‘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

Investigating the Information Hidden in Whale Ear Wax

The hottest whale story of the day involves ear wax. Several outlets NBC NewsScience World Report, and New Scientist, among others, have posted stories about information enclosed in the long, waxy earplug of a 12 year old male blue whale that beached in 2007 along the California coast.  These earplugs have been used previously to determine the age of baleen whales. The wax builds up in the ear canal of the whales, with no way for the wax to exit the head. Baleen whales have distinct annual cycles of feeding and fasting, much like trees have annual cycles of growth and dormancy. Distinct changes in the rings are seen every six months. The blue whale from which the plug was taken was estimated to be 12 years old, since it had 24 rings in the wax.

The researchers of this project had wondered about what else could be ascertained from analysis of the waxy earplug. The results are significant, since they were able to determine several factors about the animal’s life, including the toxins that had entered the young whale’s body. It has long been known that many nursing marine mammals pass the toxins in their bodies through their milk to their calves. This sad fact held true for this blue whale.

Blue Whale4 NOAA

Their paper “Blue Whale Earplug Reveals Lifetime Contaminant Exposure and Hormone Profiles” has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  The authors have summarized the significance of their research: “Currently, obtaining lifetime chemical profiles (i.e., from birth to death) is extremely rare and difficult for most of Earth’s animals. We have developed a unique approach to quantify hormone and contaminant lifetime profiles for an individual blue whale with a 6-mo resolution using the wax earplug as a natural matrix capable of archiving and preserving these temporal profiles. Using a male blue whale earplug, chemical analysis reveals lifetime patterns of mercury and organic pollutant exposure as well as fluctuating hormone levels. Specifically, we quantified contaminant maternal transfer, time to sexual maturity, and the doubling of stress over the animal’s lifespan. We anticipate that this technique will fundamentally transform our ability to assess human impact on these environmental sentinels and their ecosystems.”

It should be noted that one of the authors, Charles Potter, of the Smithsonian Institution, is a friend of the New Bedford Whaling Museum and has contributed his knowledge, expertise and insight to past Museum projects.

Old Dartmouth Lyceum lecture series

Thursdays, September 19th, October 3rd & 24th, November 14th
This year the Old Dartmouth Lyceum lecture series will focus around the exhibit Arctic Visions: “Away then Floats the Ice-Island”. The Series takes place Thursday evenings on September 19th, October 3rd and 24th, and November 14th. Receptions in the Jacobs Family Gallery begin at 6:00 pm. Lectures in the Cook Memorial Theater begin at 7:00 pm.  Tickets are now on sale. See below for more information about the individual lectures and registration information.

A detail from the painting titled "View of the Sermitsialik Glacier" by William Bradford

A detail from the painting titled “View of the Sermitsialik Glacier” by William Bradford

September 19th
Russell Potter
Frozen Zones: Bradford, Arctic Photography and nineteenth-century Visual Culture
Mr. Potter teaches English and Media Studies at Rhode Island College in Providence, Rhode Island. His work encompasses hip hop culture, popular music, and the history of exploration of the Arctic in the nineteenth century. When the artist William Bradford chartered a voyage to the Arctic purely for the purposes of art – including photographers – he was revolutionizing both the scope and the immediacy of photography, bringing back a rich array of images, the first ever taken of Arctic by professional photographers. These photos he put to many uses –projected as lantern slide lectures, printed and used as view-books for painting commissions, and – most magnificently – as illustrations for the groundbreaking book The Arctic Regions.

October 3rd
Kevin Avery
Sea of Ice:  The Art of Arctic Exploration
Mr. Avery is a senior research scholar and a former associate curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and an adjunct professor in the art department of Hunter College, City University of New York. He will review the history of Arctic exploration in painting and illustration, with special reference to nineteenth-century artists and illustrators leading up to Frederic Church and New Bedford’s William Bradford.  Dr. Avery will reveal known or probable sources in the history of western imagery applied to the visualization of the alien landscape that was and, to most, still is the Arctic regions.

