Category Archives: Collections

Panorama Conservation Project Reveals Hidden Content.

One of the great treasures of the New Bedford Whaling Museum collection, Caleb P. Purrington and Benjamin Russell’s 1848 painting, Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, is currently receiving conservation treatment. Concerns with the 1,285 foot long painting include flaking paint, wrinkling and tears in the fabric. The entire composition consisting of tempera on cotton sheeting, even after being bundled around from city to city 150 years ago, remains in a remarkable state of preservation. It  is nonetheless in need of attention. The painting is stored on rolls, as it was originally, and abrasion has caused some paint loss. For its treatment, the painting has been separated into a series of padded spools. One at a time, the spools are mounted on a custom-fabricated steel table outfitted with cogs, cranks, swivels and other apparatus necessary to maneuver the giant paintings safely and effectively. Its location in the Bourne Building, just adjacent to the model whaling bark Lagoda, gives visitors the opportunity to witness the ongoing treatment firsthand. One goal of the treatment is to minimize the loss of paint as it flakes away from the cotton sheeting. Using a combination of liquid spray consolidates and targeted forensic triage the conservators are systematically stabilizing this important artifact of American maritime history. Another goal is to repair any damage to the fabric.

Conservator Jordan Berson at work with a dahlia sprayer humidifying the cotton substrate and fixing the pigments in place.

Conservator Jordan Berson at work with a dahlia sprayer humidifying the cotton substrate and fixing the pigments in place.

One ten foot section of the Panorama is treated weekly to consolidate the fragile and powdered paint layer, in order to prevent it from falling off the cotton substrate. First, the section is examined for minute particles on the surface that are carefully  removed with tweezers. Particulate commonly found are lint, human hairs, dirt and other debris. Once the surface is free of such materials, the section is sprayed with a superfine mist of weak-gelatin solution from a dahlia-sprayer. The solution (.75% conservation grade gelatin in deionized water) serves a dual purpose: as an fixative for the powdering paint, and to humidify the cotton sheeting substrate and reduce wrinkling. 

The Panorama unrolled to the section showing Horta, Fayal in the Azores. Photo by Melanie Correia, July 15, 2015

The Panorama unrolled to the section showing Horta, Fayal in the Azores.
Photo by Melanie Correia, July 15, 2015

While the conservators examine and treat the painting for its forensic issues, the curators and historians seize the opportunity, while the painting is flat on its bed, to examine the great whaling document for the details of its content; and this painting is replete with fascinating historical details. Everything from flags to geography, to the rigs of ships and boats, is documented in varying degrees of detail and accuracy. Benjamin Russell (1804-1885) was a self-trained artist and himself a whaleman. He is a fascinating figure in New Bedford history. As a young man his prospects were great. His family were successful merchants and he sat on the board of directors of the newly formed Marine Bank. The national banking crisis precipitated by the Andrew Jackson administration, however, caused a constriction of credit and Russell’s assets were insufficient to cover his debts. So, like many in desperate straits, he sought his future at sea and went a’whaling. He sailed on at least one whaling voyage onboard the ship Kutusoff of New Bedford, a sperm and right whaling cruise to the Indian Ocean and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1841-1845. While on the voyage he is said to have kept a sketchbook to record the exciting events and scenes of the hunt intending to use the experience to further his career as a whaling artist. By the 1860s he had firmly established himself in New Bedford and was working as a ship portraitist and print maker, but after he had returned from his whaling voyage he and local sign painter Caleb Purrington (1812-1876) undertook this traveling panorama picture show to take whaling to a broader American audience.

Senior Maritime Historian, Michael P. Dyer take a break from writing his notes about the details of Purrington and Russell’s shipping shown in the harbor at Horta, Fayal to discuss the project with visitors.

Senior Maritime Historian, Michael P. Dyer takes a break from writing his notes about the details of Purrington and Russell’s shipping in the harbor at Horta, Fayal to discuss the project with visitors.

For anyone interested in whaling history and especially for those conversant with the  limited quantity of published American artistic production documenting the whale fishery of the 19th century, any picture offering details of the period of the 1840s is naturally of great interest. The panorama, however, was never meant to be studied as a fine work of art. It was meant to be viewed by a mass audience from a certain distance; hence the artists emphasized broad details for maximum impact and painted the rest with just enough definition to be seen and understood by the audience but not to be examined in detail. Several good examples demonstrate their working style in the creation of this painting where scenes are included but are later painted out entirely or changed significantly.

For instance, as the voyage leaves the Azores, actual whaling begins as sperm whales are seen, boats are lowered and the chase is on.

This section of the painting showing ships and boats engaged in sperm whaling was extensively reworked and many of the changes are visible through close examination.

This section of the painting showing ships and boats engaged in sperm whaling was extensively reworked and many of the changes are visible through close examination. These include the house flag at the top of main mast (the tall one in the middle), the set of the sails, and a large-scale sperm whaling scene, barely visible and easily overlooked.

However, the artists, probably Russell himself, were not content with the scene as it was originally drawn. The sails of the ship, which is shown hove-to with its main topsails and topgallant sails aback, indicate that the wind is blowing from one direction. The American ensign and the house flag at the main also show that wind direction. The original house flag flying from the top of the main mast was originally painted flying the wrong direction and was later painted out completely. Not only was it flying the wrong direction, but the entire design of the flag was changed. It appears that originally, the house flag could have been that of T. & A.R. Nye, it being a blue swallowtail with white lettering, but it was changed to a completely non-descript and unidentifiable design.

This detail photograph of the house flag from the above view clearly shows that both the direction and the design of the house flag were completely changed. The faint outline of a blue swallowtail flag with white lettering is visible to the right, while the newly painted flag to the left is unidentifiable.

This detail photograph of the house flag from the above view clearly shows that both the direction and the design of the house flag were completely changed. The faint outline of a blue swallowtail flag with white lettering is visible to the right, while the newly painted flag to the left is unidentifiable.

