Ground-Breaking Exhibit Presents Historic Objects as Works of Art
Mystic Seaport will open its newest exhibit, “Treasures from the Collections,” on Saturday, March 31. The exhibit presents 149 historic objects from the Museum collections as works of outstanding artistic value.
For more than 80 years, Mystic Seaport has developed collections vast in depth and scope and known worldwide for their documentary and research value. Less widely recognized, but no less significant, are the artistic treasures among the Museum’s extensive holdings. These objects of creative expression–inspired by the power, mystery, dangers, beauty, solitude, and resources of the sea– merge impressive artistic skill with maritime content to reveal the broad influence of the sea on American life.
Visitors will immediately notice something very different about this exhibit. Rather than presenting objects and images based on their connection to unifying stories, themes, and ideas, “Treasures from the Collections” breaks new ground by presenting objects primarily for their artistic and aesthetic merit.
Selected by a team of the Museum’s knowledgeable and experienced curators, these rarely-seen maritime treasures run the breadth of the diverse, two-million object collections. Outstanding examples of ship models, scrimshaw, ship plans, and figureheads by preeminent artisans will stand next to masterpieces from such renowned artists as James E. Buttersworth, Isaac Sheffield, and James Bard.
For example, on display will be a Chinese silk robe from the Manchu Dynasty (1644-1912). Many exotic items came to the U.S. through maritime trade, either as curiosities or commercial exchange. Made for a horseman, this Mandarin robe has a split to permit riding a horse as well as horse-hoof sleeves and cuffs which turn back when the wearer shoots an arrow.
Another item is a sailor’s ditty box made from panbone, wood, ivory, baleen, and horn. The box was made by Capt. Frederick Howland Smith and his wife Sarah G. “Sallie” Wordell Smith while they were at sea on the whaling bark Ohio in December, 1877. The box’s lid features a striking geometric pattern inlaid with tiny pieces that testify to the fine craftsmanship–and artistic talent– that went into creating the artifact.
A select group of photographs, generally included in exhibits as reproductions, also will be displayed in their original form, including rare 150-year-old examples in ornate cases with polished brass mats.
Many of these objects have been on display before; some have not. However, together they represent a body of work that reveals a remarkable intellectual, emotional, and even spiritual response to the maritime world and to the maritime traditions that lie so deeply embedded in our culture.
“This exhibit is a wonderful opportunity for us to display some of the finest objects in our collections and do it in a novel way,” said Mystic Seaport President Stephen C. White.” The history of America has been shaped by the sea and our relationship to it. This exhibit tells that story, and more, through the language of creative expression.”
The exhibit is accompanied by the recent book, “America and the Sea: Treasures from the Collections of Mystic Seaport,” which serves as the catalog and guide for the exhibit. The publication was produced with support from the Henry Luce Foundation and published in partnership with the Yale University Press.
The exhibit will run through 2013 in the R. J. Schaefer Exhibit Hall.
About Mystic Seaport
Mystic Seaport is the nation’s leading maritime museum. Founded in 1929, the Museum is the home of four National Historic Landmark vessels, including the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the oldest American merchant ship in existence. The Museum collections contain more than two million historic objects and 500 watercraft. The state-of-the-art Collections Research Center and G.W. Blunt White Library provides scholars and researchers from around the world access to the collections and archives in person and online via integrated databases. For more information, please visit https://mysticseaport.wpengine.com/.