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Friday, January 28, 2011

Spanish American War Collectibles- USS Maine & USS Olympia Frosted Glass Windows

Spanish American War commemorative frosted glass window depicting the USS MAINE
A while ago an associate of ours brought in to our gallery this antique architectural window that they had bought for a room of a previous residence that they owned. The etched artwork of this famous U.S. Navy battleship is impressive and the window frame is a wonderful architectural piece from the turn of the last century. Though unquestionably a period window made around the time of the  Spanish American War, there's no provenance included concerning the maker or it's original use.

So here's a question for you American naval history buffs. What is the history of this etched glass window depicting the USS MAINE? Was it possibly a window panel from the ship itself? This is what we recently discovered about this rare Spanish American War item.

I was recently watching a re-run of the PBS program "The History Detectives," an episode that I had not seen before that certainly piqued my curiosity. The case was from season 6, episode 7 that originally aired on PBS August 11, 2008 titled "USS OLYMPIA GLASS."  The History Detective Wes Cowan had traveled to to a farmhouse in Fremont, Nebraska to examine an elaborately designed etched glass window of the USS OLYMPIA. The owner, Earl Pederson wanted to know if this fragile glass door once took part in a decisive battle during the Spanish-American War.

HISTORY: On February 15, 1898,  the battleship USS Maine exploded in Cuba’s Havana harbor killing 260 American officers, sailors, and marines. The U.S. government and media blamed Spain for the atrocity, giving expansionists a reason for war. A nation divided over expansion now united against a common enemy. On the morning of May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey steams into Manila Bay in the Philippines for a critical confrontation with the main fleet of the Spanish empire. For the next seven hours, the harbor is set ablaze in a barrage of exploding shells. When the battle is over, the world has been transformed. Ten Spanish ships have been destroyed, and the naval might of the once-great Spanish empire lies in ruins. Dewey’s victory in turn launches America onto the world stage. He returns home a national hero.

Now, on a salvaged door installed in an old farmhouse, the owner thinks he may have part of Commodore Dewey’s flagship –  a window salvaged  from the historic vessel.

Spanish American War commemorative frosted glass window depicting the USS OLYMPIA.
Earl had written a letter and sent it to the museum and got the reply back that this window was from Admiral Dewey’s quarters. In 1977 he made a rubbing of the window and mailed it to the Cruiser Olympia Association, a nonprofit group of veterans and enthusiasts who were then in charge of preserving the retired ship. The association told Earl that they believed the window had once been on the ship, and may even have seen action in the Philippines. They acknowledged that they couldn't pinpoint the exact date the window would have been installed onboard. Numerous alterations were made to the Olympia throughout its naval history. But they were confident that the window is authentic.

After meetings with USS OLYMPIA experts, the consensus is that this kind of a glass window could have been aboard the Olympia at that particular time. The Olympia was built specifically to be the flagship of the Asiatic squadron, the Captain’s and Admiral’s cabin particularly were replete with the finery of decoration that were all necessary for entertaining dignitaries.

This led the detectives to a meeting with Jesse Lebvoics, the  manager of the USS OLYMPIA now permanently docked at Penn's Landing, Philadelphia for his opinion. It’s possible. The ship has refit several times, most aggressively in 1901-1902 where a lot of the ornate wood work and various other pieces were removed.

Jesse referred to the original 1895 as-built blueprints and the spaces that are mentioned in that letter from the Cruisers Association: the Admiral’s cabin and the Captain’s cabin. The only window on the prints is located on the outside of the cabin. They measured the opening that turned out to be smaller than the 24 X 24 inch glass window. A second location not on the drawings was measured, but again the dimensions were wrong, concluding the there was no place on board that the window would have fit on this vessel.

So the mystery deepens. Craig Bruns at the Independence Seaport Museum was next on the list.  So History Detectives contacted him to see if he could help find an answer to the history of the window.

Craig explains that this was America’s coming out party as a world power, and Dewey was the face of
that glory. Dewey’s image became the hottest selling item…and in the postwar jubilation, even many of those
Americans once against war and expansion were caught up in Dewey-mania. Commemorative items of all types were produced in large numbers from dime store items to advertising products...everyone wanted to be on board. The window is just another piece of Dewey mania. From the smallest town to the biggest city, citizens had to have a Dewey artifact to express their patriotism: it was part of being American. But the glass window is an extremely rare Dewey memento. Most collectors haven’t seen anything like it, and remarkably, it’s survived intact for over a century.