Likewise, the artists changed the foresail which, originally shown as being set, is shown clewed up. This presumably reflects Russell’s practical experience as a sailor and a whaleman, where “having determined from the known quality of the ship, what sail would be best to heave-to under,” Russell made the changes that he thought necessary.

Note the faint outline that shows the foresail had originally been painted as being set. In the final view it is clewed up.

Note the faint outline that shows the foresail had originally been painted as being set. In the final view it is clewed up.

The artists made other changes in this scene as well. Whether the pictures did not effectively mirror the accompanying narrative or vice versa, that the painting was not following the narrative, the artists eliminated and changed two sperm whaling scenes. It may well be that the painting and the narrative were in a state of creative evolution together and that the artists were making it up as they went along in order to produce a better product in the end. In the below scene, as it was originally painted, a whaleboat is shown on the flank of a very large sperm whale which has been lanced and as shown by its bloody spout, is dying. This could have been the point in the narrative where Russell describes the whaleman’s language “his chimney’s a’fire,” to indicate a whale that has received its death wound.

Whether the artists simply were not ready to talk about the killing and processing of a sperm whale at this stage in their narrative is speculation, but for some reason they chose to paint out this sperm whaling scene.

Whether the artists simply were not ready to talk about the killing and processing of a sperm whale at this stage in their narrative is speculation, but for some reason they chose to paint out this sperm whaling scene.

A few scenes on, they did it again, painting out an entire sperm whaling scene and leaving another in its place. Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the below scene along with the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

A few scenes on, they did it again, painting out an entire sperm whaling scene leaving another in its place. Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the above scene along with the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the above scene along with the even more faint outline of the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

Above is a detail of the sperm whaling scene that they left in place. It shows a whaleboat going “head and head” onto a sperm whale, meaning that the boat is approaching the whale from the front as opposed to the flank. Such details as this helped the narrator to tell the story well and to demonstrate some of the techniques that American whaleman had mastered over the 100 years of their sperm whaling experience.

Above is a detail of the sperm whaling scene that they left in place. It shows a whaleboat going “head and head” onto a sperm whale, meaning that the boat is approaching the whale from the front as opposed to the flank. Such details as this helped the narrator to tell the story well and to demonstrate some of the techniques that American whaleman had mastered over the 100 years of their sperm whaling experience.

As the process of conservation on the Panorama goes forward, doubtless many more new observations will come to the fore regarding the process of its creation. Such observations will fill gaps in the sparse historical record of the Panorama and make for an exciting new narrative about it and its place in American whaling history.

Sources:

William Brady, The Kedge-Anchor; or, Young Sailors’ Assistant (New York, 1850), p.173, entry #308.

The Mystery of the New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company Models

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

As the community debate continues about whether a casino should (or should not) be built on New Bedford’s waterfront, the old New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company (NBG&ELC) buildings  stand at the heart of the latest proposed reuse of the site. Also known as the Cannon Street Power Station, the last redevelopment effort, launched in 1997, desired to transform it into a “world-class” aquarium. Turbine Hall, the 1917 monumental structure at the center of the site, once again figures prominently as an architectural centerpiece in the early conceptual drawings of a proposed casino complex.

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

I will not elaborate on the remarkable history and importance of the company, the building or its many additions constructed over the decades in order to deliver power to the region. It has been well documented by research historian Peggi Medeiros, for its nomination in 2002 as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places (an effort led by the Waterfront Historic Area League and its former executive director, Tony Sousa). Peggi also recently reviewed the site’s history in the Standard-Times in light of the casino proposed by KG Urban Enterprises.

Instead, my focus is to ask the public’s help in solving a mystery regarding a very unusual group of large wooden models of the old NBG&ELC complex, rediscovered recently in the Whaling Museum’s collections.

Now, you may be wondering: How does the Whaling Museum not know about these objects? The answer is: We do know a little about them, but not the maker or makers, when and where they were made and for what purpose. With more than 750,000 objects in the Museum’s collections, the curatorial staff continues its unending quest to preserve and interpret it all, and on rare occasion, is presented with mysteries such as this one, which any latter-day Sherlock Holmes would relish solving.

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

What we do know is that it was part of an exhibit by NBG&ELC at the New Bedford Armory for the City of New Bedford’s Centennial celebrations of 1947, and thus, it may be the only extant display of the New Bedford Centennial Industrial Exposition, which touted the city’s major business concerns. The model includes several hand-lettered labels explaining the functions of the buildings.

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947.  Photo: Arthur Motta

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947. Photo: Arthur Motta

Under the headline “Thousands Visit Centennial Industrial Exhibit at Armory,” a two-page feature article in the New Bedford Standard-Times remarked only briefly how “Miniature old and new plants, gas tanks and a model freighter were combined to make the novel display of the New Bedford Gas and Edison Light Company” (July 4, 1947). Despite its many photos, the feature article did not include one of the exhibit.  So it may be that the models were fabricated expressly for the exposition, however, this has not been confirmed with research to-date.

The models came to light relatively recently, when reallocation of all storage space was necessitated in advance of construction of the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center. Stored deep in the recesses of Johnny Cake Hill’s labyrinth of storage rooms, the models’ presence predate the living memory of the longest-serving staff member, Barry Jesse, who recalls it being in the attic in 1971. Even Eversource spokesperson, Michael Durand and Dana P. Howland, a former director of the company – both men with the longest institutional memories of the utility around – didn’t know of the models’ existence.

D. Jordan Bernson, collections manager, with the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with some the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

Recently, collections manager D. Jordan Berson and me committed to laying out the sprawling 24 models to see what we could see. It required more floor space than we had anticipated. Constructed of fir plywood, metal and wire, the models are of an undetermined scale, perhaps a quarter inch to a foot. The largest, Turbine Hall, is about 6 feet in length. Several of the models will require careful repair if the entirety is ever to be exhibited again. Indeed, Dr. Christina Connett and her curatorial staff debated the models’ inclusion in the recently opened exhibition, Energy and Enterprise; Industry and the City of New Bedford. However, without its full history, the models were deferred for perhaps a future project and the “Energy” narrative of the current show was related through other objects and images from the collection.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company complex, 1897.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, 1897.

