Category Archives: Conservation

Pieces of whaling history were pictured in the “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World.”

Detail view of the port of New Bedford with the Seamen's Bethel flag flying at left and the Greek Revival steeple of the First Christian Church clearly visible at right. NBWM #1918.27.1.2

Detail view of the port of New Bedford with the Seamen’s Bethel flag flying at left and the Greek Revival steeple of the First Christian Church clearly visible at right. NBWM #1918.27.1.2

By 1848 when Benjamin Russell painted the “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World,” New Bedford was a rich, successful, and world-famous mercantile seaport. With resulting pride the city’s citizens began to take a satisfied, if reflective, view of its progress. Colonial Bedford Village was founded in 1765 specifically to pursue commercial whaling, and in 1848, Yankee whaling generally, was well over a century old. After such a long time, the trade had a history, and Russell explored some of the more prominent stories of that history in several of the Panorama’s scenes. Arguably his interpretation of a whaling voyage in the 1840s was steeped in the industry’s larger historical context.

Although he focused on American whaling, he was not alone in broadcasting his perspective on New Bedford’s history. At 1850 the two-hundredth anniversary was approaching of the signing of the 1652 deed  by the Wampanoag tribe granting colonial settlers the lands of the Old Dartmouth region. Local New Bedford artists like William Allen Wall took a fresh view of formative colonial historical events, including the 1602 landing of English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold at Smoking Rocks, the 1635 story of Governor John Endicott and the Red Cross, and in 1853, Wall painted “Birth of the Whaling Industry.”

The firm of Britton & Rey of San Francisco produced this lithographic print of Wall's "Birth of the Whaling Industry." It appeared in Charles M. Scammon's Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874) under the title of "A Whaling Scene of 1763." It is a perfectly faithful reproduction of the original paining which is currently owned by the New Bedford Free Public Library.

The firm of Britton & Rey of San Francisco produced this lithographic print of William Allen Wall’s “Birth of the Whaling Industry,” for Charles M. Scammon’s Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America (San Francisco, 1874) under the title of “A Whaling Scene of 1763.” It is a perfectly faithful reproduction of the original paining which is currently owned by the New Bedford Free Public Library.

This painting (and the above print) shows a makeshift oil refinery along the shores of the Acushnet River around 1763. In a statement about it, Wall wrote in 1853: “seated upon the frame of a grindstone… is seen in his broad-brimmed hat and Friendly coat, the founder of New Bedford and the father of her whale-fishery, Joseph Russell.” He included many rich details including a Native American trader, a black hostler, laborers, oxen, the try-house with a sperm whale jaw on the roof, and most importantly, a sloop careened on shore flying the red ensign of the British merchant service. He described the sloop as “undoubtedly the workmanship of some Old Dartmouth mechanic.”[1] The “Friendly coat” is a direct reference to the typical plain Quaker garb of the period, but overall Wall is harkening back, he’s acknowledging the history of the Old Dartmouth Region within the Massachusetts settlement story. Wall adapted these stories, recognized them as significant, and interpreted them, not in the European tradition of history painting from classical themes, but rather as history painting from American themes.

William Allen Wall, "Endicott and the Red Cross," 1853. Oil on canvas, 49 x 60 inches. NBWM #1987.19.1

William Allen Wall, “Endicott and the Red Cross,” 1853. Oil on canvas, 49 x 60 inches. NBWM #1987.19.1

His oil painting “Endicott and the Red Cross,” is another example. Here, Wall folded local history into the story of events that had taken place in Salem, by deliberately painting a persecuted Quaker in the place of the persecuted Catholic of the actual event. In 1635, there were no Quakers. The sect had yet to be formed in England when the Puritan Massachusetts governor, John Endicott, in his fury with the perceived popish policies of Charles I, took his sword and cut the cross out of the English flag. By replacing the Catholic with a Quaker sitting in the stocks, Wall called attention to the later Puritan persecution of Quakers, making a larger statement about the evolution of colonial history in Massachusetts. He was evidently proud of New Bedford and its achievements, prominent citizens, beautiful locale and thriving harbor, and the mid-century mark seemed to have worked on the Wall and others profoundly.

Another significant addition to the story of New Bedford’s historical celebration came in 1858 when Daniel Ricketson, Henry Thoreau’s friend, and New Bedford’s resident Transcendentalist, penned the first history of New Bedford, appropriately titled, The History of New Bedford: Bristol County, Massachusetts. Ricketson had been thinking about the history of the region and its place in American history for years. He structured the book in such a way that it covered the story of Native Americans and King Philip’s War, early settlers, early whaling, and the American Revolution. It served for decades as the sole history of the region. In 1859, New Bedford painter Albert Bierstadt also painted a version of Gosnold’s landing at Cuttyhunk.