October 24th
Douglas Wamsley​
William Bradford’s 1869 Expedition, in Context with Arctic Travels of the 19th Century
Mr. Wamsley,  an independent scholar and attorney who has written extensively on the history of 19th century Arctic exploration. His most recent work is a biography, Polar Hayes, on the life and accomplishments of Dr. Isaac Israel Hayes, a participant in Bradford’s 1869 Greenland voyage. In 1869, a sailing excursion along the northwest coast of Greenland was not a venture to be taken lightly.  However, William Bradford’s voyage ably succeeded in navigating those ice-laden waters that year, while at the same time capturing vivid images of the “Frozen Zone”. This lecture recounts the history of that memorable expedition and its proper place in the broader context of 19th century arctic travels.

November 14th
Kenn Harper
Inuit and Whaling in the Bradford Era
Mr. Harper is a historian, linguist and writer, who has lived in the Arctic (both Greenland and Canada) for the past 47 years. He writes a weekly history column under the name Taissumani for Nunatsiaq News, the newspaper of record for Nunavut, Canada, and is the author of Give Me My Father’s Body: The Life of Minik, the New York Eskimo. He will speak on the whaling industry and the profound effect on the culture of Inuit in both Canada and Greenland. He will examine this impact, its effect on Inuit life, and Inuit adaptation to the stresses and demands of change and recount episodes from the lives of particular Inuit who used the whaling industry to their own advantage.

Buy Tickets Here or register by phone at  508-997-0046 ext. 100.
$15.00 per lecture (non-members, $20)
$50.00 for series (non-members, $75)

Old Dartmouth Lyceum is sponsored by Nye Lubricants and Bruce and Karen Wilburn.

Tweet hashtag: #ODLyceum2013

Whaling History Symposium, Oct. 19-20

WHS_2013_logoThe Old New Bedford Port District is the focus

The 37th Whaling History Symposium, to be held at the Museum on Saturday, October 19 and Sunday, October 20, 2013.

This year’s theme is the interdependence and integration of various communities and commercial interests in the New Bedford Port District and their relation to the whaling industry that was the main economic focus of the region. Maritime curator Michael Dyer will open the session with an overview history of “The New Bedford Outports,” the galaxy of seacoast towns lying between Cape Cod and Rhode Island that shared with New Bedford and Fairhaven the risks and prosperity of the whaling industry, and suffered together in its decline. Next up, Erik A.R. Ronnberg, Jr., one of America’s most celebrated ship modelers and a former curator at the Whaling Museum, will present “Whaleship Models: Research and Reconstruction,” describing the unique features of whaleship models and the challenges of building tem, and will provide a systematic examination of their value as historical documents, sublime aesthetic byproducts of local seafaring, and relics that pay homage to a unique maritime heritage. Mr. Ronnberg will be followed by Judith N. Lund, also a former curator of the Museum, to introduce the current exhibition “The Art of the Ship Model,” which she co-curated with J. Michael Wall.

Following a break for lunch, New Bedford historian, lighthouse preservationist and publicist Arthur Motta will speak about “Lighthouses of New Bedford” and their integration into the fabric of The Life and Times of the Whaling Capital, one of the nation’s greatest seaports.  This will be expanded upon by Dr. Stuart M. Frank, Senior Curator Emeritus, on “Beacons and Blubber: The Amos Baker Family and four generations of whaling, lighthouses, journals, watercolors, scrimshaw, and artifact collecting,” a pictorial extravaganza that delves deep into museum collections to explore the unusual history of this exemplary family of lighthouse keepers and whaling captains.  Capping the all-day plenary sessions will be the noted local historian Dr. Alfred Saulniers, addressing “Franco Americans in the New Bedford Whale Fishery, 1790-1910,” a little-known but crucial component community of participants in the city’s great Age of Sail.  To close out the day, Dr. Frank will introduce another current exhibition, “Harbor Views,” which focuses on visions of the estuary, waterfronts, and waterborne traffic by some of the most proficient and expressive local artists, from William Bradford and Albert Van Beest to L.D. Eldred and Clifford Ashley.

