Mystic Seaport Research Trip

A new project is underway - inspired by boat figureheads. I had been to Mystic Seaport Museum in the past, and some digging through library books reminded me of some beautiful examples. I made sure to return this past December while I was in New England.

I visited on December 26 with my mother Denise and sister Corinna.

It was a brisk sunny winter day, but in the shade it was frigid! We walked from building to building, including one of my favorites - the rope making shed. But these exhibit spaces, open to the elements, were COLD! We lingered much longer in some exhibitions which had wood stoves and staff guides who provided great historical context. The bellows in the blacksmith shop were hard at work, and the stove in the woodworking studio was cranking, which provided warm welcoming respites.

We were directed to building No. 5 where the figureheads are kept - an exhibition space I had missed on my last trip. What a beautiful room of carvings.

I’m including some snapshots from the visit in this image gallery that I'll use as inspiration.

Sea Serpet Lobster Wiggle

This is a transcript from the remains of a journal kept by Peter Innes—a ship scullion, the cook aboard the Jenny Hanniver, a fishing smack hailing from Portland Harbor, Maine*. The journal ends abruptly with no indication of what happened to the ship or crew. The journal was recovered by a lobsterman off the coast of Massachusetts floating on some wooden debris and delivered to the niece of sole surviving member of the Speers family, she attempts to decipher the log’s passage for clues.

Sea Serpent + Lobster Wiggle

12 tablespoons butter

12 tablespoons flour

4 cups milk

1 cup cream

6 cups sea serpent cooked

6 cups lobster meat steamed and picked

3 cups peas

Sea salt to taste

Melt the butter in a heavy pan, stir in flour. Whisk constantly over low heat until smooth and blended. You want to cook the flour so as to make the flour toasty tasty, not pasty. Heat the milk and cream, don’t let boil over. Slowly stir this into the flour mixture and whisk until thickened. Add the serpent, lobster, peas and salt. Cook until warmed through.  Serve over bread.

*exerpt from installation, In Search of the Great Sea Serpent


The postmodernist eye scrutinizes the gaze of the portrait with its double claims to originality "the meeting of two subjectivities"--that of the portrayed and portrayer--the genre embodies the notion of uniqueness that has been challenged in the 20th century. -Melissa Feldman from Face Off: The Portrait in Recent Art

A portrait of a person is not a fact, but an opinion. By removing the camera from the photobooth and replacing it with human eyes and hands--this sentiment or perspective can be even more distinct.

This was immediately apparent when I created the first model of the photobooth in March of 2007 at an exhibition at Space 1026. This booth was "staffed" by a variety of artists who all observed and drew in different styles - or opinions.

I built this booth without a notion of what would happen inside - I created the object, yet the experience of being allowed this luxury to observe with impunity and to share an intimate moment with a complete stranger, without introduction or fanfare was an amazing experience which I hope to recreate at Bucks County Community College.

Portraits are always of a person at a specific instant. They are never about the future. Jan Grover in Portrait Theory by David Attie

Maritime Adventurers

Two figures captured my imagination as a teenager, and I associate both with time spent sailing on the coast of Maine with my family, on our own adventures. One an explorer, and one was definitely an adventurer; one woman, one man–both from the 20th century.

Tania Aebi became one of my heroes when at 18, she became the youngest person to solo circumnavigate the globe on a 26 foot sailboat called Varuna. She was an adventurer not much older than myself. I was just 13 or 14 when I started reading her dispatches from remote parts of the world in Cruising World magazine. I remember reading with fear about the storms she encountered, and of the passenger she took on board her cat Tarzoon. Her father had encouraged her to take on this challenge rather than go to college. Tania didn’t know how to navigate, and barely knew how to sail when she left in 1985 - her father had bought a boat two years earlier. She finished her journey in 1987.

Admiral Robert E. Peary the Arctic explorer, who planted a flag on the north pole in 1909, had a summer home on Eagle Island off the coast of Maine. The island was a frequent stop for our little sailboat as it was just a couple hour sail from the city of Portland. At that time, the only way to get to the island was by private or a couple of charter companies. My parents would let us roam and explore both the island and the home. It was a museum–but unlike any other museum I had ever been. It was a magical place, and the stories that revealed themselves through the objects in the house were amazing. There was a caretaker on the island, but the home was open and everything was just as the family had left it, we were free to explore ourselves. You could open the medicine cabinets, look under the children’s beds, open the closets or read the books on the shelves. Peary’s collections littered every shelf and corner. My favorite object was a narwhal tusk–probably four feet long–that leaned against the central stone fireplace. There were even photos of Perry on his explorations. The aura of that island was magical; the lessons I learned indelible, more vivid than reading any written history–I only realize now because I was an on my own little adventure.

Robert Edwin Peary, Matthew Henson, and four inuit Ooqueah, Ootah, Segloo, and Egingwah reached the north pole on April 6, 1909.

“The discovery of the North Pole stands for the inevitable victory of courage, persistence, experience over all obstacles. In the discovery of the North Pole is written the final chapter of the last of the great geographical stories of the western hemisphere which began with the discovery of the New World by Columbus. Here is the cap and climax, the finish, the closing of the book on 400 years of history. The discovery of the North Pole on the 6 th of April 1909 by the last expedition of the Peary Arctic Club means that the splendid frozen jewel of the north, for which through centuries men of every nation have struggled and suffered and died, is won at last and is to be worn forever by the stars and stripes.” quote from the Spring 2009 Peary Eagle Island Journal.

For more information about Eagle Island:
For more information about Tania Aebi: