Blog of the Collections Department

Artifact of the Month- Apollo

The museum owns one of the largest figurehead collections in the world, with 92 total either on display or in storage. One of the figureheads purchased by the museum in 1933 and currently hanging in our Great Hall of Steam is named Apollo. At first glance this figurehead seems like nothing out of the ordinary since many ships used Greek gods as figureheads. However, this specific figurehead has a much more interesting past than one would guess.


Apollo probably came from an American ship that wrecked off the coast of Norway. There were stories about this figurehead that seemed doubtful, until 2008 when Mr. Hultgren of a small Swedish museum contacted us looking for information about where Apollo was. As confirmed by Mr. Hultgren, after its ship wrecked Apollo was put in a village in Sweden named Mollӧsund. Apollo stood on a rock beside a flagpole there until we bought it in the early 1930’s. It is said that the children of the village had May Day exercises around the figurehead. In the village Apollo was nicknamed “The Old Man of Ferdinand”, and there are stories that parents would tell bad children to “behave or The Old Man will come and get you!”


Whether these stories are true or not, Apollo was a part of a small Swedish village before we bought it and is one of the most fascinating figureheads that I have come across in the museum.

Research Request

We frequently receive research requests here.  And we try to fulfill them as best we can, although often we have to send people over to our library.  Many times people want to come in and view and photograph an object that they are interested in, which we are happy to oblige.  Usually in the process of aiding someone in their research, we learn something as well.

Recently I had a researcher come in to look at our triptych’s, of which we have four.  One is currently displayed in our A-Z gallery, but the other three have been in storage the entire time I’ve been here, so I’ve never been able to see them until now, and they are very beautiful!

During the World War II era, a number of these triptych’s were made by the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy to show support for the troops and “to convey to them for their leisure time those comforts which their life allows, and as many recreational, intellectual, and inspirational resources for studies and advancement; hobbies for their relaxation…”

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84-45-01This first triptych is the one currently on display.  All four triptychs were commissioned by the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy.  This one was painted by Ethel Parsons Paullin in 1943.  It is marked #143 on the back.  It was made for use aboard the USS Essex and features three angels.  One in the center of a compass rose, the one on the left holding an anchor, and the one on the right holding a sextant.

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This piece was painted in 1942 by Salvatore Lascari for the U.S. Naval Station in Green Cove Springs, Florida.  On the back of many of these it states that if the assigned base no longer desires the triptych, then they are to be returned to the Citizens Committee for the Army & Navy.

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This piece is my particular favorite because of the waves, colors, and battleships on either side.  It is very visually striking.  It was painted by Alfred J. Tulk sometime between 1940 and 1945 for USS Knox.  I have my doubts about whether or not it was used much or at all on the ship though, because the piece is in very good condition.

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This last piece was painted in 1942 by Louise Brann for another base, not a ship.




Way Back Wednesday

bf50 arrival in Venice #34

In 1999 we sent out our Gondola to Venice, Italy for restoration work.  These two shots show it being transported to the shop where pieces would be fixed and it was repainted.  It is now on display in our International Small Craft Center.

bf50 arrival in Venice #33Anna Hyatt Huntington working in her studio, 1965

Another shot from 1965 of Anna Hyatt Huntington working in her studio on a giant head.  The head would later be attached to a body sitting on the horse in the background.

bf26 12-29-1939

Definitely not the best practice, but in the early days some of our boats were stored in the lake, seen here in 1939.  The boat in the foreground is our Haida war dugout canoe ca 1936, by unknown maker in Canada.

Fun Fact Friday – Irma Bentley

Back in 1935, the museum purchased a lot of figureheads, including a three quarter length figure of a girl with a carved knotted rope around her waist.  Like the other figureheads, her story was unknown until a chance visitor happened upon her in the late 1930’s.



Upon visiting our museum, Mrs. H.L. Shaw recognized this figurehead as one that had been on a ship built in 1908 by her father, George Edward Bentley, of Port Greville, Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.  The ship was named Irma Bentley after George’s daughter who was a welcome companion on sailing trips as she did not get sea sick.  The figurehead was carved by an Alfred Nichols and was modeled after young Irma.

After George Bentley sold the ship, the figurehead was lost until the museum purchased it in 1935.  If not for one of George’s daughters visiting the museum, we may never have know the history behind it.  We later received confirmation from George’s wife and daughter Irma about the identity of this ship and Irma was even able to pay us a visit in 1983.


Irma (Bentley) Murray visiting with her figurehead, photograph from Daily Press

Way Back Wednesday

figurehead carving demonstration 1970's, two museum staff Robert Brushwood (designer, artist) Clifford Hancock (draftsman, technician) (2)

Back in the early 1970’s, our education department hosted a figurehead carving demonstration at the museum.  Two museum employees were tasked with making the figureheads; Robert Brushwood (designer, artist) and Clifford Hancock (draftsmen, technician).  Because these four photographs show the interesting development of creating a figurehead, I decided to post them all together, rather than four non-related images.  This first one shows Brushwood created the figurehead image they wish to use.

figurehead carving demonstration 1970's, two museum staff Robert Brushwood (designer, artist) Clifford Hancock (draftsman, technician)

This is great because it of the massive size of the Cyprus log!  We wondered if it possibly even came from the park.figurehead carving demonstration 1970's, two museum staff Robert Brushwood (designer, artist) Clifford Hancock (draftsman, technician) (3)

And here Hancock is, getting the initial indentations completed.figurehead carving demonstration 1970's, two museum staff Robert Brushwood (designer, artist) Clifford Hancock (draftsman, technician) (4)

And for the next stage, the design in applied to the log and the chainsaw used to cut out the shape even more.  An earlier blog I posted shows this figurehead much farther along in the process, which can be viewed HERE.

