Tag Archives: Art

Introduction to the Art of the American Whale Hunt

After the swinging blankets of dripping blubber were minced and boiled, and the smashed boats were hoisted back on shipboard, with the jagged tooth of Ball’s Pyramid towering three hundred feet out of the far-off Tasman Sea, or the hump of Massafuero Island sitting on the horizon of the South Pacific like an enormous meatloaf, the American whaleman, an inveterate artist, sat down to draw a picture of what he had experienced on the job that day.

Whaleman George A. Gould drew this sperm whaling scene in the journal that he kept while sailing onboard the ship Columbia of Nantucket between 1841 and 1845. It is an exemplary example of whalemen’s artwork showing that most desirable of events; the successful hunting of these valuable animals as shown by the bloody water and spouts. KWM #213, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Whaleman George A. Gould drew this sperm whaling scene in the journal that he kept while sailing onboard the ship Columbia of Nantucket between 1841 and 1845. It is an exemplary example of whalemen’s artwork showing that most desirable of events; the successful hunting of these valuable animals as shown by the bloody water and spouts. KWM #213, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The Yankee whaleman plied his trade on a richly colored blue-water world of sea foam, often rose-tinted through his own making by the bloody spouts of the mortally injured animals it was his employment to pursue. As the whale’s slate-black beetling flukes flailed briefly and frantically through the air, silhouetted against white clouds, he caught it all permanently in his mind’s eye, and put it all down on paper, or in the case of scrimshaw, ivory, or bone. These same colors,the white of the clouds, the deep blue water and pale blue sky, the red of the blood; these same colors he had conveniently at hand, in his kit of watercolor paints, to color his nation’s flag in the background snapping red, white and blue from the mast of his floating home. The whaleman was often a patriot, proud of carrying his nations’ flag onboard his nations’ shipping to the far-flung beaches, bays and harbors of the world’s insulae. His dramas were far from pacific, albeit so often played out across the whaling grounds of Melville’s “mysterious, divine” Pacific Ocean; “Off Shore,” or “On the Line,” or “On Japan,” with his stabbing iron harpoons and lances on the one hand, and the sperm whale’s snapping, toothy jaw, or the sweeping flukes of the right whale on the other; impressive action, no doubt, and worthy of a picture or two.

“December 16th, 1854. At daylight saw a shoal of sperm whales. Lowered all three boats and struck 4 and killed 3.”The above quotation is from the journal of Perry G. Wing of Westport, Massachusetts. He drew the above picture and recorded the successful whaling event in his journal kept onboard the bark Dunbarton of New Bedford, Mass., in 1854.  ODHS #967, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

“December 16th, 1854. At daylight saw a shoal of sperm whales. Lowered all three boats and struck 4 and killed 3.”The above quotation is from the journal of Perry G. Wing of Westport, Massachusetts. He drew the above picture and recorded the successful whaling event in his journal kept onboard the bark Dunbarton of New Bedford, Mass., in 1854. ODHS #967, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Not all whalemen drew pictures of what they had seen but enough did to record, better than words can describe, what it meant to hunt these great marine mammals in the decades between 1820 and 1880 when fleet upon fleet of American ships roamed the oceans of the world killing whales for profit. Whaleman Francis Allyn Olmsted (1819-1844) in the preface to his published whaling narrative Incidents of a Whaling Voyage allowed that: “embellishments of this kind are often as essential in forming a correct idea of a scene, as the printed page itself… for a single glance gives a far more vivid idea… than the most elaborate description.” In their vessel’s logbooks and their own personal journals whalemen drew many pictures and after the hunt, engraved even more on the teeth and skeletal bones won of vanquished sperm whales, and upon the limber baleen plates of the equally hard-fought right and bowhead whales and on the snowy tusks of walruses. He occasionally went so far as to paint in oils or pastels, a more peaceable employment once ashore, and one, Robert Walter Weir, even became a professional magazine illustrator after his time in the whale fishery. Others, including Benjamin Russell of New Bedford went on to continue their careers as painters of whaling scenes for the larger public. Russell became famous as the creator of a traveling whaling panorama, a ship portraitist and a printmaker.