Using among several references an aerial photograph of the NBG&ELC complex reproduced in the Centennial “Official Souvenir Book” of 1947, we managed an approximate assembly of the plant, sans the missing freighter model aforementioned in the newspaper account. Mr. Berson indulged my request that he be photographed with the models in order to relate scale, although upon inspection of the photos his presence in them recalls for me some distant Christmas morning scene with a Lionel train set!

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company,  New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

The insides of the models are hollow; no internal details were meant to show. Only the exteriors are treated; all ofwhich are painstakingly hand-painted to include dozens of mullioned windows, entablatures, smokestacks, chimneys and vents.  It should be noted here that actual interior of NBG&ELC’s Turbine Hall is amazing, designed by the renowned engineering firm Webster & Stone – designers of the MIT dome in the same year – Turbine Hall’s interior looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel, with its colossal steel girders, massive bolts and riveted crossbeams. Only one of  four soaring smokestacks still stands at the site. The aquarium designers of 18 years ago took full advantage of these imposing elements, and it is hoped, any new project will, too.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

So please contact me about what you may know of the origin of the NBG&ELC models. My email address is: amotta@whalingmuseum.org.

Perhaps a late, great uncle built it upon retirement. Or a great grandfather worked in a carpentry shop that was hired by the company to build a miniature of the power plant at a scale sufficiently large enough to create an impressive display in the Armory’s sweeping Drill Hall.

Many of the smaller models in the group have metal eyelets screwed in along their bases, it is assumed, in order to fasten each building to a very large base-board, probably painted to delineate the plant’s grounds and also to hold them in position. Unfortunately, the base is missing. To add to the puzzle, some of the models look like structures from an earlier era in the company’s history, as can be inferred from an 1897 illustration of the complex. Could it be that the models as originally exhibited were intended to show the company throughout its history?

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Also, without the base we could not surmise the location of the mysterious so-called Lake Trinidad, noted in historical accounts of the site. As the Standard-Times reported “In 1924, a looming coal strike inspired the installation of an oil-gas generator. This inspiration had drawbacks – the oil-gas generator suffered from a bad case of by-products. The set yielded tremendous quantities of tar and lampblack. The tar was finally run off into a large puddle where it grew to be 3 feet deep and won the name of “Lake Trinidad!”” (Oct. 29, 1950) This was a mocking reference to one of the world’s largest natural asphalt lakes.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

In closing, we need to learn more about the models and hope someone may know something about their creation. They represent a considerable slice of history for an always-strategic site on New Bedford’s central working waterfront – first, as a simple landing place for the native Wampanoag and then the earliest European explorers; then settlers; then colonial burying ground; then wharves and piers; then iron foundry; then illuminating gas manufactory, then electric lighting company; then New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company; then a wholly-owned subsidiary of New England Gas & Electric Association; then CommElectric; then NSTAR; then a proposed aquarium; now Eversource; and perhaps, a future casino.

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

SOURCES:

Ellis, Leonard Bolles. History of New Bedford and its vicinity, 1602-1892, Syracuse, N.Y: D. Mason & Co., 1892.

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20150328/NEWS/150329366

KG Urban Enterprises

New Bedford Free Public Library (newspaper microfiche collections)

New Bedford Semi-Centennial and Industrial Exposition Official Souvenir, Providence, R.I.: Journal of Commerce Company, publishers. 1897.

Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.

Herman Melville’s Return to New Bedford

Herman Melville

Herman Melville (1819-1891)

157 years ago tonight the author who immortalized the city in Moby-Dick returned to speak, on of all things, Roman statuary. What was it like to be there?

It had been 18 years since Herman Melville was last in the whaling city. His stay was brief then; just a few days before shipping out on the whaleship Acushnet, January 3, 1841. In the years that followed his reputation as an adventurer writer would make his name synonymous with the South Seas. Now, on the evening of February 23, 1858, his return was as a speaker at the New Bedford Lyceum. Just seven years after the publication Moby-Dick, one might expect his topic would be related to that ponderous tome; surely some in town had questions about it. But his lecture that night was titled “The Statues of Rome.” In the Republican Standard a week earlier his talk was listed within a diminutive advertisement.

What was it like that night, arriving at the Lyceum, finding a seat, and waiting for Mr. Melville to take the stage?

Melville’s manuscript of “Statues of Rome” has not turned up. Perhaps he spoke from scant notes; after all, he had been on the lecture circuit some several weeks speaking on this one subject. New Bedford was to be his sixteenth and final engagement in a tour  that left him exhausted. Whether he directed the attention of his audience to placards with illustrations of the works he discussed is not known but it is probably  unlikely. Certainly, many in the hall would be familiar with the stories behind the statues; Greek and Latin were taught in schools for those who could afford an education. Melville’s extraordinary gift of description doubtless could have provided all the visual imagery needed, though one would expect a portfolio of large illustrations upon an easel would have enriched the program for all. Nevertheless, Melville gave his audience their money’s worth.

Melville_Bag_concept_2Although the exact content of the program remains undiscovered, scholars have meticulously pieced together Melville’s talk by studying the many reviews published in local newspapers where he appeared. Thanks to the Melville Society Archives, housed in the Research Library of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, multiple sources are available to examine Melville’s lost lecture. Within the Archives “The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces 1839-1860,” published by Northwestern University Press (1987), attempts such  a glimpse. In a section titled Reconstructed Lectures, “The Statues of Rome” is reassembled based upon more than thirty reviews and news articles in the local press where Melville appeared. It should be noted here that the Piazza Tales volume was the work of many academics, including contributing scholar Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, now the Melville Society Extracts Editor.

Thus, we can with  a degree of confidence know what Melville covered through this  Reconstructed Lecture. For example, the Boston Journal (December 3, 1857) reported that “He began by suggesting that in the realm of art there was no exclusiveness. Dilletanti might accumulate their technical terms, but that did not interfere with the substantial enjoyment of those who did not understand them. As the beauties of nature could be appreciated without a knowledge of botany, so art could be enjoyed without the artist’s skill.” (p.727)

Apollo_Belvidere

Melville included the Apollo Belvedere in his lecture on Roman Statuary.

