Category Archives: Conservation

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.

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.

Act Right Now – Save a Species…The Video

North Atlantic right whale killed by ship strike. Photo by Monica Zani, New England Aquarium. Taken under NOAA/NMFS federal permit.

North Atlantic right whale killed by ship strike. Photo by Monica Zani, New England Aquarium. Taken under NOAA/NMFS federal permit.

On December 9 of last year, less than two months ago, the Whaling Museum hosted a press conference to announce the launching of the Act Right Now – Save a Species campaign. This campaign seeks to remove the ‘sunset’ date of December 9, 2013 that was included as part of the rule that requires ships greater than 65 feet to slow down to 10 knots when they enter areas known to be inhabited by the North Atlantic right whale. This rule is seasonal, since the NARW migrates along the eastern seaboard of the United States.  Based on the results of the first four years, this rule is proving to be an effective tool in cutting down on ship strikes in these areas.

It is critical that this rule be kept in place, if we are to minimize one of the human-induced causes of right whale mortality. Any population of animal that is as endangered as this one is (the population hovers around 500) needs our help for survival, especially if we know how to prevent these types of fatal interactions.

To that end, our colleagues at Whale and Dolphin Conservation commissioned a video to tell this story and to urge NOAA to remove the expiration date from this rule.  Several partners of the North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium, including WM staff participated in this important effort. We encourage you to watch this compelling eight minute video, which has both excellent footage of right whales and gruesome images of ship strikes,  and then sign the petition to extend the life of the 2008 Final Rule to Implement Speed Restrictions to Reduce the Threat of Ship Collisions with North Atlantic Right Whales.

The North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium consists of members from dozens of agencies, non-profits, universities and whale related businesses.  We proudly host their annual meeting each November.

GNB Voc-Tech students’ skills shine at the Whaling Museum

Mark Leary, Korey Martin and Dana Costa install custom doors and panels made by GNB Voc-Tech carpentry students for “Scrimshaw: Shipboard Art of the Whalers” opening May 13, 2pm.

Building the many and varied display cases needed for the world’s largest scrimshaw exhibit would have been a daunting task were it not for the students of Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School. Voc-Tech’s carpentry classes fabricated more than 29 custom doors and viewing panels for the new gallery, set to open to the public on Mothers Day, Sunday, May 13 at 2:00 p.m.

James Russell, museum president, lauded the students’ work, noting “How great is it that much of what we admire in the museum’s collection was made by master craftsmen! Today, skilled students from Voc-Tech are back at the museum, helping to build exhibits that house these masterpieces – to be enjoyed by New Bedford residents and visitors for years to come.”

The museum’s staff, designers and carpenters worked with GNB Voc-Tech’s coordinator of construction projects, Robert Gomes, and carpentry teacher, Donald Derosiers, on the exacting specifications for the elaborate cabinetry required to exhibit hundreds of rare examples of scrimshaw – the 19th century shipboard art of whalers. Students utilized the school’s state-of-the-art CNC (computer numerical control) milling machinery to create the seamless doorframes and panels.

Master carpenter, Dana Costa, rebuilt and refitted existing museum cases and installed the Voc-Tech components with the assistance of Mark Leary and Korey Martin.

The exhibit opening caps the museum’s 23rd annual Scrimshaw Weekend, May 11-13, which attracts scrimshaw experts, collectors and fans from around the world. Titled Scrimshaw: Shipboard Art of the Whalers, the exhibit is curated Dr. Stuart M. Frank, Senior Curator, with the assistance of museum volunteers John Antones, Richard Donnelly, Michael Gerstein, Vasant Gideon, Judith Lund, Barbara Moss, Sanford Moss, Catherine Reynolds and James Vaccarino.

The largest permanent exhibit of its kind, Scrimshaw: Shipboard Art of the Whalers coincides with the launch of a major new book on scrimshaw, titled Ingenious Contrivances, Curiously Carved: Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum by Dr. Frank – a 400-page reference with more than 700 photographs by Richard Donnelly.

Admission to the Sunday opening of the scrimshaw exhibit and book launch: regular admission rates apply. In honor of Mother’s Day, mothers are admitted free when accompanied by at least one member of her family.

New Bedford Glass and Its Context, April 26

Kirk J. Nelson

Kirk J. Nelson will present an illustrated lecture titled New Bedford Glass and Its Context on Thursday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. – part of the 2012 Old Dartmouth Lyceum lecture series on fine and decorative arts. A reception at 6:30 p.m. in the Jacobs Family Gallery precedes the lecture.

Mr. Nelson is executive director of the New Bedford Museum of Glass, located at 61 Wamsutta Street. He earned his MA degree and Certificate of Museum Studies from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the Winterthur Museum and the University of Delaware. An expert on the development of the American glass press during the 1820s and 1830s, Mr. Nelson is an Honorary Fellow of the Corning Museum of Glass, former Curator of Glass at the Sandwich Glass Museum and former Curator of Art & Decorative Arts at the Bennington Museum. He has lectured and published extensively on a wide variety of glass-related subjects. His practical glass working experience includes Pairpoint Crystal, Inc. of Sagamore, Massachusetts, and the operation of a glass studio in East Sandwich.

