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Go Figure! (-Belle of Oregon)

Hello there! This week I want to share the Belle of Oregon with you! She is a beautifully crafted figurehead with her dress being my favorite part. This figurehead was a part of the ship Belle of Oregon, thus given her name. She was built in 1876 by Gross and Sawyer in Bath, ME and the figurehead was carved by Charles Sampson. We acquired her in 1940, but prior to that the figurehead was displayed in the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture in New York City. In 1996-1997 she was featured in the Mariners’ Museum exhibit The Art of the Ship Carver.

The Belle of Oregon Figurehead

The Belle is wearing an off the shoulder neckline bodice with a scalloped wheat design and bows on the sleeves. The hemline of the dress is also scalloped. She is wearing a cape with a sun-burst patter, which cannot be seen in the image above. She is holding something that looks like a pineapple, but really it is an oversize wheat sheaf. This is because Belle of Oregon (the ship -not the figurehead) transported wheat between the West and Boston, Queenstown and Melbourne. In 1894, she was converted into a coal barge and also carried railroad material.

The arm of the Belle was originally created to be removable. This was so it could be taken off for protection at sea, but easily put back on when docked. When we received her, the museum fixed the arm for display. Today there are three figureheads of Charles Sampson still in existence: The Belle of Oregon, the Western Belle, and the Forrest Belle. Both our figurehead and the Western Belle have the same removable arm design. Sampson was one of the masters of ship carving and his reputation was built around his attention to detail and fashionable clothing.

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