In New Bedford, both the Mercury and the Republican Standard published reviews of Melville’s lecture; the former on February 24th and the latter on February 25th. Neither review noted Melville’s authorship of Moby-Dick. The Mercury reported “Mr. Melville gave an interesting and instructive lecture last evening on the Sculptures of Rome, more especially with many suggestive and thoughtful criticisms on art interspersed.” The Mercury article continued, noting the many works upon which Melville touched. “After enumerating other salient points of the Roman antique, and dwelling upon the vast ruins of the Coliseum and the Baths, the lecturer passed to the villas of Rome, which were the houses of the best collections of the finest objects of art, and where nature had been raised by culture and refinement into an almost human character.”

The Republican Standard was more critical in its review, which also confirms that Melville read from a prepared script.  “The lecture on Tuesday evening was a well written and scholarly essay, which would doubtless be read with much pleasure, but was not calculated to interest as a lecture.” Like the Mercury, the Standard related the various works, which Melville covered in sequence. “The lecturer then gave an account of some of the more ideal works, such as the Apollo Belvedere, which was a model for poets, and from which Milton must have obtained some of his grand conceptions of dignity and grace… The Laocoon, Castor and Pollux, and the Hercules Farnese, with other statues were also described.”

In the week before Melville spoke, the New Bedford Lyceum featured a lecture by the Reverend Henry Fowler (1824-1872), titled “A View of the Pulpit by the Pews.” The content of his lecture mirrored his book on the subject. However, Fowler’s program is important in relation to Melville’s program  because it inspired a parody piece in the Republican Standard, published on February 25, 1858 – the same issue in which its review of Melville’s lecture was published. Titled “The Audience as Seen from the Reporters Box,” the column vividly and humorously describes the scene in Liberty Hall as the audience assembles for the Lyceum lecture. It is a wonderfully witty piece of editorial, which doubtless records the scene of Melville’s program; so much so, the text in its entirety is included here so that the reader may be the judge:

Laocoon

Melville’s talk included this sculpture titled “Laocoön and His Sons” in the Vatican Collections. This image is taken from Smith’s Classical Dictionary, 1866.

“It is the night of the weekly lecture, an occasion which competes for the public attention with the auction room, the reading club, the itinerant psychologist, the prayer meeting, and the spiritual medium. On lecture night all these have to suspend operations. The beauty and the chivalry, the beaux and the belles, the whits and the blues of New Bedford, each having some especial taste to gratify, crowd to the lecture room. The doors are thrown open at an early hour, and those who are blessed with nothing to do, secure the best seats and pass away an hour or two with sandwiches and sewing, magazines and small talk.

“The reporter, to whom lectures, city council and school committee meetings, and all public gatherings which it is his duty to attend, are only a bore, defers his arrival to the latest possible moment. He winds his way through the furniture of the stage and at the risk of his neck, ascends the rickety ladder by which alone he can reach his lofty perch. He folds his shawl and places it on the three legged stool he is privileged to occupy, so as to have as comfortable a seat as possible, wipes his glasses and in the first place, glances over the evening papers, internally anathematizing the ill placed gas light which tries alike his eyes and his temper. The journals are speedily dispatched and he has nothing to occupy his attention previous to the entrance of the lecturer but the audience before him.

“The hall is already pretty well filled. A few however are dropping in. Every seat is occupied. From orchestra to loftiest gallery there is not a vacant space. The latest comers overflow upon the platform, hardly leaving room for the speaker, or stagnate in the aisles. What a sea of faces! What a study for a physiognomist! How many histories can be read in all these countenances! How character stands out not only in the features, but in the dress, the conduct and attitudes of all this crowd! What a contrast between the expression of that shrewd sharp-featured man of business and that dreamy large-eyed youth! Between that cold and calculating politician and that warm hearted and impulsive girl! Between those lineaments molded into sternness by long habits of thought, and the smooth, unmeaning vacant face of one whose mental faculties have never been called into exercise.

“Some are busied with their magazines and newspapers. Others are improving the time by knitting and sewing. Others are communing with their own thoughts. But most are engaged in conversation. Some, talking politics; some criticizing the audience; some talking over last evening’s ball; some whispering tenderly – but the reporter will not reveal the secrets which have reached his ear.

Liberty_Hall_c1860

Liberty Hall, at William and Purchase Streets was the site of the New Bedford Lyceum where Melville spoke on February 23, 1858. (photo ca. 1860, published in the Rotogravure Section, New Bedford Sunday Standard-Times ca. 1930-1950).

 

“Now a slight murmur of applause, which the boys in the gallery aggravate with their feet into a horrible din, announces the entrance of the lecturer. He pushes his way slowly down the aisle and along the crowded platform. He takes his seat, wipes his face with his handkerchief, and looks around him. He is evidently a good deal astonished. He thought he was coming to some small out of the way place to waste his fine thoughts and unappreciated eloquence on a hundred or two of uncultivated people. Perhaps he didn’t think it worth while to bring down his best effort. But he finds himself exceedingly mistaken. He finds, the reporter ventures to say, as fine and well-lighted a hall, as intelligent and appreciative an audience as anywhere in New England, out of the Metropolis. Well, he has got to make the best of it. He is announced. The murmur of conversation gradually dies away, and a profound stillness prevails.

“The lecturer’s fame has probably preceded him, and it now remains to be seen whether it will stand the test of actual experience. His exordium is listened to with attention. As he proceeds, the audience by their air, indicate the judgment they are forming. The politician sneers at some evidence of fanaticism. The eye of the dreamer kindles as he gets a new insight into some great truth. The man of business moves restlessly in his seat as he perceives the subject has no “practical” bearing.  The young girl whispers “beautiful” at some display of flowery rhetoric. The lawyer smiles as he detects a fallacy, and the head of the unthinking one whom no rhetoric, eloquence, humor or logic can move, gradually subsides as he sinks into a dreamless sleep. Sometimes there is a faint applause at some happy expression. But the reporter has observed that our audiences are timid in this respect.  They seem to be afraid of interrupting or disconcerting the speaker.

