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Sunday, August 30, 2020

Mystic Maritime Gallery closed

A sad day is here

As a casualty of the COVID-19 crisis and the weakening marine art market, Mystic Seaport Museum has made the difficult decision to close the Maritime Art Gallery.

The Gallery was founded by Rudolph Schaefer III in 1979 as a business venture to support Museum operations and to provide a venue to nurture the careers of emerging artists in the contemporary maritime art field. Many of the leading artists at work today got their start at the Gallery. It has also enabled a deep relationship between the Museum and the American Society of Marine Artists.
This was particularly so for my husband, Ron Druett, who was a proud member of the Society.   Mystic Maritime Gallery was a home-from-home for him, his greatest favorite -- and justly so, because the Gallery featured 50+ Druett artworks, many in the prestigious International, which was juried, with strict standards for entry.
His first showing was in 1988, at the 9th International, with a painting of a whaleship joining the American fleet at Lahaina, on Maui, in Hawaii.

Then there was an evocative scene of the whaleship Tiger at dawn, which was shown not just at the 1989 Internationa, but also in an America and the Sea exhibition.

Whaleships were a feature of the time because Mystic Seaport had published a woman's journal I had edited (and which is held at the Museum Library), called She Was a Sister Sailor, the Whaling Journals of Mary Brewster.  Other kinds of shipping were equally interesting, such as the bark Louisa Craig, which had been prominent in the trans-Tasman trade.

Other water scenes intrigued him, a specialty being his dinghy series.

There was also a stunning scene of the famous Otor-ii Gate at low tide, with people walking about the iconic structure, inspired in part by the crowd scenes of L. S. Lowry.

And so the years rolled on, culminating in his entry for the 29th International, Butler's Flat Light, which is located at the entrance of New Bedford Harbor.

Unfortunately, the Gallery has faced declining sales in recent years as art-buying trends have shifted and the demand for maritime art declined. The economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Museum to review all aspects of its business operations with a focus on sustainability. Therefore, after a great deal of deliberation, Mystic Seaport Museum has decided to close the Maritime Gallery.
A sad day for all lovers of maritime art. 
Ron Druett, c. Robert Shaefer Jr.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Beautiful book acquired after nearly 400 years of trying

A collector who quite justifiably lusted after this truly lovely "Friendship Book" has acquired it at last ... a long, long time after his death.

As The Guardian reports, almost 400 years after Augustus the Younger tried and failed to buy the “extraordinary” Das Große Stammbuch – a “friendship book” signed by some of the most powerful figures of 17th-century Europe – for the library he was building in Wolfenbüttel, Germany, it has finally landed on his shelves.

Duke Augustus, a German member of the House of Welf who died in 1666 aged 87, was instrumental in collecting some of the hundreds of thousands of books that form the Herzog August Bibliothek, one of the world’s oldest libraries, which is named after him.
In 1648, he set out to acquire a book that had belonged to Philipp Hainhofer, a German merchant and diplomat from Augsburg. As he travelled from court to court, Hainhofer would ask dignitaries to paint in his album amicorum, or friendship book, also known as a stammbuchThere are around 25,000 historic friendship books recorded around the world, but Hainhofer’s Große Stammbuch is considered the most impressive, containing signatures by European figures including Cosimo De’ Medici, the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II and Christian IV, the king of Denmark and Norway. Each individual would commission an artist to create a painting accompanying their signatures. There are around 100 drawings in the book, which took more than 50 years to compile.
When Hainhofer, who helped set up the Herzog August library, died in 1647, Duke August tried to acquire the book for his library but was unsuccessful.

The album went became privately owned and was withdrawn from the public domain. It was even considered to be lost, until it resurfaced at a London auction in 1931. But 373 years after Duke August made his first attempt to buy it, the book has finally made its way to the shelves of the Herzog August Bibliothek, after it was offered to Sotheby’s for private sale last year. Researchers at the auction house uncovered its connection to the library, and arranged a private sale for around €2.8m (£2.5m).
Sotheby’s called Das Große Stammbuch “extraordinary” and said it was one of the most important examples of a friendship book. “No other work of art better reflects the deeply challenging political tensions that were being navigated in Europe at this time,” the auction house said.
Björn Thümler, minister for science and culture in Niedersachsen, which is home to the library, called the acquisition “a sensation and a stroke of luck for the preservation of cultural assets in Germany”.
Herzog August director Peter Burschel said the acquisition, financed by bodies including the Cultural Foundation of the Federal States (Kulturstiftung der Länder), was the most important the library had made since it bought the medieval manuscript Gospels of Henry the Lion at auction in 1983 for £8.1m.
“It provides unparalleled insights into the early modern political culture of trade and commerce in art,” said Burschel of the book, adding that the library is planning exhibitions of the manuscript to make it accessible to the public.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A particularly nasty side-issue of slavery in America

Did runaway slaves who arrived in New Bedford, Massachusetts, find a haven?  Or was there something even more terrible ahead?

