The Death of an Attribution

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Magic and Gracie off Castle Garden by James Edward Buttersworth, circa 1868-1872 (Accession #2011.06.01. Gift of Janet and Rudolph Schaefer.)

What’s an attribution, you ask? It’s the act of ascribing an artwork to a particular artist (if the painting isn’t signed) or as a depiction of a particular event (if it isn’t specifically identified by the artist).  To attribute a painting to an artist one must be very knowledgeable about the artist’s oeuvre. To make an attribution to an event one must be a VERY careful and detail-oriented researcher.  Thankfully, the attribution I had to kill wasn’t to remove the artist; I was forced to remove the attribution to an event because it doesn’t appear that much research took place before the attribution was made.

The affected work is a beautiful painting by marine artist James Edward Buttersworth. It depicts the schooner Magic and sloop Gracie leading a fleet of six yachts down the Hudson River and around the tip of Manhattan on a partly cloudy morning (we know it’s morning because of the position of the sun). A fairly famous piece, this painting graced the cover of the 1994 reprint of Rudolph J. Schaefer’s seminal work “J. E. Buttersworth 19th-Century Marine Painter.”  At some point in the past, probably sometime before 1975, the scene was determined to be the annual regatta of the New York Yacht Club held on June 22, 1871. The slow and painful death of this attribution began when I was asked to provide historical details about the painting so it could be intelligently discussed during special events.   Read more

From Camels to Cobangs

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Japanese shaku dokei or pillar clock, circa 1859. Traditional Shitan wood case, brass movement on wood backing with nine silvered adjustable hour markers on the time scale. (Accession# 1934.0031.000009/NA 47)

This lengthy blog post began rather innocently when Bonham’s most recent Art of Time auction catalog arrived. One of the many varied aspects of my job is placing insurance values on objects so I regularly peruse catalogs for objects similar to those in our collection.  In the catalog I noticed a Japanese pillar clock, called a shaku dokei, up for auction. While updating the value I noticed a name on the clock’s storage box—’C. E. Thorburn, USN’. Whenever I run across a name, especially one this unique, I immediately try to see if I can uncover the history of the original owner.

My first stop was Fold3, a genealogical research site specifically used to document military service. It’s a great site—but sadly super tricky to use as its search feature makes you want to rip your hair out. I immediately had a number of hits for the name Thorburn. I spotted a Thorburn on the USS Susquehanna in 1851-1852 which was really exciting because that’s when the ship was in the Pacific getting ready to head into Japan with Matthew C. Perry to negotiate the treaty that would open trade with America—unfortunately the name was “E. C. Thorburn” (a midshipman) so I wasn’t 100% sure it was the same person.    Read more

Twelve Days of Christmas at The Mariners’ Museum

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The Shah and Trivedi Families, New Jersey

A few days ago I spotted a video posted by the staff of the Western Australia Museum about the twelve days of Christmas. It inspired me to write my own, Mariners’ Museum version of the twelve days of Christmas to celebrate Dollar Admission and the holidays and today, a few of our Museum guests helped me illustrate it.

On the first day of Christmas our dollar let us see a hydrofoil in the Great Hall.   Read more

Not just big heads, historic survivors of the Blitz!

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Figurehead from 3rd rate ship HMS Edinburgh built in 1811. (Accession# OF75)

This week Brock needed to photograph a couple of the large figureheads on display in our lobby and it reminded me of their really interesting history.  I’m not talking about the history of the ships they came from, although I am sure that’s fascinating as well, in this instance I’m talking about their acquisition by the Museum and the sad story associated with it.

The two figureheads, from HMS Formidable and HMS Edinburgh, along with a large bow ornament from the HMS Alexandra, were acquired in England in 1939. The story begins when our agent in London, Admiral Bertram M. Chambers, made a visit to the famous Castles Shipbreaking Company Ltd. in January of 1936.   Read more