“But it is more likely that discriminating and genial applause helps to establish a more complete sympathy between the audience and the speaker, to give increased confidence to the latter, and more animation to his delivery. But cat-calls, whistling, and loud stamping, are rude, ill-tempered and abominable.

“So the hour passes away. If the speaker be a man of true eloquence, and sincere earnestness, if he is untrammeled by manuscript and speaks with animation and heartiness, he will generally secure the attention of the audience to its close. But if he be a near rhetorician, a bounding in words but scanty in ideas, if he be confined to manuscript or speaks in the manner of a school boy declaiming from memory, the attention of the audience will soon begin to flag. Conversation will be renewed. General uneasiness will prevail and a universal sense of relief will be felt at the close of the performance.

“But whoever the lecturer may be, he cannot please all alike. None has secured the unanimous suffrage or favor of those who have heard him. To some Beecher is merely theatrical; Chapin, only a thunderer; Phillips, a fanatic; Parker, an infidel; Cushing, a sophist, and Emerson, an unintelligible transcendentalist. In our estimates of lectures as of books, we are all more or less influenced by our prevailing habits of thought, our degree of culture, our standard of taste and our personal prejudices. “What is one man’s meat is another man’s poison” is true of the ineffectual as well as the bodily appetite. What one admires another abhors. What one approves, another condemns. And so, taking the course of lectures as a whole, each has heard something to disapprove of and condemn, but, we will hope, more to relish, entertain and instruct.

“ We should endeavor to divest ourselves of all personal prejudices, to expand our contracted habits of thought, to acquire a catholicity of taste, and to detect whatever there may be of truth in all the varieties of opinion and doctrine. For each of them is a partial development of the common mind, and what we find wanting in ourselves, we may supply by a candid reception of that which others seek to impart.

“But the reporter didn’t intend to philosophize. The lecture is over. The audience gradually makes its way out of the building, tarrying for the interchange of friendly greeting by acquaintances and of criticisms favorable or unfavorable on the evening’s performance. The lecturer remains behind to receive the fifty he has earned (?) and the reporter hurries home to decipher his hieroglyphic notes before the impression of the lecture has faded from his memory and thus rendered the task almost impossible.”

One wonders 157 years later, if anyone lingered after the lecture to shake Melville’s hand and ask him to autograph their copy of Moby-Dick? And did he smile?

SOURCES:

Melville, Herman. Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860: Volume Nine, Scholarly Edition. G. Thomas Tanselle , Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, Editors. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 1987.

Parker, Herschel. Herman Melville: A Biography (Volume 2, 1851-1891). Baltimore, Maryland: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Wallace, Robert K. Douglass And Melville: Anchored Together in Neighborly Style. New Bedford, Massachusetts: Spinner Publications, 2005.

Smith, William. A Smaller Classical Dictionary of Biography, Mythology and Geography. New York, New York: American Book Company, ca.1866.

New Bedford Mercury, February 1858.

New Bedford Republican Standard, February 1858.

http://www.melvillesociety.org

 

 

 

Interning at the Research Library

UMASS Amherst Emily Esten has just completed her internship in the Research Library. Below are her reflections on the experience:

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has always been a fascinating place inside – you’ve got the Lagoda, the forecastle, and the whale skeletons hanging over you. The exhibits detail answers to every question about whales and whaling that could ever be asked. But there is so much research and materials that the Museum can’t possibly display and discuss them all – for those stories, you have to visit the library.

I interned in the Research Library over the summer, looking for an experience that would allow me to further my interests in New Bedford whaling as well as teach me some new skills, like library management. I enjoyed my experience, and I certainly learned a lot in just a few months.

  • Organization: My tasks primarily focused on organizing Manuscript (Mss) collections. These collections can have all sorts of items – correspondence was common, but there could also be business records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, pictures, or various mementos. Many of these collections had been accessioned by the Museum (purchased or donated) but not processed (organized with a complete finding aid). This is where I came in – to process the collections. First, I would take a thorough inventory of what was initially in the boxes, taking notes on the content I came across. Next, I’d review my notes and attempt to think of a series arrangement in which to sort the content – whether that was by type of content, time period, or individual associated with the materials. Once running my organizational ideas by Mark, I’d typically start arranging the materials and folders in chronological order. When all the folders were organized, I’d have to officially process them, writing descriptions on each folder. Finally, I’d write the finding aid, have it checked by Mark, and code it for the website. It wasn’t always easy to do, especially as the collections became larger and less organized. It required attention to detail, focus, and great organizational skills – all of which I was able to perfect.
  • New Bedford (Whaling): Working with unprocessed manuscripts was like a crash course in Old Dartmouth history, jumping from century to subject in a matter of pages. And unlike most history courses, which provide overviews of a topic or period, I was able to use primary sources of a particular individual or family to begin to understand what life might have been like. In regards to the whaling industry, the Mss collections covered more than just the experience at sea. I read about whalers writing home to their wives and children explaining day-to-day activities on board; I analyzed records of businessmen managing their vessels and crew; I saw the cards and drawings from children and wives detailing their lives as they waited for fathers and husbands to return. These primary sources served as guides to the stories of whaling I already knew. Through the Delano Family Papers (Mss 134), I saw the beginnings of whaling as various young businessmen traded ships amongst themselves. I saw a wife in the Eliza Russell Papers (Mss 136) writing to her husband on voyage in the North Pacific. I saw as the Matthew Howland family triumphed in the business and then failed disastrously in the Arctic disasters of the 1870s in Mss 135.
  • New Bedford (Outside of Whaling): I also got to view New Bedford as a city of its own – sometimes in its heyday, sometimes long after. Within the Akin Family Papers (Mss 140), I saw the success of industrial businesses, such as the Howland Mills or F.T. Akin & Company, come into power. And from a social perspective, I was able to some of the work of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society through the papers of Charles Gardner Akin, Jr., as well as the sales and exhibitions of Winfred W. Bennett and his Old Colonial Antiques Shop (Mss 138). I even read things entirely different from whaling, like Walter Teller’s research of Joshua Slocum (Mss 131) and Walter Rounsevell’s quest for gold in California (Mss 126). In general, though, I learned a lot about the people that made New Bedford and the surrounding community important.
  • The Library: Other than New Bedford history, I discovered what it takes to work in a library. It’s nowhere near as impersonal as people make it out be – with all the activity, every day was a different experience. While I’d often be in my own little corner working on the project of the week, I’d see all sorts of people looking at all sorts of materials and for all sorts of reasons. Unlike the way people portray or talk about libraries, it’s not this still or stationary place. A library is a haven and a home, ever-growing and shaped by the needs of the researchers. A librarian or an archivist has to be able to think about information differently – not necessarily on linear terms, but in a form that allows you to link ideas and people together. You have to know where to find things off the top of your head, and how to help people find exactly what they are looking for. It’s not an easy job, but it certainly seems like an interesting one.

