Our New (Old) Hippocampus

The hippocampus on display

Probably the most unusual gift we have received in some time comes from carousel figure collector Larry Freels, who had one of the biggest such collections in the country. Some time ago Mr. Freels began breaking up his collection and sending pieces to places like the MET, the MFA, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and other notable museums.

The piece he donated to Mystic Seaport Museum last year is one of the more unusual items that he collected and he felt that the marine nature of the piece made it especially pertinent to us. We agreed. Carved by noted carousel-figure carver Gustav Dentzel in Philadelphia in 1895, the hippocampus figure actually appears in a number of items in our collection including on a ship’s sternboard and on a silver trophy. A hippocampus is a mythological figure of a sea horse with two forefeet and a body ending in the tail of a dolphin or fish.

Hippocampus DrawingThe photograph by staff photographer Joe Michael shows the carving as it currently appears in the Thompson Exhibition Building. The drawing comes from a 1560 book in our collection by Konrad Gesner who tried to illustrate all the “known” animals in the world at that time.