Bierstadt painted "Gosnold at Cuttyhunk," in 1858 for an exhibition of American paintings at the Boston Athenaeum in 1859. NBWM #1904.63

Bierstadt painted “Gosnold at Cuttyhunk,” in 1858 for an exhibition of American paintings at the Boston Athenaeum in 1859. NBWM #1904.63

There was a sense of growth and maturity on the part of both the community and the nation. Ricketson summarized this feeling in the introduction to his history: “While other nations are boasting of their antiquity, and exulting in the mysterious deeds of their ancestors, we pride ourselves in the recency of our origin, and the well-known achievements during the struggle for liberty, as well as for the rapidity of our increase.”

Albert Bierstadt would shortly leave New England entirely and travel out across the Great Plains to the Rocky Mountains, and beyond, seeking to capture on his canvases the wonder of the wild landscape and its Native people, and something of the new American spirit of destiny. Benjamin Russell also tapped into the feeling of history and civic accomplishment in several of the scenes that he painted. His obvious historical perspective lends some strong clues to the sort of narrative that he told when the traveled with the Panorama.

In the opening sequence of the Panorama Russell gives pride of place to the ship William Hamilton, built at New Bedford by Jethro and Zacharaiah Hillman to the order of Isaac Howland Jr. & Co. NBWM #1918.27.1.9

In the opening sequence of the Panorama Russell gives pride of place to the ship William Hamilton, built at New Bedford by Jethro and Zacharaiah Hillman to the order of Isaac Howland Jr. & Co. NBWM #1918.27.1.9

The first and most obvious example is his view of the whale ship William Hamilton outfitting in New Bedford harbor. The ship, built to the order of Isaac Howland Jr. & Co. at the Hillman Brothers shipyard in New Bedford in 1834, was named for an apocryphal Cape Cod figure of the mid-seventeenth-century who was said to have been the first American colonist to harpoon a whale. Naming a ship from an American whaling legend confirms the awareness of history that ran deep in New Bedford’s whaling community. Russell then went on to highlight a number of the 316 ships registered in the New Bedford port district at the time. Being a shrewd businessman, he included as wide a variety of house flags of New Bedford merchants as he could when he painted these ships. These merchants were, after all, potential patrons for his paintings.  Curiously, he also chose to paint and name the ship Lyra of New Bedford rounding Cape Horn.

Ship Lyra of New Bedford rounding Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean. The Lyra was built at Fairhaven by Reuben Fish to the order of John & James Howland in 1822. NBWM #1918.27.1.75

Ship Lyra of New Bedford rounding Cape Horn into the Pacific Ocean.      NBWM #1918.27.1.75

The Lyra was built at Fairhaven to the order of John and James Howland in 1822. She sailed on a two-year sperm whaling voyage to the South Pacific that same year under the command of Reuben Joy, Jr. It was the Lyra’s fate to sail in consort with the ship Globe of Nantucket, Thomas Worth, master, upon which the famous and dreadful mutiny occurred on January 26, 1824. Reuben Joy was among the last to see Captain Worth alive, for in the night the Globe’s boatsteerer Samuel Comstock killed the captain with an axe. His fellow mutineers assisted Comstock in the murder of the ship’s officers. By daylight Comstock and the mutineers had control of the ship and were sailing it for Mili atoll near the Marshall Islands. Most of the mutineers who landed with Comstock at the island, revolted and murdered him, and most of them were, in turn, themselves killed by the Native islanders. Two men who landed at the island survived, neither of them mutineers, Cyrus Lay and William Hussey. They were rescued a year later by a U.S. Navy expeditionary force, the schooner Dolphin under the command of Lieutenant Commander John Percival, dispatched to the islands to round up any remaining crew of the Globe.

Fifteen years after the mutiny on the Globe, William Comstock published an account of his brother Samuel's life and the story of mutiny. William was also onboard the Globe at the time and the story of the murder of the captain and officers left little to the imagination.

Fifteen years after the mutiny on the Globe, William Comstock published an account of his brother Samuel’s life and the story of mutiny. William was also onboard the Globe at the time and his graphic telling of the story of the murder of the captain and officers left little to the imagination.

The mutiny on the Globe sent waves of horror through the whaling community and the event resonated through the popular memory for years. It was a significant part of the impetus behind the formation of the New Bedford Port Society for the Moral Improvement of Seamen in 1830. The preamble to the 1831 First Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the New-Bedford Port Society included the following insightful paragraph:

“Experience has placed the proposition beyond question, that on pecuniary grounds merely, it would be good policy to attempt seriously, the moral improvement of the men who navigate our vessels, and win their cargoes from the monsters of the deep. – Not to advert particularly to the horrid catastrophe that took place on the ship Globe, of Nantucket, or to other cases, where plans of a similar character have been at least meditated, how many voyages have been injured or ruined, by the desertion of sailors, or the misconduct or intemperance of the master, or officers?”