I’d like to thank the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the opportunity to work in the Research Library, especially Mark Procknik as my supervisor, and Michael Dyer and Michael Lapides for support.

Matthew and Rachel Howland

UMASS Amherst Emily Esten has just completed another project in the Research Library. This time Emily worked on Manuscript Collection #135 (Mss 135) and produced a full finding aid in addition to her reflections below:

Matthew and Rachel Howland were the power couple of 19th century New Bedford: Matthew, co-owner of George Howland & Sons, worked diligently to make the family whaling business a success. While his brother, George, was the face of the business, Matthew monitored the fitting and repair of all the vessels, the sale of oil in foreign ports, the running of the candle-making factory and the hiring of captains and crews. His wife, Rachel, stood as “queen of New Bedford society,” serving as a minister in the Society of Friends for over 50 years and donating to the city of New Bedford through multiple acts of philanthropy. As an activist, Rachel founded multiple institutions for the betterment of society – the Ladies City Mission Society (1868), Association for the Relief of Aged Women (1866), Children’s Aid Society (1891) were just some of the contributions. She was an important individual in the abolitionist movement on a local, regional, and national scale.

Though the collection gives no information on how they met, it does contain the beginning of their relationship. From 1840 to 1842, Matthew sent multiple letters to Rachel, who lived in Burlington, New Jersey. The first letter, written November 20, 1840, appears to be in response to one of Rachel’s. Though not explicitly stated, one can infer that Matthew had proposed a courtship correspondence with her, which she turns down in favor of “at least another year must pass away without further communication.” Matthew, obviously hurt by this, professes his love and his promise to wait for her.

His regular correspondence, however, begins in 1841, waiting the appropriate amount of time before apologizing for the previous letter and asking Rachel to burn it. His letters then go onto detail his life as he takes on responsibility within George Howland and Sons, and the Society of Friends’ meetings he attends.

Several visits are made by Matthew to Rachel’s home of West Hill. It appears they refer to the manor house as “the asylum,” though no explanation is given as to why. Though the collection lacks Rachel’s side of the correspondence, we can infer that her feelings do change for Matthew, as he changes his salutation from “Esteemed Friend” to “My Dearest Chelly” in a letter dated October 1841. We also learn some of Rachel’s fears in marrying Matthew – primarily, the fear of leaving her entire life behind in New Jersey for the “strange land” of New Bedford. Matthew reassures her that he will do as much as possible to make her feel at home here once they are to be married.

Their engagement begins in January of 1842, though it is not official until Matthew’s uncle Isaac sends his approval for the marriage a month later. Very little is stated about the marriage itself, but primarily focuses on events near the chosen date – specifically, Matthew’s excitement of a trip to Niagara with friends Samuel and Sarah.

For an unknown reason, Rachel requested to delay their marriage until September. (One can assume that Michael’s responsibilities in New Bedford, which had significantly increased, were taking a significant amount of time.) Matthew agrees to this request somewhat reluctantly, as it means they cannot attend an event in Niagara. The date September 8th is mentioned as the future date for marriage. Though the letters end in August, records elsewhere indicate that the couple did indeed get married on that date. The final letter of correspondence from October 1847 refers to Rachel as his wife, mentions their daughter Susy [Susanna], and is signed “thy sincerely attached + loving husband.”

The Howlands were major players in New Bedford’s economic and social scene, and their story starts right here – in Mss 135. Matthew’s letters to his future wife preserve a story of friendship, of love, and most importantly, of ambition.

If you would like to take a more detailed glance at this manuscript collection, please call Mark Procknik at the Research Library, (508) 997-0046 ext. 134, to schedule a research appointment.

Walter Magnus Teller Collection

Emily Esten from UMASS Amherst is currently interning in the Museum’s Research Library. Her first project centered around Manuscript Collection #131 (Mss 131) with a complete finding aid serving as the finished product. Below are Emily’s reflections on her first completed project:

Essentially, Mss 131 is a collection called the Teller Papers, a gift from Dr. Walter Magnes Teller that consists of correspondence and research materials from his work on studying Joshua Slocum. The collection was assessed in 1989, but a proper finding aid didn’t exist. That was my assignment: create the finding aid.

Joshua Slocum is an interesting character – born Canadian in a small town of Nova Scotia, later became an American citizen, and managed to make many impressive sea voyages, the most notable being his solo voyage around the world. The sloop he used for that particular voyage, the Spray, was given to him during his stay in Fairhaven, Mass. Slocum mysteriously disappeared while on his way to the West Indies. Teller wrote two books on Slocum: The Search for Joshua Slocum in 1959, and The Voyages of Joshua Slocum in 1971.

The collection includes a wide array of documents – over one-third of the collection is correspondence, but it also includes photos, a draft of a script for a movie of Slocum’s life, and photostats of original Slocum letters. It’s divided up into three separate sections: Correspondence, Research Materials, and Additional Teller Publications and Materials.

