Category Archives: Collections

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.    

Boston Tea Party ship model unveiled

In time for the 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, the New Bedford Whaling Museum is set to unveil a model of Dartmouth, first ship to be built in New Bedford in 1767, and which sailed into American history as one of the three vessels boarded and its cargo of British tea dumped into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773.

Dartmouth, built in 1767 for the Rotch family, holds the distinction of being the first ship-rigged vessel constructed in then-named Bedford Village of Old Dartmouth, now New Bedford. Joseph Rotch arrived in the new settlement in 1765 from Nantucket, determined to establish a whaling industry on the mainland. He built Dartmouth to transport whale oil to England, then the principle market for his product. Carrying oil to England, the ship would return with British products for the colonies. It was with a cargo of tea that the ship returned to Boston in November 1773. The Sons of Liberty, determined not to pay the tax on tea imposed by the British, dumped the tea from Dartmouth along with that of the brig Beaver and ship Eleanor into Boston Harbor. This act of defiance, dubbed the Boston Tea Party, emboldened colonists to rebel against British rule. Dartmouth was lost in 1774 returning from her next voyage to London.

Despite its local origin and national fame, Dartmouth was not represented among the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s renowned collection of more than 175 ship models, due in part to limited historical data about the original vessel’s design and dimensions. To remedy the omission, the museum commissioned a model to be built by Richard Glanville, a professional marine model artist working in Maine. R. Michael Wall, proprietor of the American Marine Model Gallery, of Gloucester, Massachusetts, advised and coordinated the work, which first required considerable specific research to be conducted before construction of the 1/4″ = 1′ (1:48) Class-A scale model could begin, and which took Glanville over seven months to complete. Continue reading

BayCoast Bank grants $100K toward new Ed Ctr. & Research Library

BayCoast Bank has awarded $100,000 to the New Bedford Whaling Museum toward the building of its new Educational Center and Research Library planned for the southeast quadrant of the museum campus located along Union and North Water Streets. With groundbreaking planned for 2014, the new center will quadruple the museum’s classroom space and create a state-of-the-art Research Library.

In announcing the grant, co-chairs of the museum’s capital campaign, George B. Mock III and Donald S. Rice said “on behalf of the trustees and all those who have contributed thus far to this landmark project, we heartily thank BayCoast for its generosity and its vision in recognizing the long-term educational opportunities this facility will provide throughout the Whaling Museum’s second century of service.” Mr. Mock is president of Nye Lubricants and serves as first vice chair of the New Bedford Whaling Museum; Mr. Rice is the museum’s assistant treasurer

Nicholas Christ, BayCoast Bank president said “We take our commitment to the communities we serve very seriously and this project represents a strategic investment, one which promises to pay educational dividends to our students for decades to come.”

James Russell, museum president and CEO, noted “This extraordinary award from BayCoast Bank demonstrates its commitment to the community, and in particular, to our youth through its generous support of this unique educational facility. BayCoast leads by example and we hope this commitment motivates other leaders in the business community to join us in helping make educational excellence a primary goal across the region.”

To date donors have contributed 80% ($8.26 million) of the funds needed to meet the $10 million goal for the project, which is designed to increase K-12 through post-graduate educational programs and house the museum archives and collections amounting to 750,000 objects and items. It will create 4 new galleries and an extended observation deck overlooking New Bedford harbor.

Building a Transformative Experience

Trustees select Mount Vernon Group Architects to design the new Educational Center and Research Library

The Board of Trustees enthusiastically selected Mount Vernon Group Architects to design the new Educational Center and Research Library on Johnny Cake Hill. Groundbreaking is slated for spring 2014. Preliminary sketches reveal the character of the Johnny Cake Hill, Water Street and Union Street facades. The building will connect to the existing Museum campus and be constructed in a site left vacant since the devastating gas explosion of 1977. The building will house new classrooms, a digital Reading Room, climate controlled spaces for collections, a laboratory for the flagship Apprenticeship Program and the Casa dos Botes. The 4th floor will encompass a multi-use assembly area with majestic views of the New Bedford Harbor. The $6 million construction project has 80% of funds committed.

View from Johnny Cake Hill

View from Water St

View from Union St.

Established in 1954, Mount Vernon Group is an award-winning designer of educational buildings. MVG’s local ties and proven record of designing customized educational spaces, as well as its understanding of the Museum’s educational goals, make it the ideal choice to design the space that will transform the Museum and prepare it for the next 100 years.

