Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty and the Sea

Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty, and the Sea

Now on Exhibit

April 20, 2024, through April 19, 2026

Stillman Building

Curated by Akeia de Barros Gomes

Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty, and the Sea is a new major exhibition centering maritime histories in Indigenous, African, and African-descended worldviews and experiences. Unraveling the threads of existing maritime narratives for the history of the Dawnland (New England), Indigenous dispossession, and racialized slavery, this exhibition is rooted in voices and histories that have been silent or silenced. 

Kuhtah and Kalunga are the Pequot and Bantu words for the Atlantic Ocean. Kuhtah/Kalunga and its tributaries—with its cycles of ebb and flow, push and pull, and trauma and healing—forever connect the histories, cultures, peoples, and legacies of ancestral African societies and kingdoms to the Sovereign Indigenous Nations of Turtle Island, or North America. Like waterways, contact between Africans and the Indigenous Nations of the Dawnland attests to the power of African and Indigenous ancestors, the circularity of time, and fundamental cycles of death and rebirth. 

Entwined explores the enduring legacies, strength, and resilience of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and African-descended peoples of the Dawnland. Foregrounding ancestral and descendant voices, Entwined re-weaves a narrative of African and Indigenous maritime cultures whose histories are forever interwoven in the stories of freedom, sovereignty, and the sea.


Entwined: Freedom, Sovereignty, and the Sea is generously funded by the Just Futures Initiative of the Mellon Foundation as part of the Reimagining New England Histories project. 

Mystic Seaport Museum also gratefully acknowledges our project partners, Brown University and Williams College, our community advisors whose collective voices, knowledge, creativity, and wisdom are foregrounded in this exhibition, and the artists whose pieces are on display in the exhibition: Alison Wells, Felandus Thames, Nafis M. White, Christian Gonçalves, Elizabeth James Perry, Robin Spears, Sierra Henries, and Sherenté Harris.

A special thanks to the exhibition committee members.


Richard “Soaring Bear ” Cowes, Brad Lopes, Dr. Frances Jones-Sneed, Heather Bruegl, Jason Mancini, Leah Hopkins, Lorén Spears, Cheryll Holley, Nikki Turpin, Debbie Khadroui 


Brad Lopes, Lorén Spears, Pilar Jefferson, Cheryll Holley, Leah Hopkins, Jason Mancini, Penny Gamble-Williams, Doreen Wade, Anika Lopes 

Exhibit design and fabrication by SmokeSygnals.

Voyage to the Deep: Underwater Adventures

Voyage to the Deep – Underwater Adventures

Exhibition on June 8, 2024, through September 2, 2024

Collins Gallery, Thompson Exhibition Building

Based on French author Jules Verne’s 1870 classic, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this exhibition brings to life the adventures of Captain Nemo, his fantastical submarine Nautilus, and the mythical world he inhabited.

At the center of this fantasy world is the giant Nautilus where visitors can climb aboard and discover the inner workings of a deep-sea vessel. Take up the controls at the helm, look through periscopes, crank the propeller, test out the bunks, and explore Captain Nemo’s Cabinet of Curiosities, full of incredible marine specimens.

The highly interactive experience explores marine habitats and creatures, diving equipment, and maritime archaeology, delivering immersive experiences for children and engaging content for adults. Visitors will encounter a variety of activities ranging from full-body activities like slides and climbing structures to simple tabletop games.

Voyage to the Deep Underwater Adventures is an unforgettable experience that combines science education, exploration, and entertainment. It’s a unique opportunity for families, students, and anyone seeking adventure to dive into the wonders of the deep sea and celebrate the enduring legacy of Jules Verne’s literary masterpiece.

Spineless: A Glass Menagerie of Blaschka Marine Invertebrates

Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University, MCZ:SC:324 Lophocercus viridis, MCZ:SC:313 Stiliger ornatus, MCZ:SC:330 Syphonota viridescens. © President and Fellows of Harvard College.  Photograph by Joe Michael.

Spineless: A Glass Menagerie of Blaschka Marine Invertebrates

Now on Exhibit

October 21, 2023 through March 2, 2025

C. D. Mallory Building

Curated by Krystal Rose and James T. Carlton

For millennia, naturalists, scientists, sailors, and artists have been fascinated by marine invertebrates, an abundant, diverse, and ubiquitous group of sea creatures including sponges, jellyfish, sea anemones, crustaceans, mollusks (such as sea slugs and octopuses), sea squirts, and many more. However, finding a way to document these spineless species was often a challenge. When alive and in their natural habitats, many species, especially those with soft bodies, present in vibrant colors and unusual shapes. When extracted from the sea, the animals may quickly become colorless, shapeless, and sometimes almost unrecognizable. 

The major exhibition Spineless, opened on October 21,  2023 at Mystic Seaport Museum, explores some of the inspiring ways that people have tried to record the ocean’s mesmerizing marine invertebrates.  The main theme of the exhibition features the intriguing story of father and son glassmakers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka of Dresden, Germany. In the 1850s, the elder Blaschka became fascinated by invertebrates he observed while at sea. Inspired to produce glass models that would capture their forms, anatomical details, and colors, he and his son went on to create a unique mail-order catalogue business.  They successfully sold and distributed these often extraordinarily fragile pieces to museums and universities around the world for teaching and display purposes.  Over forty of these exquisite models from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and other institutions will be displayed.