This a horrifying story of one young runaway who escaped from one hell to find himself in another -- at the mercy of a sadistic, psychopathic whaling captain.

From Rambles reviews:

In the Wake of Madness, subtitled "The Murderous Voyage of the Whaleship Sharon," is Joan Druett's precise recounting and analysis of a dreadful murder -- and the equally horrific events leading up to it -- in the South Pacific in 1842.

In this engrossing story, readers will learn a great deal about whaling and the nautical culture that ranged from the shipyards of New England to the whaling grounds in the southern seas. There is also a great deal of biographical information on the vile Capt. Howes Norris -- who, although the victim of the murder in question, was by no means blameless for the deed -- as well as his hodgepodge crew.

There is, indeed, madness in the story, as well as mutiny, desertion, abuse, dismal luck, a bit of heroism in the immediate aftermath of the killing -- one sailor's efforts to retake the Sharon from the killers who tried to leave the rest of the crew adrift in small whaling boats is a saga all by itself -- and a great deal of duplicity and obfuscation in the longterm report and investigation of the crime. Drawing on news accounts, letters and journals from the time, Druett assembles a complete, complex tale that has eluded historians for nearly two centuries.

Anyone who enjoys Moby Dick will be interested to learn that author Herman Melville was himself at sea on a similar ship at the same time as the Sharon met its fate. Druett weaves so much history into her narrative, it's easy to see where Melville found his own inspiration for writing.

Druett is a consistent source of fascinating history from the sea. Highly readable and educational, In the Wake of Madness is a gripping story that will satisfy students of that era and any fans of nautical lore.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Micronesian castaways rescued after writing SOS in the sand

The New Zealand Herald reports that three Micronesian sailors have been rescued from tiny Pikelot atoll, after running out of fuel and directions.

Three men have been rescued from a tiny Pacific island after writing a giant SOS sign in the sand that was spotted from above, authorities say.
The men had been missing in the Micronesia archipelago for nearly three days when their distress signal was spotted on Sunday on uninhabited Pikelot Island by searchers on Australian and US aircraft, the Australian defence department said on Monday.
The men had apparently set out from Pulawat atoll in a 7-metre boat on July 30 and had intended to travel about 43km to Pulap atoll when they sailed off course and ran out of fuel, the department said.
Three men stand the beach on Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo / AP
Three men stand the beach on Pikelot Island in the Federated States of Micronesia. Photo / AP
Searchers in Guam asked for Australian help.  HMAS Canberra, which was returning to Australia from exercises in Hawaii, diverted to the area and joined forces with US searchers from Guam.
The men were found about 190km from where they had set out.
"I am proud of the response and professionalism of all on board as we fulfill our obligation to contribute to the safety of life at sea wherever we are in the world," said the Canberra's commanding officer, Captain Terry Morrison, in a statement.

The men were found in good condition, and an Australian military helicopter was able to land on the beach and give them food and water. A Micronesian patrol vessel was due to pick them up.
SOS is an internationally recognised distress signal that originates from Morse code.
As an addendum, I was surprised that the three seamen lost their way, as Micronesians are famous traditional navigators.  To read an excellent book about their prowess, I recommend Thomas Gladwin's East is a Big Bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat AtollAn oldie but a goodie.  And a great pity that the ancient art of navigation has been lost.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Whisky Galore

It is now your chance to buy a bottle -- or a full cargo -- of well-aged Scotch whisky from a famous shipwreck.

According to Forbes, it is called "sunken scotch."  Well, that is the name given to any fine whisky that has been retrieved from a sunken ship.

But this lot is a particularly famous one.  The wreck is that of SS Politician, which ran aground in the Outer Hebrides in 1941, bringing a final interruption to its voyage to Jamaica.  And on board were 28,000 bottles of whisky.

This led to all kinds of mayhem.  Salvage is considered a crime, allied to the ancient sport of "wrecking," where ships were lured onto the rocks by raiders with lanterns.  This, however, was no deterrent to the local islanders, who did their utmost to plunder the wreck once the official government crews had given up and gone away.  

Not only was there bickering in the ranks of the Scotch-hunters, but Scottish excise officers joined the rabble, no duty or tax having been paid on the cargo.  It was a truly wonderful scene, which provided much fodder for author Compton MacKenzie.  He described it with relish in his novel Whisky Galore, which in 1949 was turned into a very funny movie, which did so well that another has been made, starring  the quaintly named Sean Biggerstaff.

If you would fancy having a bottle from this famous wreck in your booze cupboard, be prepared to pay 20,000 pounds within the next six days, because after that the auction will close.