I found lots of interesting items in this collection – here were some of my favorites:

  • A handwriting analysis report of one of Slocum’s letters, 1954 (I don’t remember the results of this report, but it reminded me of the fact that a biographer needs to go through literally EVERYTHING in order to get a good idea of who the individual was.)
  • A draft of the speech Teller gave at the Fairhaven plaque dedication ceremony, April 1959
  • Joshua Slocum stamps from Christmas Island, 1977 (You know you’ve made it when you’re on a stamp.)
  • Slocum’s marriage license to Virginia. (I’ve never seen a marriage license before, but the language used in it was a little frightening, to say the least.)
  • A copy of Canadian Geographic, 1980. (I didn’t realize the entire magazine would be in the folder – it had to be at least an inch thick!)
  • A letter from Teddy Roosevelt to Joshua Slocum (the two met on at least one occasion.)

The really interesting finds were in the newspapers. I spent several hours standing by the photocopier in order to make copies of newspaper clippings, since clippings are printed on paper that will quickly fade and fall apart. Clippings are difficult to decipher – sometimes, the particular article or picture was difficult to find, and so I had to scan the page and figure out its relevance to the topic at hand.

I also loved reading all the letters reading through the correspondence – some of it wasn’t so interesting (mostly the receipts), but a lot of them explained little details of Teller’s and Slocum’s life that couldn’t be expressed through basic records. Also, letters are rare gems in today’s technological environment (at least for me,) so being able to see the beautiful (and ugly) handwriting was very neat. By the end, I could recognize the author of some letters by their handwriting!

One of the last steps of the process was using the Library of Congress’s authority listing. Authority listings are similar to tagging things on Tumblr – it’s a way of organizing relevant topics of the finding aid. For example, in this finding aid, listings like “sailing,” “Spray (Sloop),” and “Smithsonian Archives,” are included.

Once I finished adding that into the XML coding, my supervisor posted it directly into the site so we could see if there were any issues. I’m not perfect – there were a few mistakes, as well as one really noticeable one, which had random commas in front a list of entries. Fortunately, this was a quick fix, and all that was left to do was add a link to the finding aid on the main page.

After all the computer stuff was all set, I put official labels on the boxes and placed the nine boxes back on the shelf, ready to move onto the next project.

Working with this collection was definitely a challenge – I had the inventory list to give me an idea of what should be found in these folders, but little guidance as to what to do with it. But as I’m starting to learn, that’s an archivist’s job – what to do with all this information.

Journal Kept Onboard the Whaleship Manhattan

Donated to the Research Library in 1983 by Mercator Cooper Kendrick, the journal kept on board the ship Manhattan’s 1843-1846 whaling voyage offers valuable first-hand documentation into an important and little-known chapter on American-Japanese relations. Captained by Mercator Cooper, the ship Manhattan shipped on only one whaling voyage out of Sag Harbor, New York, before joining the merchant service. At first glance, this journal contains the standard entries one expects from a typical whaling account, including weather descriptions, vessels spoken, and descriptions of whales seen and taken. However, the events of this voyage bear significance for not only scholars of American whaling and maritime history, but for a host of other researchers engaged in a wide variety of disciplines.

Beginning in 1633 under the Tokugawa Shogunate, a series of edicts and policies resulted in Japan adopting a firm isolationist stance in foreign affairs and strictly prohibited any foreigner entrance into the country. This Sakoku, or “chained-country” period, lasted until 1853 when Commodore Matthew Perry forcibly opened Japan to western trade. The events of the Manhattan’s travels occurred within this historical context, beginning with a seemingly uneventful encounter in the Pacific Ocean sixteen months into her voyage.

On March 15, 1845, the Manhattan encountered eleven Japanese men marooned on a small island surviving only on rice and small amounts of water pilfered from the crevasses of several rocks along the shoreline. Captain Cooper decided to rescue these men before resuming his whaling voyage, an action that served as a harbinger to one of Sakoku Japan’s most significant American interactions.

One month after rescuing the stranded men, the Manhattan sailed into Edo, the modern-day city of Tokyo and Japan’s political center in 1845. The entry for April 18, 1845, describes 300 Japanese boats towing the Manhattan to a small bay south of Edo before encircling the whaleship. With the American vessel closely guarded, several Japanese boarded the ship and removed all firearms before members of the nobility performed personal inspections of the interior. The Manhattan left Japan four days later, but prior to her departure, the Japanese presented Captain Cooper and his crew with an array of gifts in the form of rice, wheat, flour, wood, sweet potatoes, radishes, chickens, and tea. The Emperor, via his Imperial delegates, conveyed his compliments to the captain for rescuing the stranded Japanese. However, after extending their sincere gratitude, Japanese isolationism prevailed, and the Emperor’s representatives instructed Captain Cooper to leave and never return.

One cannot overstate the importance of the Japanese-American interaction documented within the pages of this journal, but similar to other whaling accounts, observations of natural phenomena also litter the pages and offer valuable contributions to several different scholarly fields. While cruising through the Pacific, the Manhattan passed many instances of volcanic activity. Not only does this journal properly document each observation with the correct date and appropriate geographic coordinates, but the keeper even includes hand-drawn sketches of the eruptions, providing a valuable resource to the study of volcanology. This journal, complete with its rich multidisciplinary content, best exemplifies how each piece in the Library can appeal to a wide range of audiences.

The Research Library proudly boasts the largest collection of whaling logbooks and journals in the world, and the Manhattan journal represents only one example of the thousands of unique and interesting stories stored in the Library’s vaults. If you would like to take a more detailed glance at this whaling journal, Mercator Cooper’s manuscripts, or any other piece of the Library’s collection, please contact Mark Procknik in the Research Library, (508) 997-0046 ext. 134, to schedule a research appointment.

Rare 18th Century Dutch Clock Rings Again

Gerrit Knip Tall Clock, ca. 1760-80.