“May Friday 8, ’59. At 8 ½ A.M. Joe Kirby raised a school of sperm whales. Run down to them and hauled aback. 1st and 2nd Mate lowered down. The whales perceived us. The Captain lowered away and struck one. The whale stove him. The Mate got the Captain and killed the whale.” The above descriptive text is taken from Charles P. Dewey’s journal kept onboard the bark John Dawson of New Bedford, 1855-1859. It relates to an event that may also have been witnessed by Robert W. Weir (1836-1905), whaleman and professional magazine illustrator who was sailing in the same waters around Madagascar onboard the bark Clara Bell of Mattapoisett at the time and later drew the picture in Dewey’s journal. ODHS 590, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling

“May Friday 8, ’59. At 8 ½ A.M. Joe Kirby raised a school of sperm whales. Run down to them and hauled aback. 1st and 2nd Mate lowered down. The whales perceived us. The Captain lowered away and struck one. The whale stove him. The Mate got the Captain and killed the whale.” The above descriptive text is taken from Charles P. Dewey’s journal kept onboard the bark John Dawson of New Bedford, 1855-1859. It relates to an event that may also have been witnessed by Robert W. Weir (1836-1905), whaleman and professional magazine illustrator who was sailing in the same waters around Madagascar onboard the bark Clara Bell of Mattapoisett at the time and later drew the picture in Dewey’s journal. ODHS 590, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling

No matter the medium, however, when it comes to his artworks there is more to the picture than meets the eye. There was a real story alive behind every piece of whaleman’s art, but those specific stories have seldom been re-told in words or if they ever were, are lost to time. This is due in part to the nature of the pieces. Scrimshaw whaling scenes, vibrantly alive at the time of their making, found their life through the tales of their creators. They were the relics of his experience, gifts perhaps to his shipmates, family or friends, or worthless things made out of necessity to while away the inevitable tedium endemic to the profession, and kept for their private significance maybe only to their maker. As the creators disappeared, often so did their stories, but these engraved objects, with lost intents remain alluring, mostly disassociated from their makers and whatever it was he was trying to convey, and remarkably evocative.

This detailed whaling scene is engraved on a piece of panbone, that is, the skeletal jawbone of a sperm whale. Like many pieces of scrimshaw it is anonymous and in this particular case is possibly British. It shows successful sperm whaling around Ball’s Pyramid, Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. NBW #2001.100.1226, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

This detailed whaling scene is engraved on a piece of panbone, that is, the skeletal jawbone of a sperm whale. Like many pieces of scrimshaw it is anonymous and in this particular case is possibly British. It shows successful sperm whaling around Ball’s Pyramid, Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea between New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. NBW #2001.100.1226, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum

When the artist drew his pictures in a logbook or journal, however, then those stories have the potential for re-creation. Associated text can sometimes provide clues as to why a particular scene or vessel was permanently recorded. Though the mediums of engraved scrimshaw and paper drawings are radically different, the latter can inform the former, because, for all intents and purposes they are the same – one simply has associated text. Except in rare cases where the stories of the pieces can be glimpsed through sometimes rewarding but almost always extensive and time-consuming research, scrimshaw whaling scenes are mute if powerful testaments to the whaler’s life.

As any hunter will tell you, preparation for the moment of action is vital to the success of the hunt. Hunters get themselves into position and then they wait. Similarly, the whaleman’s business as a hunter upon the high seas of animals that spend much of their time submerged, was of a nature that left him a great deal of excess time. As he cruised the whaling grounds, back and forth, day after day, or while making a passage from hunting ground to hunting ground, he often employed himself in recording in his journal the animals that he encountered, the scenes of the hunt, the picturesque sailing ships in the immediate vicinity and the careful outlining of the silhouettes of the often exotic, faraway islands and landfalls that only a world-faring seaman would encounter. As many of these places had seldom been seen by any Westerners at all his observations served the two-fold purpose of satisfying his own curiosity and creating a reference for future navigation. As a mariner in a culture that took commercial navigation very seriously indeed, he was often trained in and lived with a tradition of manuscript illustration. Manuscript maps and recognition drawings of landfalls, carefully and accurately rendered could literally mean life or death, the success or failure of the voyage, and the enabling of the navigation through the trackless oceans of the world.