Scheduled for Sunday at 10:00 a.m. is an optional field-excursion: a waterborne harbor tour and special close-up narrated cruise around the port’s three historic lighthouses.

The Whaling History Symposium, first established in 1975, brings scholars, collectors, armchair historians, and interested nautical enthusiasts to New Bedford from all over the country and abroad, to share interests in maritime history, nautical lore, and the many intriguing facets of whaling heritage worldwide.  This time around, our own Home Port is the focus which, backed by sumptuous new exhibitions at the Museum, we find timely and compelling.

Registration: $50 for members and $65 for non-members (includes lunch and admission to all museum galleries) by October 15. Optional Lighthouse Harbor Tour, $10 additional. To register, call Pam Lowe, (508) 997-0046, ext. 100 or email: frontdesk@whalingmuseum.org

The Whaling History Symposium is made possible in part by the Samuel D. Rusitzky Fund.

Twitter hashtag: #WhalingHistorySymp37

Museum Apprentices Create Children’s Stories

The Museum really enjoys highlighting the many ways in which our apprentices get involved in Whaling Museum programming and activities. This summer we’ve tasked them with creating their own children’s stories, so that they can be read during a new summer activity called Lunch Time Story Time.

Starting on Tuesday, July 30, from 1:00 – 2:00pm, and continuing on Tuesdays, August 6 and 13, several of the apprentices will read their stories in the Jacobs Family Gallery, to any children that would like to join them. After the stories have been read, the children in attendance can create and take home crafts that relate to the stories.  The apprentices have done a great job of writing these stories and creating and/or obtaining images to accompany the text.

Photo from Museum's Kendall Collection 2000.100.1838.137

Photo from Museum’s Kendall Collection 2000.100.1838.137

Let our ‘kids’ read to your kids. Bring a lunch if you’d like.  Lunch Time Story Time is FREE. Regular admission applies to visiting the Museum galleries. For more information contact Robert Rocha, (508) 717-6849 or via rrocha@whalingmuseum.org.

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.

_DSC0001

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.

Maritime Curator presents at 4th Whaling History Symposium

Kendall Whaling Museum alumni Michael Dyer, Joost Schokkenbroek and Hayato Sakurai all presented at Sndefjord whaling history conference this June.

Kendall Whaling Museum alumni Michael Dyer, Joost Schokkenbroek and Hayato Sakurai all presented at Sandefjord whaling history conference this June.

This conference, which took place June 20-21, was organized under the auspices of Vestfold Museums and the Hvalfangstmuseet of Sandefjord. There were about forty attendees from thirteen nations. It took place at the Clarion Atlantic Hotel in Sandefjord, a large facility entirely decorated with installations of modern whaling equipment, art and architectural elements amassed as the personal collection of the hotel’s owner. Sixteen papers were selected for presentation from a pool of over thirty-five submissions in the call for papers – their largest response to date. Part of the reason for the large response is that the proceedings are published in an esteemed and useful hard-bound format.

Several of the papers were in direct response to previous articles published in the proceedings of previous symposia and collectively are building a body of work on certain subjects including the history of science and Soviet whaling. This kind of accrued knowledge effectively creates the sort of intellectual environment attractive to scholars. Additionally the opportunity for like-minded scholars, curators, enthusiasts and students to gather, talk and exchange ideas in a convivial atmosphere was one of greatest benefit and stated by the organizers to be of equal importance to the presentations. Many of the presenters had used the resources of the New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library and while all agreed that the resources were wonderful, most were more impressed with the level of service and professional assistance that they received while visiting in person. This is not the case in many research facilities according to several people.
Several of the papers dealt with modern whaling, as one might image. Alex Aguilar’s paper on the shore station of the Iberian Peninsula in the 20th century was particularly insightful with new analysis of the successes and failures of these shore stations.

