Recently I was working on finding objects for the upcoming Gallery Crawl and I stumbled across a great drawing in our collection. I was led to it as I researched a naval officer who owned a ditty box in the collection, James Paterson McKinstry, because it reputedly showed the action McKinstry was wounded in while serving as captain of the USS Monongahela (the night David Farragut’s West Gulf Blockading Squadron attempted attempted to run past Confederate batteries on the Mississippi River at Port Hudson, Louisiana). When I looked at the image I quickly realized that something wasn’t right and after digging through the object file it almost made me cringe with embarrassment—not my own, but for past curators of not only our organization but a few others.
When acquired, the drawing was encased within a mat and backing board that bore a handwritten inscription which partially read “…drawing of the fleet before New Orleans drawn by William B. McMurtrie…”. Inscriptions can be great things, but when they are applied by someone who wasn’t directly associated with the creation of a piece they should be taken with a grain of salt. Apparently every curator who came into contact with this drawing automatically assumed that the inscription identified the scene correctly but I knew from the first moment I looked at it that something was wrong.