planetarium. The Museum is located one mile south of exit 90 off I-95 in Mystic, CT, and is open Thursday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, visit or call 888.973.2767.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Awards for Professor Hattendorf

The year 2009 was a busy one, award-wise, for the former head of the Munson Institute at Mystic Seaport, Professor John Hattendorf. The Naval War College, home for Dr. Hattendorf, stated that the Samuel Eliot Morrison award (named after the eminent Harvard Professor) was given for John's public service in scholarship, patriotism and interest in maritime topics. The equally prestigious Alfred Thayer Mahan Award was given for literary achievements that advance the understanding of naval warfare, strategy and policy. In addition to his teaching duties, Dr. Hattendorf has written, edited or contributed to more than forty books. His recent Oxford Encyclopedia of Maritime History is a major editing achievement in the field. And if all that weren't enough, John also received the Department of the Navy Superior Civilian Service Award in 2009. The good professor deserves an extra ration of grog for his outstanding capabilities.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Life of a Podcast: The Final Touches

Once we have all the custom footage we need it's time to compile all the clips we need, and if needed pull stock footage from one of our countless tapes in our climate controlled film/video vault.

It may surprise you to learn that we don't work in DVDs but rather Beta tapes. In fact, only recently has the industry started to change their accepted archival medium from Beta to that of the digital file and hard drive storage. These tapes are of high quality, and durable to boot, making them perfect for archival.

Booting up the Media 100 software on our computer, we must now digitize all of our desired footage. This process is the most time consuming portion of the editing process, the digitization process working in real-time as opposed to the instant drag and drop process of a digital file. To cut back on time, we usually only digitze the full tape for our custom shots, and digitizing pre-selected clips from stock tapes.

The Media 100 software now allows us to use the clips we have digitized and manipulate them in any way we wish. We can create further clips from them, drop them into the timeline as-is, or remove the audio, or even video from the selected clip to suit the needs of the video. A second program, Adobe After Effects is often used for various motion effects for still shots and moving fonts.

Once the program is complete we can export the file as an .MOV format to our "Podcasts" folder. Now it's time for the second most time-comsuming process, encoding for the internet. Since the Media 100 and our Cleaner XL encoding software work on the same codec, Media 100 must be close, but we're done editing anyways so it's ok. While .MOV files are fine on their own, we find that MP4 files are much better suited for YouTube posting. For our actual Podcast Feed, the file must be further encoded to an .m4v file before being uploaded to our ftp server online.

The finished product is now able to be uploaded and promoted across the internet for all our visitors to see. But our work is never done, no time to rest, time to work on our next podcast!

Monday, March 1, 2010

American Library Association Selects Connecticut History Online as the National Digital Library of the Week

Connecticut History Online is a digital collection of over 15,000 digital primary sources, together with associated interpretive and educational material. The four current CHO partners (the Connecticut Historical Society, Connecticut State Library, Mystic Seaport, and the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center) represent three major communities that preserve and make accessible historical collections within the state of Connecticut. Their combined assets include book and periodical volumes, manuscript materials, photographs and graphics, oral histories, maps, artifacts, and broadsides.

Now in its 10th year, CHO is embarking on a collaboration with the Encyclopedia of Connecticut History Online to serve the needs of scholars,teachers and students, genealogists, and the general public. This new initiative builds upon a very successful collaboration of libraries and museums carried out in two IMLS National Leadership grant-funded phases (19992007) that focused on digital capture of historical artifacts, including photographs, maps, broadsides, oral histories, manuscripts, and oral histories. These document events, people, and places that are part of the fabric of Connecticut and American social, business, political, educational, cultural, and civic life.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Life of a Podcast: The Shoot

Occasionally a script calls for custom shooting by the Film/Video Archives crew. Sometimes simple, sometimes complex and creative, we always go through a similar preperation process.

Once the script is complete, the producer/director of the particular video sometimes compiles the precice shots they need by drafting a storyboard. Although the art may not be sophisticated, usually stick figures, they still perform the important job of establishing the composition of the shot. Together with arrows indication motion, the actors and cameraman will work together to replicate the layout and angle of each needed shot in the video.

Storyboard in hand, and actors in tow, it is time to collect the necessary equipment for the set. The most important piece of equipment, of course, being the BetaCam Video Camera. As good practice, the crew always packs at least an hour of tape more than expected needed for the shoot, just in case.

Next comes the heavy duty tripod. Our tripod has adjustable tension and locks for tilt and pan rotations. For less level ground, a ball-socket joint allows us to adjust the head of the tripod, with the aid of a light-up bubble level, even in the dark.

The next batch of equipment packed depends on the needs of the shoot. Is there audio? Will we need additional light? How much light? Will we be doing in-camera effects?

With the addition of Lappel mics, we are able to capture up to two different audio channels for our actors. Or, for even more actors or a noisy environment, a boom mic with a 10 foot extension wand can give us a more directional and selective range for our audio needs.