For more information on the Campaign to Build the Educational Center and Research Library, please contact Alison Smart, Senior Director of Development, at (508) 717-6815. View from Johnny Cake Hill View from Water Street View from Union Street

From the Vault: Journal Kept Onboard the Newport’s 1892 Voyage

Every piece in the Library has its own unique story to tell, and we invite you to look at a few of the thousands of materials and hear their tales through the Museum’s “From the Vault”, a new digital exhibit featuring different treasures from the Library.

In 1978, Mr. and Mrs. George Bodfish donated to the Research Library a collection of manuscripts and photographs relating to Hartson Hartlett Bodfish (1862 – 1945), a captain of thirteen Western Arctic whaling voyages during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This donation also came with several logbooks and journals penned by Bodfish himself that document his whaling exploits. One of these journals contains a partial account of the Newport’s 1892 – 1898 whaling voyage. The journal begins on August 21, 1893 and represents an important chapter of American whaling history.

The rest of the story.

‘Following Fish’ exhibit opens Sept. 27

Marie Louise Gomes makes scallop bags at Diamond Marine Supply, one of the many diverse jobs vital to seafood processing in the commercial fishing industry. (Photo by Phil Mello)

Marie Louise Gomes makes scallop bags at Diamond Marine Supply, one of the many diverse jobs vital to seafood processing in the commercial fishing industry. (Photo by Phil Mello)

An innovative exhibit titled Following Fish – Navigate Through the New Bedford Fishery opens Friday, September 27, 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Following Fish debuts on the eve of the port’s tenth annual Working Waterfront Festival and precedes a gala concert at 7:30 p.m. in the Cook Memorial Theater to benefit the festival’s programming. Concert tickets are available at the door for $10. The public is cordially invited to the exhibit opening; RSVP is required in advance by calling (508) 997-0046, ext. 100.

Installed in the San Francisco Room, Andrew Wilde Gallery and the Davis Observation Deck overlooking the harbor, Following Fish brings the past and present together in a poignant and dramatic way, notes María Quintero, Curatorial Fellow and the exhibit’s lead curator. “It is easy to look out across the many draggers and scallopers and imagine a similarly sized fleet 150 years ago, except with wooden hulls, masts and spars. Following Fish draws a direct line from whaling then to fishing now,” she said.

Whaling was a dangerous profession and it is no different for the com­mercial fisherman today. Fishing remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, yet the men and women of New Bedford continue to go down to the sea for fish. As a result of their great efforts and with the assistance of processing plant workers on shore, New Bedford has been the nation’s highest grossing fishing port for 13 consecutive years.

Through an innovative design approach, Following Fish will be expanded upon over the course of the next few years. With the input of an advisory panel led by highly respected leaders in the field such as Drs. Brian Rothschild and Kevin Stokesbury, the museum’s curators will open up the exhibit development process to the public. Visitors can participate in interactive elements and share their opinions online as they navigate the fascinating, complex and arduous voyage to bring seafood from the ocean to the dinner table.

 In addition to being an engaging visual ex­perience, the exhibit aims to test new educational approaches for younger audiences while addressing many of the larger complex and vexing questions that envelope the industry today.

Featured are new acquisitions by contemporary artists includ­ing paintings by Dora Atwater Millikin, a 40” long model of the dragger Nobska by Westport model maker Bruce Gifford and the outdoor installation of ceramic fish by Nancy Train Smith. Extraordinary wood carvings by Leander Plummer (1857-1914) are juxtaposed with contemporary photography by Phil Mello and accompanied by oral histories with fishermen provided by Laura Orleans and the Working Waterfront Festival Committee.

Following Fish is sponsored by the William M. Wood Foundation. Tweet the exhibit with hashtag #FollowingFish_NBWM

The Lazarus Project and the Wreck of the “Viking”

Re-imaging the Opening of Japan

 Guest post submitted by Gregory Heyworth Director of the Lazarus Project  and Associate Professor of English at the University of Mississippi.

“The past,” as Faulkner said, “is never dead. It isn’t even past.” This past May, a team of imaging scientists and students from the Lazarus Project, an initiative to recover damaged manuscripts using multispectral imaging technology housed at the University of Mississippi, arrived at the New Bedford Whaling Museum to prove Faulkner right.

The object of interest was a damaged logbook from 1862 faded into near illegibility. The method involved photographing the manuscript with a cutting edge 50-megapixel camera and LED light arrays in twelve wavelengths between the ultraviolet and the infrared. With careful image processing, multispectral photography can “see” text that has been washed away, faded and charred.