The exhibition also features sailors’ journals and rare books containing sketches, watercolors, written descriptions, and photographs — giving a glimpse into early documentation and scientific work at sea.  Alongside the Blaschka glass models and these rarely-seen archival and library materials will be a selection of “wet specimens” preserved in jars from the Yale Peabody Museum, Deparment of Invertebrate Zoology, and from other collections, which highlight the challenges and successes of preserving invertebrates for scientific study.

Some of the species the Blaschkas created in glass live today in waters local to the Museum, and some have since become introduced species around the world, including in Mystic.  Those models are singled out and put into context through the work of Dr. James T. Carlton, Director Emeritus of the Williams College-Mystic Seaport Coastal and Ocean Studies Program, and one of the world’s leading experts in marine bioinvasions. 

The exhibit also features depictions of marine invertebrates by contemporary artists Steffen Dam, Suzette Mouchaty, and Emily Williams, along with the photography of marine biologist and underwater photographer, Jeff Milisen, and Mystic Seaport Museum Photographer, Joe Michael.

The exhibit complements another major exhibition, Alexis Rockman: Oceanus, now on display at the Museum from May 2023 to April 2024.  Spineless, Oceanus, and a new series of waterfront panels on introduced species will highlight many of the same invertebrates created by the Blaschkas.

Spineless was made possible by generous support from:

The Edward and Mary Lord Foundation

The SpringRiver Foundation

Design Principles, Inc.

Thank you to the individuals and institutions who loaned materials for this exhibition.

Elizabeth Brill

Marian and Russell Burke

Corning Museum of Glass

Ernst Mayr Library at Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology

Suzette Mouchaty

Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University

Museum of Science, Boston

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Emily Williams

Yale Peabody Museum Department of Invertebrate Zoology

Sea As Muse

Sea As Muse


Now on Exhibit

September 18, 2021, through July 27, 2025

R. J. Schaefer Building

Where do artists find their inspiration? In ancient Greece, the Muses were supernatural beings who inspired artists, scholars, and writers to create their works. The upcoming exhibit, Sea as Muse, explores the ways that the sea provided a similar inspiration for decorative arts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Opening in September 2021, the exhibit showcases fine silver trophies and woodcarvings from the vast collections of Mystic Seaport Museum. Dolphins and mermaids, seaweed and sea urchins, fast ships and ocean waves—visitors will find many delightful details like these, inspired by sea life and life on the seas. 

Silversmithing tools and in-progress pieces loaned by the Providence Jewelry Museum help demonstrate the making process, and interviews with living artisans shed light on both the process and the preparation necessary. New research provides a rare glimpse of some of the immigrant artists and artisans of the past who used their talent and skill to create a variety of beautiful objects in the exhibit. Offering visitors new ways of seeing and understanding American and British decorative arts, Sea as Muse also demystifies the visual languages of artistic expression.

Sea as Muse is the fourth and final exhibit funded by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. Like Open OceanSailor Made, and the 2020 reinstallation of ships’ figureheads, Sea as Muse brings new knowledge, insight, and perspective to treasures in Mystic Seaport Museum’s collections.

Figureheads and Shipcarvings


Open in the Wendell Gallery

After more than 40 years, Mystic Seaport Museum’s figureheads exhibit received a makeover. Through a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, curators Katherine Hijar and Mirelle Luecke re-imagined this visitor favorite with a major new exhibit, Figureheads & Shipcarvings.

Since ancient times and across cultures, decorations have adorned the bows of boats and ships, from the Nile and the Mediterranean to the far North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Dutch and English ships of the 19th century were the first to sport figureheads like the ones we know today. Lions and unicorns were particular favorites of the English navy, and Dutch naval ships featured red lions. Spanish ships mounted figureheads depicting saints, no doubt to ensure blessings and safe passage. By the 18th century, European shipcarvers crafted figureheads that depicted a wide array of subjects, human and animal. The decline of figureheads came with the advent of steam power in the late 19th century, which influenced changes in the design of oceangoing ships. Since steam-powered ships no longer required rigging for sails, ships’ bows no longer provided a natural place for a figurehead to be mounted.

The new exhibit showcases the depth and breadth of the Museum’s carving collections. In addition to figureheads, it features other 19th-century ship carvings, shop figures, and our latest acquisition, a magnificent carousel hippocampus. The exhibit showcases only a fraction of the Museum’s collection. Because of space limitations, 45 figureheads and dozens of other maritime carvings will remain in the Museum’s vaults.

Ship’s figureheads were an important form of public art in the 19th century. A figurehead gave a ship its personality, and each one expressed a unique meaning, imbued with values and reflecting popular culture of the time. This reinterpretation aims to help visitors see these objects through 19th-century eyes, and to understand and appreciate the craft of carving and figureheads as an important art form.