The McGraw Gallery Quadrangle project enters an exciting new phase this month with the completion of the new green and landscaping, as well as the opening of the new “Voyaging in the Wake of the Whalers” exhibit and the relocated Benjamin F. Packard Ship’s Cabin in the Stillman Building.
The “Voyaging” exhibit opened on June 20. The 4,400 square-foot exhibit is a groundbreaking approach to the story of America and whaling that places 19th-century commercial whaling within its larger global and historical contexts. It is a complement to the experience of going on board the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan which is berthed within a stone’s throw of the exhibit entrance. On display are more than 100 whaling-related historic artifacts and documents, including logbooks, photographs, tools, scrimshaw, ship models, and souvenirs, as well as moving images, oral histories, and sound recordings. Some of the artifacts and images are visitor favorites, while others have only recently been added to the collection and are on public display for the first time.
The Packard Cabin was moved from its old home in a re-purposed brick outbuilding that was demolished to make way for the new Thompson Exhibition Building. It now sits in the gallery on the second floor of the Stillman Building. A custom frame had to be constructed to support the cabin, a job that was rather complex as the structure had to match the sheer and camber curves of the original deck of the Packard, a 244-foot square-rigged sailing ship. Future plans call for additional artifacts and displays in the gallery to interpret cargo handling and the coasting trade that the Packard represents.
Recent visitors may have noticed extensive repainting of the buildings around the Quad and the construction of a new vestibule in the R.J. Schaefer Building. The latter is part of the building’s upgrade to be suitable to host the coming “Ships, Clocks & Stars — The Quest for Longitude” exhibit opening on September 19. “Ships, Clocks & Stars” is the story of humankind’s pursuit of the ability to determine one’s longitude at sea. Solved by a clock that could keep accurate time over months at sea, the exhibit was produced by the prestigious National Maritime Museum, London, and features some amazing artifacts, including the actual “H4” chronometer that clockmaker John Harrison built in 1761 to win the prize offered by England’s Parliament to whoever could solve the riddle.
A major task in the project this spring was to relocate and install new underground utilities throughout the constriction zone. Water, sewer, electric, and telecommunications lines all required major work to support the new building and upgrade service to the existing ones and the new landscape. Final grading and topsoiling of the Quad area are underway to be followed by the installation of a lawn irrigation system and sod. While that is happening, the new footpaths with be paved with a permeable material to enable water to percolate into the underlying soil to manage storm runoff into the Mystic River.
The plan is to move the construction fence back and open the Quad to the public after July 2.
To accommodate the large summer crowds a new center entrance has been built next to the administration building at 75 Greenmanville Ave. This entrance replaces the old north entrance by Latitude 41° Restaurant and will provide easy year-round access to the McGraw Quad. Ultimately, the Thompson Building will have a large lobby and visitor reception area when it is completed in fall 2016. People who wish to use the new center entrance should park in the north lot across from Latitude 41° and use the crosswalk to cross the street.