Hayato Sakurai gave a superb overview of the history of the Taiji Whale Museum that combined town and national politics, public relations, whales, whaling and tourism. Oral history, general regional references and one particularly interesting paper on the history of whaling at Santa Catarina Island in Brazil contributed to a well-rounded look at the subjects.

Throughout the conference, the questions of globalization, global economic interactions, global environmental impacts and whaling as important driver of 19th and 20th century international affairs came to the fore. Both the U.S.A. and Norway had strong influences on other nations through whaling. This was a very academic symposium with few papers addressing collections, museums and their influence, or other such non-paper-based research projects.

Dyer’s was the final paper of the symposium. Entitled “Why black whales are called right whales” it combined art, history, biology and the history of science into one large humanities-based analysis of language, whaling and taxonomy in relationship to the world’s most endangered whale, Eubalaena glacialis.

The proceedings are due to be published next year.

The Heritage of Landscape

By Michael P. Dyer
Librarian and Maritime Historian, New Bedford Whaling Museum
A talk presented to the Congregational Church of South Dartmouth
Upon their bicentennial anniversary
March 17, 2007

My intent this evening is to attempt to convey, less the letter of our local history and more its value to the community, its nature and texture. When I speak of the “Heritage of Landscape” it is to serve as a reminder of the inherent dignity and respect that is owed to this place. As our wars overseas are conceived and enacted with the express purpose of espousing freedom, it will not do to forget the reasons for our settlement in the first place; the sorts of people that are the roots of our local stock and that war once ravaged the very doorsteps of Dartmouth. There is no better way to support our country, no better act of patriotism than to preserve with careful respect the land on which we live, its architecture wherever possible, and at all costs, its history.

We are extremely fortunate that our local history has been a subject of passionate interest, bordering on obsession, by the citizens of this region since the mid-19th century. Great tomes are devoted the subject, many fine paintings interpret it, and several fine institutions and dynamic and aggressive organizations are devoted to its preservation, dissemination and understanding. I beg your indulgence for a few minutes this evening to outline a very few points of this illustrious history and I thank the board of the Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust for the opportunity to do so.

The following quotation has absolutely nothing to do with the specificity of tonight’s discussion but everything to do with its inspiration. It is taken from J. R. R. Tolkien’s volume two, The Two Towers of his trilogy The Lord of the Rings, “It seems that you have heard in Rohan of the words that troubled Minas Tirith. They spoke of the Halfling. These hobbits are Halflings.” “Halflings!” laughed the Rider that stood beside Eomer. “Halflings! But they are only a little people in old songs and children’s tales out of the North. Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?” “A man may do both,” said Aragorn. “For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!”

William Allen Wall (1801-1885). Buttonwood Brook, circa 1850s. Oil on canvas. ODHS #1977.55, purchased in memory of Kathleen G. Barney with funds donated by her husband, Lawrence H. Barney, Jr.

William Allen Wall (1801-1885). Buttonwood Brook, circa 1850s. Oil on canvas. ODHS #1977.55, purchased in memory of Kathleen G. Barney with funds donated by her husband, Lawrence H. Barney, Jr.

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Great Photos of a Feeding Whale

This one doesn’t require much introduction. A photographer from Spain, named Eduardo Acevedo Fernandez, through some patience and luck was able to take some excellent close-up photos of a Bryde’s (pron. brood-us) whale feeding on sardines. (The front of the whale is on the left side of the photos) The throat pleats are completely extended, allowing the animal to engulf an amount of water and food equivalent to its own body volume. The water then got forced by the throat muscles through the 700-800 baleen plates hanging from its upper jaw, filtering out the sardines and sending the water back into the ocean. The whale then swallowed these small but numerous prey items. Enjoy the photos. They are very high quality.

Bryde's whale postcard, by Jean Vaughan. Produced for  International Whaling Commission, 1960-1990. From Kendall Collection.

Bryde’s whale postcard, by Jean Vaughan. Produced for International Whaling Commission, 1960-1990. From Whaling Museum Kendall Collection.