Russell’s inclusion of the view of the Lyra rounding Cape Horn evidently allowed him to expand upon the story in his narration of the Panorama. It was undoubtedly a riveting tale guaranteed to capture the attention of the audience. He followed up the Globe story with a more contemporaneous one, the mutiny on the ship Sharon of Fairhaven.

Russell's view of the re-taking of the ship Sharon of Fairhaven from the mutineers by the crew members in the whaleboats. NBWM #1918.27.1.122

Russell’s view of the re-taking of the ship Sharon of Fairhaven from the mutineers by the crew members in the whaleboats. NBWM #1918.27.1.122

The mutiny on the Sharon took place in the Central Pacific near Ascension Island in the Caroline Islands, in November of 1842. Around this same time, Benjamin Russell himself was whaling around the coast of Australia onboard the Kutusoff. The story quickly made the rounds of the fleet. Unlike the mutiny on the Globe, where the Nantucket-born ring-leader planned the whole affair beforehand, the mutineers on the Sharon were not even white men, they were three islanders, “Kanakas,” who had shipped onboard at Rotuma (Grenville) Island in April of that year to replace several crew members who deserted. These men  rose up in anger against the captain, Howes Norris, and decapitated him with a cutting spade. Norris, by all reports, had treated the crew very badly for most of the voyage, and may have been drunk at the time of the mutiny. The mutineers seized the vessel but a quick-thinking young fellow, Manuel dos Reis, the acting steward at the time, scurried aloft and began cutting up the rigging so that the ship became unmanageable. Meanwhile, the rest of the crew, who had all lowered for whales, attempted to re-take the ship under the cover of darkness which they succeeded in doing. The third mate, Benjamin Clough, was badly wounded in the fight but two of the mutineers were killed and the third taken to Sydney, Australia for trial. Clough was later honored by the owners with a presentation sextant and command of the Sharon on her next voyage. He went on to command another four whaling voyages.

Among the more unique views of the wreck of the ship Essex of Nantucket is Benjamin Russell's interpretation. Unlike the majority of popular, published versions of the event, Russell painted from the perspective of a whaleman, and while he was not a witness, was better able than most other illustrators to capture a believable sense of the scene. NBWM#1918.27.1.101

A unique view of the wreck of the ship Essex of Nantucket is Benjamin Russell’s interpretation. Unlike the majority of popular, published versions of the event, Russell painted from the perspective of a whaleman, and while he was not a witness, was better able than most other illustrators to capture a believable sense of the scene. NBWM#1918.27.1.101

If the story of the Sharon constituted more-or-less current events, Russell also harkened back to the most famous event of all (to date), in American whaling history, the wreck of the ship Essex of Nantucket. As has been told many times, the ship Essex under the command of George Pollard was struck by a large sperm whale on the “Off Shore Grounds” in the southeastern Pacific off the coast of Peru in November of 1820 and sunk. The crew took to the whaleboats and suffered unimaginable horrors and deprivations as they strove to survive on the open ocean. Of the crew of twenty men, eight survived. Captain Pollard and one seaman, Charles Ramsdell, were two of the survivors having been in the whaleboat for 90 days.  The wreck of the Essex was a high-profile event in American whaling history, indeed in popular culture as well. The story was published in a number of books about sea-faring adventures, so it’s no wonder that he illustrated it so effectively.

Other events are not so well-known, but are nonetheless picturesque. Among the Panorama scenes of the fabled Polynesian islands is one that shows a whale ship close in to shore tied up to a palm tree. The story originated in an August 16, 1824 letter written by Captain Richard Macy, master of the ship Maro of Nantucket, to a prominent island citizen Josiah Hussey. Macy wrote describing Eimeo Island, one of the Society Islands about twenty miles west of Tahiti:

I entered the harbor on the North side of the island, which is not to be surpassed for access, and safety by any harbor in this ocean. I took my ship 2 miles up this beautiful harbor (entirely landlocked) and tied her to an old tree. The scene that surrounded me was truly romantic.[2]

In one of the more beautifully composed scenes in the whole Panorama, Russell shows a whale ship tied up to a palm tree in the heart of the exotic islands of the Pacific. NBWM #1918.27.1.145

In one of the more beautifully composed scenes in the whole Panorama, Russell shows a whale ship (presumably the ship Maro of Nantucket) tied up to a palm tree in the heart of the exotic islands of the Pacific. NBWM #1918.27.1.145

Captain Macy, at the time, was exploring the Society Islands and the vast waters to the west. He wrote: “Impressed with the strong belief that great numbers of sperm whales existed among the islands of the Pacific… the Society, Friendly, Feejee and Caroline’s, I resolved to spend three months among those islands.”[3]