John Martin of Wilmington, Delaware drew this recognition drawing showing the silhouette of one of the Samoan Island group in the South Pacific. Such drawings allowed mariners to positively identify landfalls at sea. Martin’s illustrated journal kept onboard the ship Lucy Ann  of Wilmington, 1841-1844 is one of the great illustrated American whaling journals. KWM #434, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

John Martin of Wilmington, Delaware drew this recognition drawing showing the silhouette of one of the Samoan Island group in the South Pacific. Such drawings allowed mariners to positively identify landfalls at sea. Martin’s illustrated journal kept onboard the ship Lucy Ann of Wilmington, 1841-1844 is one of the great illustrated American whaling journals. KWM #434, Courtesy of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

The combination of these variables came to serve as deep wells of creativity. That creativity in turn served as an outlet for his feelings of patriotism, his eye-witness to tragedy, his obvious sense of wonder, his esprit de corps and frequently, the specificities of navigation questions. These are the roots of some of the stories told by the art of the American whaleman but there is more to the stories even than this. These are stories of his personal world exploration; they are of the ships that were his home on the deep and the violence that was his calling, considerable bloodshed and incredible natural phenomena. They are tales of loneliness, industry and, doubtless, more than a little bit of romance. Killing a sixty-foot animal with a twelve-foot spear from a thirty-foot boat with a team of five other guys in the midst of the fabled Galapagos Islands, admittedly, has a certain romance.

Pictures drawn by whalemen come from within a rich context and it is their similarities as well as their differences that speak most powerfully to their documentary nature as historical sources. Much can be learned from the comparative study of these illustrations and it is because that, so many of the these pictures, do, in fact, look alike, that historians, teachers and museum interpreters can ascribe some veracity to that which is being pictured. Sperm whales, for instance are often drawn seemingly exaggerated in size. Obviously this is because they are generally very large animals but what is even more telling is that the very largest animals are often drawn or noted. In one case the whaleman captioned his picture of a whaleboat going onto an enormous sperm whale “One of the whales you read of.” Such a statement implies that very large sperm whales were noteworthy and can give clues to modern researchers as to certain aspects of sperm whale biology from an earlier period of first-hand observation. It could also serve to underscore the whaleman’s very real desire to make as much oil as possible, fill their ship, go home and get paid, and additionally it can serve as evidence of some of the more social aspects of a whaleman’s life. When it comes to the study of maritime affairs, where so much of the action takes place far away the experience of most people, the art of the mariner becomes an indispensable interpretive tool and a joy to the enthusiast of vernacular art forms.

Erin McGough is Whaling Museum’s new Registrar

Erin McGough

Erin McGough

Erin McGough has been appointed the new Registrar of the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Selected from a field of more than 130 candidates, Ms. McGough comes to the Whaling Museum from the Concord Museum, where she developed the Registrar’s office, creating systems and procedures that allowed the museum to obtain its accreditation. She replaces longtime Registrar Jean Banker who retired in June.

Ms. McGough holds a Master’s Degree in Art History and Museum Studies from Tufts University, a B.A. in Art History from the College of William and Mary and has extensive internship experience at museums including the Corcoran, the Smithsonian, and Harvard’s Peabody Museum.

In making the announcement, Dr. Greg Galer, Vice President of Collections and Exhibitions, noted “Erin will play an essential role in the operation of the Whaling Museum, managing the legal and intellectual control of the collection as well as its physical care, storage, security and climate control. Erin comes with an extensive skill set for this position, possessing a deep knowledge of collection databases and object loan protocols. She will be an important member of the Curatorial Department, with museum best-practices at the heart of all our programs. The Board of Trustees and staff are thrilled to welcome her aboard.”

Ms. McGough added, “I am honored to be working at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The collection is large, diverse, and interesting — certainly providing a Registrar with plenty of challenges. I look forward to working with the entirety of the museum’s staff, as we provide a satisfying visitor experience while maintaining professional standards of collections care.”

Sculpture Exhibit Takes Shape

For the complete article by David B. Boyce go to SouthCoastTODAY.com

ARTicles: Notes on the Arts
October 30, 2010 12:00 AM

Many who have visited the New Bedford Whaling Museum lately, or just sauntered by its canopied main entrance, probably have noticed a giant orange squid wrapped around a square column near that access. It is the artwork of Erik Durant, a New Bedford sculptor, an MFA graduate of UMass Dartmouth, and currently coordinator of the Fine Arts Program at Bristol Community College, where he has taught since 2006.