Lazarus Project

 [Image before and after]

While Drs. Gregory Heyworth and Roger Easton from the Lazarus Team regularly deal with ancient manuscripts, modern manuscripts can be equally challenging and historically important. That is certainly the case with much of the New Bedford collection. The significance of this particular logbook begins two centuries before the shipwreck of the Fairhaven merchant vessel off the coast of Japan.

For two hundred years between 1633 and 1853, while Western Europe was moving from Renaissance to Enlightnment to Industrial Revolution, Japan languished frozen in the past, a Hermit Kingdom cut-off from the rest of the world. Under the policy of the Tokugawa Shogunate known as the sakoku, any foreigner attempting to enter Japan did so upon pain of death, while natives were forbidden from leaving Japan. Aside from limited contact with the Dutch, Japan had no trade dealings with the West whatsoever.

As we all learned in high school history, all that changed in 1852-54 when Admiral Matthew Perry “opened” Japan, establishing a trade relationship and mutual amity. The truth, however, is more complicated. Perry’s “opening” of Japan was really an act of coercion, backed up by outright threats of military annihilation by a modern fleet of steam-driven warships. In practice, the Japanese capitulation was widely resisted by the general populace and the sakoku with its death-sentence for foreigners remained unchallenged.

Alongside the political narrative of the opening of Japan, scholars have been turning to the logbooks of whaling and merchant vessels to establish a more accurate social narrative of the period. The 1832 the shipwreck of Japanese fishermen on the coast of Washington, followed in 1841 by the more famous rescue of Manjiro and another crew of Japanese fisherman by a whaler off the coast of Japan, offer firsthand accounts of crucial early contact and the germs of a fragile detente between cultures without which Perry’s  trade treaties could never have succeeded in practice.

Among these early relations, perhaps none is more historically significant, and yet less studied, that the wreck of the Fairhaven merchant ship the Viking in 1863. With a crew of Americans and 400 Chinese immigrants, the Viking ran aground on the small Japanese island of Mikurajima. Faced by the suddeness of this foreign intrusion, the villagers took steps to execute the crew according to the law of sakoku until the village secretary intervened. In the ensuing months, a genuine friendship, aided by their creation of the first Japanese-English dictionary, grew between the sailors and villagers. In many ways, a truly open, modern Japan began on this small island, and its story is preserved in this unique neglected record of the Viking.

The Lazarus Project hopes to continue the process of recovery by collaborating with the New Bedford Whailing Museum in the creation of a digital archive of 19th century Japanese-American maritime relations held by the museum into a digital archive.

One fine artifact from the cultures of the Western Arctic

Found this cool thing in the collection the other day, it was boxed with American colonial and Eastern Woodlands artifacts but one glance and I had my doubts.

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It appears to be a nephrite stone mallet bound with rawhide onto a handle of reindeer or caribou leg bone. It was a thrill to find it because it is in perfect condition, but a little bit disappointing in the end because it can’t go into our new exhibition on the colonial history of the Old Dartmouth region. It didn’t really look like your average Algonquin artifact. It turned out to be either a North Slope Inuit or a Chukchi [Siberia] people’s tool called a kautaq used when crushing bones to extract the marrow, called puiniq. Such tools are generally large and heavy, but this one is somewhat smaller and could also have been used to pound fish fillets into flakes. This was women’s work and arduous but a woman who knew how to do it properly was much esteemed in the family. The bone marrow is extremely nutritious and if prepared properly keeps for quite a long time. Good winter food apparently. A good description of the tool can be found on the Echospace website http://www.echospace.org/articles/363/print.html:

“The kautaq or hammer used to crush the bones was made of an oblong stone mounted on a short slightly curved handle. Some families prided themselves on having a jadestone hammerhead, but any rock plucked from a stream bed that was of the right size, shape and weight could serve just as well. Elders cautioned that the hammer’s striking face should have a flat, rough textured surface. This helped prevent the hammer from slipping off the bone as the crushing blows were struck. The handle of the hammer could be made from a number of materials. Some people used dall sheep horn, others a curved section of caribou antler, while others still preferred spruce or alderwood. The handle was usually less than six inches long and slightly curved to fit comfortably in a person’s hand. The head and handle were joined by a caribou or sealskin thong that was passed through a hole drilled near the top end of the handle, and wrapped around the stone head several times. A tight secure fit was assured by doing the lashing with a wet, water soaked thong, which shrank and tightened as it dried. Later, small wooden wedges could be added to shim up the fit, if they were needed.”

It’s a wonderful object inducing marvel in its elegant simplicity. It’s probably late 19th or early 20th century but in essence it could have been made any time in the last 5000 years.