Many of the islands of the Pacific had achieved fabled status well before Macy visited them. It was their fame that provided Benjamin Russell fodder for his whaling voyage round the world story. Islands like Pitcairn, Juan Fernandez, Tahiti, the Marquesas and Hawaii were fabled to Western mariners. Russell included them all, as these were indeed the stuff of legends. Who hadn’t read of Robinson Crusoe marooned at Juan Fernandez, or heard of the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty with the mutineers sailing to remote Pitcairn and settling there? The death of Captain James Cook at the hands of the Hawaiian Islanders at Kealakekua Bay was common knowledge, especially through maritime communities. Cook’s Voyages had been published in many editions and were easily and widely available. Herman Melville himself perpetuated the exotic romance of the Pacific with his novels Typee (New York, 1846), and Omoo (London, 1847). In the Panorama Russell told all of these stories but he told them through the lens of the American experience.

Detail showing the settlement of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers at Pitcairn Island. Note the "celebrated banyan tree" in the center of the landscape and the cultivated fields surrounding it. NBWM #1918.27.1.84

Detail showing the settlement of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers at Pitcairn Island. Note the “immense banyan tree” in the center of the landscape and the cultivated fields surrounding it. NBWM #1918.27.1.84

When Russell painted Pitcairn Island, he painted it almost completely from the description published in Captain Frederick Beechey’s famous Pacific exploration narrative, Narrative of a Voyage to the Pacific and Beering’s Strait (London, 1831):

“Immediately round the village are the small enclosures for fattening pigs, goats, and poultry, and beyond them the cultivated grounds producing the banana, plantain, melon, yam, taro, sweet potatoes, appai, tee, and cloth plant with other useful roots, fruits, and shrubs, which extend far up the mountain and to the southward; but in this particular direction they are excluded from the view by an immense banyan tree, two hundred paces in circumference, whose foliage and branches form of themselves a canopy impervious to the rays of the sun Every cottage has its out house for making cloth, its baking place, its sty, and its poultry house.”

This superbly rendered scene of a ship foundering off Cape Horn was probably meant to represent an actual event although what that event was remains unknown. In this scene the dismasted ship is flying the American flag upside-down as a signal of distress. Note the single man standing at the stern of the sinking ship as the whaleboats wait alongside to effect a rescue. NBWM#1918.27.1.74

This superbly rendered scene of a ship foundering off Cape Horn was probably meant to represent an actual event although what that exact event was remains unidentified. In this scene the dismasted ship is flying the American flag upside-down as a signal of distress. Note the single man standing at the stern of the sinking ship as the whaleboats wait alongside to effect a rescue. NBWM#1918.27.1.74

Other scenes of the Panorama lend themselves to speculation about his intent. He had obviously crafted an illustrated narrative with a story to accompany the pictures. While the text of the narrative has not survived (or at least has not yet come to light), so many parts of the story can be guessed from actual events, that other parts may represent events remembered by him but which time and contextual separation have forgotten. One such scene, that may represent a known event, is the view of a dismasted ship foundering off Cape Horn. It appears from the action that one man is left onboard and about to leap into the water, while the whaleboats from a passing whale ship are rescuing the remainder of the crew. Such an event did happen. In May 1832, the ship Science of London left Hobart, Tasmania bound to London. In June, the ship was dismasted in a storm, and lost the lifeboats and four sailors about 350 nautical miles (402 statute miles) from Cape Horn. The ship Warren of Warren, Rhode Island rescued the fifteen survivors and the ship was abandoned. Benjamin Russell himself had business and family ties to Warren, Rhode Island and he died there in 1885. It’s possible that he was illustrating the wreck of the Science.

Much of what Russell conveyed through his monumental pictorial overview of the American whale fishery he either witnessed or experienced himself. A great deal of it, however, he gleaned through conversations with other people and possibly research like old newspaper accounts, published narratives and the like. We know that he owned copies of important whaling books of the period including J. Ross Browne’s Etchings of a Whaling Cruise (New York, 1846), because his signed copy is in the New Bedford Whaling Museum library. How he developed some of his ideas remains to be researched, but his intent seems to have been to cover American whaling not only from its current status as he experienced it, but also as an industry with a strong heritage. His emphasis on these events as well as those of the storied islands of the Pacific Ocean serve to put the growing American whaling industry on an equal footing with the European influences of the eighteenth-century.

[1] Richard C. Kugler, William Allen Wall, An Artist of New Bedford (New Bedford, 1978), p. 23.

[2] American Activities in the Central Pacific, Vol. 4, Moorea #2, p. 637.

[3] Ibid.

Panorama Conservation Project Reveals Hidden Content.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company complex, 1897.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, 1897.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOURCES:

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

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

KG Urban Enterprises

New Bedford Free Public Library (newspaper microfiche collections)

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

Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.

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.