Lighting additions to the shooting kit gets a bit tricky. Although we have a full lighting kit complete with a multitude of lights, reflectors, and colored gels. We won't necessarily need the entire kit for the shoot. Again, it all depends on the needs for the shot. However, whenever we need light we always use the 3 point lighting rule-- Key light, your main source of light in the shot. Fill light, a smaller amount of light to fill the shadows cast on the subject by the main light. Back light, a minor, often obscured, light to provide emphasis on the background of the subject.

Finally, if lights are indeed needed, the last pieces of equipment needed are universal C-Stands and sandbags to weigh them down. C-Stands are one of our most usefull pieces of equipment both on and off the set. Not only do we use these in lighting setups to hold reflectors or shields, we also can use them as a steady Boom Mic rig, a balancing rig for our steady-cam, or even to hold various backdrop material.

One last check of the equipment list and producer, director, cameraman, and talent are off to the set. Ready to make video magic before the editor takes their turn...but that's for another entry.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Maritime Author Series

Mary Malloy of the Sea Education Association and Harvard University opened our Maritime Author lecture series on Wednesday, January 27th with a rousing talk on Sam Hill. Captain Hill, buried in Boston within feet of John Hancock, was a notorious New Englander who led a reckless and violent life on the high seas in the early 1800's crossing paths with likes of Lewis and Clark and being the first American to live in Japan.

Mary also spoke about her foray into the world of historical fiction and the freedom and challenges it poses for a trained historian. It was a delight to welcome Mary on behalf of the Fellows of the G.W Blunt White Library, the sponsors of the event.

"The Devil on the Deep Blue Sea" and Mary'swork of fiction "The Wandering Heart" are great reads and easily avaialble through our book store or other outlets.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Life of a Podcast: Writing the Script

Like anything else the podcasts and other video programs produced here at the Film/Video Archives start simple enough, with an idea. These ideas being our many events and announcements of special programs from the museum. However, it is our job to come up with a way to promote in an informative and interesting way. This is where the script comes in.

Production Assistant Brandon Morgan captains most of the podcasts and videos seen regarding promotions. Production Head Daniel Harvison responsible for much larger projects such as exhibit videos and the Restoring an Icon: Charles W. Morgan programs.

When writing a promotional script, as you will see like any other part of our jobs, we have a fantastic arsenal of tools at our disposal. In this case, reference books, each with their own special job.

Websters Dictionary- Something no writer should EVER be without for obvious reasons.

Standard Handbook of Synonyms, Antonyms, & Prepositions- This book, coupled with Websters, helps us greatly expand our vocabulary for a more powerful, and therefore more effective script.

Style The Basics of Clarity and Grace- English is by far one of the most complicated and confusing language in the world. This book holds the key to unlocking the more confusing rules behind our language as well as introducing tools to clean up a cluttered script of unnecessary language. It also has a neat section on "Myths" of the English language that would greatly upset your Middle School English Teacher.

Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer- As the title says, this book is full of tips and tricks to improve any writer's style, including subtle nuances in form and sentence structure. The section on cures for Writer's Block is nothing short of a saving grace.

The Poet's Dictionary- In many ways a writer is very much a poet. Within this book are several tools in poetry that when used carefully, can spice up any script to grab the attention of the viewer.

Once the first draft is written, the production team cooperates with the event supervisors and Mike O'Farrell of the Marketing and Communications team check the script for any changes or corrections to suit their needs. Working together, what the two teams produce as a final product is ready now ready for narration, or in some cases, straight onto the video shoot.

Dan Harvison's Restoring an Icon podcasts, however. Are another story completely. Watching these videos you will notice that there is no real script behind them, and yet each one is structured with a strong narrative and even flow throughout. These programs are written by the use of interview soundbytes. Once an interview on the specified topic has been taken. Dan will review the footage, selecting quotes and sometimes even single words to construct the narrative of the program. This is the same technique documentaries use on a regular basis. Of course, to pull this specific technique off, one has to be both good writer as well as a good editor. Thankfully for us, Dan is both of these.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

For Your Viewing Pleasure

Visitors who take the exciting new tour of the Collections and Research Center this winter start off the tour with a very special look at all the important and dedicated departments housed in this building.

The interpreter turns on the monitor and presses play, and much to your surprise upbeat hip-hop music begins to play as images of the Collections building scrolls across the screen. Thus begins the new 13 minute "Cribs" video produced right here by the Film/Video archives.

A year in the making, this latest production shows off the talent and skill of editor, producer, and camera man Daniel Harvison. Together with Production Assistant Brandon Morgan, the Film/Video archives have the fantastic opportunity to provide all interested in the Museum with regular podcasts and video updates on the official Mystic Seaport YouTube channel.

A lot of work goes into what we do, but we're happy to make the effort to not only produce, but preserve our even larger selection of archival footage from the Mystic Seaport collection. In our very own refrigerated-vault, we house, transfer, and even clean and repair footage from throughout maritime history including the famous footage of rounding Cape Horn by Irving Johnson.

Part of the joy in our work comes from being able to share powerful moments and visuals with the world. Whether this be our continuing coverage of the Charles W. Morgan Restoration, or shooting and producing original programs for our many exhibits; we are always excited to be a part of your experience here at Mystic Seaport.

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