In 1993, Mr. Nelson was one of five founding trustees to establish the Glass Art Center, Inc., which was affiliated with Bradford College in Bradford, Massachusetts. After the closing of the college the Center relocated to New Bedford and reincorporated in 2006 as the New Bedford Museum of Glass.

The museum collection consists of 7,000 objects documenting more than 3,000 years of glassmaking history. It covers many regions and periods, from ancient to contemporary, with special emphasis on the city of New Bedford, celebrated in the late 19th century as the “Art Glass Headquarters of the Country.” Rose Amber glass, Crown Milano, Royal Flemish, Burmese and Lava glass are just a few of the exotic lines developed in New Bedford.

The museum’s library holds more than 8,000 volumes in ten languages on glass related topics, including the Shirley Collection of the Mount Washington Glass Company – containing the firm’s original glass patents, trade catalogs, correspondence, photographs, and international awards.

Admission to the lecture and reception: $15 members; $20 non-members. For tickets, call (508) 997-0046 Ext. 100.

The 2012 Speakers’ Series is presented by BayCoast Bank, and sponsored in part by C.E. Beckman, and Hampton Inn Fairhaven/New Bedford.

Seven Continents, Seven Seas exhibit opens Feb. 9

A new exhibit titled Seven Continents, Seven Seas opens on AHA! night, February 9 at 7:00 p.m. in the Wattles Family Gallery. Immediately following the opening, Stuart M. Frank, Ph.D., senior curator, will present a lecture titled Adventures in Saving a Painting: Quest, Conquest, and Conservationat 7:30 p.m. in the Cook Memorial Theater.

"The Whale Beached between Scheveningen and Katwijk, with Elegant Sightseers," by Esaias van den Velde, c.1617, is one of several Dutch Old Master whaling paintings in “Seven Continents, Seven Seas” opening February 9 and will be the subject of a free lecture by Dr. Stuart Frank at 7:30 p.m.

Admission to the opening, lecture and reception is free.

“This year marks the tenth anniversary of the gift of the entire holdings of the former Kendall Whaling Museum to the permanent collection of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. This provides a fitting occasion for showing highlights, reflecting the broad international and chronological compass of our combined collections,” said Dr. Frank.

Dutch Old Master whaling paintings will be represented, along with major British marine paintings of the 18th and 19th centuries by Continental European and American painters. The exhibit also includes visions of Africa, Australia, and Antarctica, representing all seven continents and all seven seas in the selected paintings, watercolors, ship models, Japanese scrolls and sculptural works.

Admission to all museum galleries on AHA! night is buy one, get one free (of equal or lesser value).

Satellite Tags Help Researchers Study Whales

This article in the Daily Astorian,  from Oregon, features Bruce Mate answering a variety of questions about whales and some of what’s been learned from tagging them. This is a good story for those of you looking for good tidbits of info without going into too much detail.

Pilot Whale Research – Citizen Science

Zoologia Danica Pattedyr XVI by Lovendal. From NBWM Kendall Collection.

For those of you with an interest in whale vocalizations and a keen ear, you might be interested in this opportunity to aid in whale research.  ” The collective wisdom of the crowd is being called upon to help scientists decipher the language of pilot and killer whales in a project that could help us operate our machines in harmony with the ocean giants.”

After reading about unusual strandings and deaths of Cuvier’s Beaked Whales in the waters off of Italy over the last 36 hours, presumably in the same areas as sonar testing, this type of research and new knowledge is critically important. Let us know if you do choose to participate. Call Bob Rocha at extension 149.

Odontocetes (Toothed Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises) Suffering Globally Due to Entanglement

A report released on Monday by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, authored by Professor Boris Culik of Kiel University in Germany, depicts a very sad state of affairs for the toothed cetaceans in our oceans.  “The conservation status of toothed whales has worsened dramatically since 2001,” stated Dr. Culik.

Entanglement in gillnets, traps, weirs, purse seines, longlines and trawls are having a negative impact on 62 of the 72 species of toothed whales, dolphins and porpoises in our global ocean.  Unfortunately, if they steer clear of the nets and lines, they have to contend with water-borne pollution (including heavy metals, PCBs, DDT) and noise pollution.

We may have stopped deliberately hunting whales, but we haven’t stopped killing them.

How Do You Autopsy A Whale?

That question is the title of an article in Popular Science, which features recent Whaling Museum Trustee, Dr. Michael Moore.  Michael was part of the teams that did the necropsies for the Museum’s blue, sperm and right whales.

So, for those of you who wanted to know what happens when a whale washes ashore, you have an answer provided by an expert.