Durant is one of eight artists participating in a show of outdoor sculpture titled “In the Unequal Cross-Lights — Contemporary Sculptors Respond to the Whaling Museum Collections,” organized by Lasse Antonsen, director of the University Art Galleries, and in collaboration with the UMD College of Visual and Performing Arts, the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, and the Whaling Museum. The eight artworks will be placed around the museum’s downtown campus, and will remain on view for a year.

Rick Creighton’s “Little Sailor Boy with Paddle Arms”, photo by Loring S. Weeks/

rest of the story…

“One Drawing Every Page of Moby-Dick”

The museum continues to gear up for the 14th annual Moby-Dick Marathon, officially starting on Saturday the 9th at noon. Helping to get us there, a series of playful, inventive, and interpretive drawings by Matt Kish. Matt is using his Signet Classic edition from 1992 with 552 pages and planning to make one drawing for each page. He hopes to complete his project in March of 2011, but makes no promises.

From his “One Drawing Every Page of Moby-Dick” project and blog.

Moby-Dick, page 110

Title: “Men may seem detestable as joint stock-companies and nations; knaves, fools, and murderers there may be; men may have mean and meagre faces; but man, in the ideal, is so noble and so sparkling, such a grand and glowing creature, that over any ignominious blemish in him all his fellows should run to throw their costliest robes.”

Matt Kish, Dec 20, 2009, 8.5" by 11", colored pencil & ink on found paper

The Arts and Crafts of OLYMPIC CHALLENGER: Souvenirs, company gifts, and whaler folk art from the Onassis whaling venture, 1950 – 1956

Klaus Barthelmess, an independent scholar from Cologne, Germany (formerly on the staff of the German Maritime Museum, Bremerhaven, and the Kölnisches Stadtmuseum), is an advisory curator for the New Bedford Whaling Museum. Mr. Barthelmess has written about German whaling history, exhibitions of whales, strandings of whales, scrimshaw and fine art related to whaling. He received the L. Byrne Waterman award in 2006 for outstanding contributions to whaling history.

Mr. Barthelmess organizes a tri-annual whaling history symposium in Cologne, and for the 2009 event, he wrote about and exhibited whaling memorabilia connected with the fleet of Aristotle Onassis. This piece, entitled “The Arts and Crafts of OLYMPIC CHALLENGER: Souvenirs, company gifts, and whaler folk art from the Onassis whaling venture, 1950 – 1956″ describes the exhibit curated by Mr. Barthelmess.

Tooth by the Onassis flag painter: Dedecke Whaling Collection

Rockford Art Museum: “Moby Dick, Heart of the Sea” Exhibit

If your in, or heading to Illinois…

rockford-invite

Moby Dick: Heart of the Sea presents imagery relating to the classic Melville novel Moby-Dick. Exhibiting artists George Klauba and Kathleen Piercefield are each natives of the Chicago area. Works by Robert McCauley former chair of Rockford College Department of Art will provide a sculptural element to the exhibition. Their contrasts in style and media, Klauba’s realistic paintings, Piercefield’s expressive, multi-media prints and Robert McCauley’s sculptural assemblages will make for a striking and challenging show. Author and Moby-Dick scholar Robert Wallace will lead a gallery walk at the opening reception on April 17, 2009.

711 N. Main Street
Rockford, IL 61103
USA


www.rockfordartmuseum.org

The Birth of an Exhibit: “Classic Whaling Prints”

“Classic Whaling Prints” opens at the Whaling Museum on February 27, 2009, and runs through the end of the year. The exhibition, organized and written by Dr. Stuart M. Frank, traces the most important and most influential pictorial images of whaling through four centuries, from one highlight to the next.

Members Preview and Curator’s Tour: Thursday, February 26, 200, 6PM

Here’s a sneak peak at what’s going on in the Gratia Houghton Rinehart Gallery:

a gallery model for the show

gallery model (constructed by intern Evan Price)

Preparator Scott Benson

Preparator Scott Benson, (photo by volunteer Herb Andrew)

Preparator Scott Benson

Preparator Scott Benson (photo by volunteer Herb Andrew)

Stay tuned for more!