Gerrit Knip Tall Clock, ca. 1760-80.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has restored to working order one of the largest and oldest clocks in its collection.  The massive clock, which stands nine feet tall and was once part of the Kendall Whaling Museum before it came to New Bedford, has a deep connection to the city, which dates to the eighteenth century. Owned by Samuel Rodman (1753-1835) and his wife Elizabeth Barney Rotch Rodman (daughter of William Rotch), the clock may have been specially made for William Rotch as early as 1754 and may have been a wedding gift to his daughter and son-in-law in 1780.

Built by Gerrit Knip, considered “the most fashionable clockmaker and watchmaker in Amsterdam”, the clock was part of the Samuel Rodman household when it moved in the 1790s from Nantucket to New Bedford. It was inherited by Samuel Rodman, Jr. and wife Hanna Prior Rodman, and descended thereafter in the Rodman and Rotch families. Knip was at the height of his career in the 1780s, renowned for his intricate cases and mechanisms.

The elaborate clockworks circa 1760-80 include a mechanically animated whaling fleet bounding through an Artic seascape. The highly decorated long-case of burled walnut, silvered brass mounts, blind fretwork, and brass column capitals is done in the Amsterdam style and features oil-on-metal painted decoration of Arctic whaling and polar bear hunting scenes.

Knip_Tall_Clock_face_detailThe figure of Atlas at the center apex may possibly have been inspired by the monumental sculpture by Arthus Quellinus for what is currently the Royal Palace at Dam Square in Amsterdam, and flanked by archangel finials. The eight-day pendulum movement is weight-driven and strikes the hour, quarter-hour and half-hour. It also shows the days, date, phases of the moon and the zodiac in Dutch. The decorations include a spouting whale, and mythological scenes of Helios pulling the sun across the sky in his chariot which rose and fell in the ocean stream Okeanus, overseen by Oceanus, who is pictured on the left.

The Museum contracted with Pen & Pendulum in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, to undertake the repairs, which included father and son clock-makers, Arthur and Warren Hovasse fully disassembling , cleaning, fabricating new parts, and reinstalling the clock in the Braitmayer Family Gallery.

Supported in part by the Rose Lamb Gifford Fund, the repairs are the most comprehensive to date on the clock, which have included conservation of the case over several years. The clock had not been keeping time since the mid-1990s. “This is the first of several tall case clocks the museum hopes to bring back to life as part of a five year conservation plan,” said Christina Connett, Curator of Collections and Exhibitions.

Correspondence of Captain Burr Sistare to his Wife, Abby

Included among several items donated to the Research Library in 2009 by Deborah, Hannah, and Christine Sistare are five letters written by a nineteenth century whaling captain to his wife back home. Captain Burr Sistare of New London, Connecticut, penned these letters from several different ports of call, including Faial, Cape Verde, and Talcahuano from the years 1845 to 1847. His rich correspondence reveals a deeply religious and devoted husband in command of a whaling voyage marred by an unfortunate twist of fate.

Consisting of five letters written to his wife, Abby, while in command of the ship General Scott’s 1845 voyage out of New London, Connecticut, Captain Sistare describes the typical events a captain expects to encounter while on board a whaling voyage, including desertions, illness, and theft. Sistare even describes the difficulties of catching whales during a particularly unprosperous season, describing his voyage as “broken” and states that “I have done all that land in my power to fill the ship.” Continue reading

Hidden Cartography Treasures Uncovered at the Research Library

Imagine walking the streets of New Bedford in 1834 or shipping aboard a whaler bound towards the Pacific Ocean on a five year journey. Whether it is through a diary littered with descriptions of nineteenth century New Bedford or a journal kept onboard a whaling voyage, the Research Library’s abundance of resources grant any researcher the ability to travel backwards in time and relive the past. However, lost among the robust collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century handwritten texts is another more visual component to the Library’s holdings.

In addition to the vast quantities of logbooks, manuscripts, and printed books, the Library proudly boasts a fine collection of cartography ranging from maps of the early Old Dartmouth region to navigational charts complete with multiple voyage tracks of nineteenth century whaling vessels. However, while other Library holdings are searchable through various databases and webpages, all details concerning the cartographic objects are not accessible online. As a result, the general public has never truly known the contents of this collection outside of the following text that appears on the Museum’s website:

“The cartographic collections number around 700 pieces including sea charts used by whaling masters, bound pilot charts and atlases, decorative maps, maps and charts of key geographical regions significant to whaling at different times in history as well as maps and charts of the local Old Dartmouth region.”

Fully aware of these circumstances and driven to remedy this situation, the Library has recently generated a complete finding aid for its entire cartography collection. A finding aid promotes access to Library materials by providing an overview of a specific collection and displaying a comprehensive inventory of its contents. The online nature and keyword searchable element of finding aids allow search engines like Google to catch the text, draw researchers to the Museum’s website, and most importantly, increase awareness of a previously inaccessible portion of the Library’s holdings.

Interestingly enough, the roots for this project date back almost a decade, when a group of select Library volunteers compiled all the necessary documentary information for each piece of cartography. Library staff sought to disseminate this information to the public through the Museum’s website, but waited until technology advanced and developed the appropriate means to accommodate these lofty goals. That day finally arrived this past September when Astrid Drew, an intern from the Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science, arrived at the Library’s door with the skill set needed to bring this project to fruition. Following a semester of diligent work, the finding aid debuted on the Museum’s website on December 3rd, 2013. The finished product serves as an impressive webpage documenting the entire cartography collection.

This project signifies more than the hard work of a single intern, for it serves as a working model demonstrating the Library’s anticipation in building towards the future and actively inserting itself into the ever-changing digital landscape. Although Astrid’s name appears as the author of the finding aid, this was a collective effort made possible through the vision of the Library staff and the time put forth by dedicated volunteers. Thanks to all their determination, researchers, map collectors, and even enthusiasts can finally experience the full magnitude of the Library’s cartographic collection in order to further their understanding on whaling, maritime culture, and Old Dartmouth’s past.

Visit http://www.whalingmuseum.org/explore/library/maps-charts to see the full finding aid for the Library’s cartographic collection.