Artifact of the Month – Oil Painting

While whaling is not my favorite maritime subject to ponder, it is an important one.  Whaling provided (and in some cases still provides) needed food and supplies for people.  That is why this month’s artifact of the month is a whaling painting.


The piece was painted by Bonaventura Peeters the Elder in 1645.  He was a Dutch painter born in 1614.  Three of his siblings were also painters; older brother Gillis and younger siblings Catharina and Jan.

Portrait of Bonaventura Peeters, ca 1700-1720, courtesy of Netherlands Institute for Art History

Portrait of Bonaventura Peeters, ca 1700-1720, courtesy of Netherlands Institute for Art History

Bonaventura was probably a pupil of Andries van Eertvelt, a Flemish painter, and later of Simon de Vliegher, a Dutch painter.  In 1624, Bonaventura and brother Gillis became masters in the Painters’ Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp, and in 1639 they worked together on “the siege of Calloo”, a piece for Antwerp’s Town Hall.  Unfortunately, Bonaventura had a pretty short life and died in 1652 at the age of 38 after suffering from ill health.

Part of what makes our painting so special (besides that it is a beautiful piece of art) is that it is currently the fourth oldest known whaling painting.  The probably location for the scene is Smeersburg (“Grease Town”), a Dutch whaling settlement on Spitzbergen, founded around 1621.  It is unlikely that the piece portrays a specific event.  Rather, it was likely intended to highlight the importance of arctic whaling to the 17th-century Dutch economy. Equipped with the best ships and well organized to profit from whaling, the Dutch dominated the industry throughout the century.  Though the harpooned whale in the center of this picture is not accurately portrayed, the Dutch were the first to produce realistic images of whales, based on studies performed after a whale washed ashore.

Visit from the Coast Guard

Every year we give a tour to a group from the United States Coast Guard’s International Maritime Officer School; an interesting group who are always so curious and interested in our collection, especially our boats in the International Small Craft Center.  Usually our Chief Curator asks what countries the group is from and then proceeds to point out boats from those countries, but he was not here this year so we did a little something different.

TMM; Coast Guard visit to ISCC; 05-26-2015 (1)

Artifacts set out, photo courtesy of Jim Wetherbee

TMM; Coast Guard visit to ISCC; 05-26-2015 (21)

The Coast Guard group, photo courtesy of Jim Wetherbee

This year we set out a couple tables with artifacts from the countries the group was from, giving them a taste of the scope of our collection.  And don’t let the first image fool you, they swarmed the tables when they first came in, but by the time this was taken they had already dispersed in the Small Craft Center.  Three of the objects made a particular impression on the group.



The first was this Balinese cremation pylon carving.  It is quite colorful, and quite startling if you come upon it suddenly.  It was acquired by Alexander C. Brown while on a world voyage on the schooner, Chance.



This next piece is one of the jewels of the collection and is a Persian planispheric astrolabe, ca 1790-1791 by Hajji Ali.  The planispheric astrolabe could be used to find time, as a direct-measure instrument by surveyors, topographers and navigators, to simplify astronomical calculations and, in the case of this instrument, to facilitate the calculations that must be performed to determine the exact time for prayer.



The third piece is a model made entirely of cloves.  It was made by two Thai officers attending the Army Transportation School at Ft. Eustis in 1957.  It smells wonderful and the case was made with a little piece that slides over a hole at the top so that people can easily take a whiff, but then recover it to keep the scent inside.  This model is also a favorite among staff.

Extreme Deep – New Exhibition

Looking for something fun to do with the family (or by yourself) this summer?  We have a new exhibition that explores the mysteries of the deep, Extreme Deep:  Mission to the Abyss.  It opened May 16 and will remain here until September 7.


Entrance to the exhibition

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View interesting creatures of the deep

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Explore RMS Titanic using ROV cameras


Learn about the vehicles that can travel to the deep

There is plenty to see and do in this exhibition all while learning about deep sea exploration, so come on by and check it out!


National Maritime Day

Happy National Maritime Day to all!  Today is a day where we celebrate the maritime trade and those who engage in it, especially those mariners who have lost their lives in service.ln22-jpg635164826126522885


On May 20, 1933, Congress set aside May 22 as National Maritime Day as it was May 22, 1819 that the SS Savannah began a transatlantic journey and became the first steam powered vessel to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  It took the ship 29 days and four hours.


SS Savannah, drawing by Samuel Ward Stanton

Way Back Wednesday

bf11 11-1998, post restoration (5)

In 1998, we sent our Dutch Tjotter to the Netherlands for restoration work.  This image shows it upon its return.  The boat was built ca 1913 by Van der Werff Brothers in Sneek, Friesland, Netherlands.  It is currently on display in our International Small Craft Center.


This image shows a group of Steiff animals in a Noah’s Ark display in 1970.  We have several Noah’s Ark sets in the collection, from toys to dioramas.

ac1 April 4, 1988 (3)

As we have so many large and heavy objects, moving artifacts by crane or forklift is a fairly regular affair around here.  Being moved in this photograph is a 6-pound British Naval Cannon ca 1756-1781.  This was one of many artifacts that were pulled from the York River in the 1930’s.

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Here we have another cannon that was recovered from the York River being displayed.  It looks as though the other objects in the case may also be recovered items, making for an interesting display in the 1930’s.