M. A. Disbrow & Company, located at  1201 Nicholas Street, Omaha, Nebraska.
Since the airing of this episode of the "History Detectives" approximately six other examples of these windows have been reported to the staff at History Detectives. One person had some important information to share. He showed a catalog from M. A. Disbrow & Company, located at  1201 Nicholas Street, Omaha, Nebraska. This company specialized (as advertised on the sides of their attached buildings) "window & door frames, building & roofing paper, mouldings, sash, doors, blinds." Among a number of patriotic etched windows was the very same of the USS Olympia.

Etched glass window of the USS MAINE recently sold at auction.

Another etched glass window depicting the USS MAINE was recently sold  at auction. The description from the auction stated: C.1898 EXCEEDINGLY RARE ETCHED GLASS WINDOW USS MAINE
the glass is very detailed with etching of the USS MAINE that allows for a frosted and clear effect with period detailing. The window was purchased from the Rogers Bank Building in Nebraska which was built in 1894 and closed in the early 1930s after the depression years forced the doors to close.

Follow the link here to the architectural window with etched glass of the "USS MAINE" at Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery.

Follow this link here to watch the episode "USS OLYMPIA GLASS" on PBS "History Detectives."

Antique architectural window with frosted and etched glass
depicting the "USS MAINE" at Skipjack. 

 Skipjack Nautical Wares
& Marine Art Gallery
620 High Street, Portsmouth VA 23704 ~ 757-399-5012

Friday, January 21, 2011

Handmade Bellropes and Lanyards- A Sailor's Art

Schooner Virginia ship's bell with lanyard. Photo by Diane Murphy.
The bellrope, also refered to as a bell pull or bell lanyard is a piece of fancy work attached to the clanger of a ship's bell. It is a necessary accoutrement to the ship's bell, both for function as a way to ring the bell as well as ornamentation as a symbol of pride.

According to Vince Brennan of Frayed Knot Artworks, the ship’s bell is considered the 'heart' of a ship. Ship's bells are almost mystical objects, especially for as superstitious a lot as are sailors. They are polished before all other items and are the last thing to be removed when a ship is decommissioned or scrapped. US Navy vessels have their names engraved on their bells and when a ship is struck from the list, the last Commanding Officer usually receives the bell for safekeeping.

Bell lanyard made by Vince Brennan for the Zuni Maritime Foundation. Photo by Joe Elder
For information about 12 inch ship's bell bellrope or lanyard by Vince Brennan (pictured above) follow this link to this item at Skipjack Nautical Wares Nautical Hardware.

The bell-rope is a symbol of the Pride in the ship taken by the crew... battleships and other major vessels will usually have the fanciest bell-ropes, often the product of several hundred hours of labor by one or more expert knotters. The more detail and embellishments, the more respect it engenders.

Exceptional bell lanyard by Marty Combs.

Crafting fancy rope knot work such as  bell lanyards was mastered by sailors during the height of sea trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For long extended times, sometimes years, a sailor was at sea.

 On whaling expeditions, little of that time in comparison was actual whaling work and sometimes months would pass between sightings. Sailors had hours upon end of idle time and some chose to create trinkets and art. Examples of sailor’s art work are: scrimshawed whale’s teeth and bone, fancy rope knot work, wood and ivory carvings such as whimsies, cane heads, pie crimpers, pipe tampers, fids (made for splicing rope) swifts (yarn winders), corset busks and many more interesting and beautiful pieces.

Handmade fancy knotwork bellrope or lanyard by Joe McNelis.
For information about handmade fancy knotwork bellrope or lanyard by Joe McNelis, follow this link to the item  at Skipjack Nautical Wares Nautical Hardware.

Whether you desire to dress up your ship's bell on the finely fitted yacht or simply a bell hanging by your door, handcrafted bell lanyards are symbolic as a part of maritime tradition and pride.

 Visit Skipjack Nautical Wares Nautical Hardware for our current selection of handmade fancy knotwork bell lanyards available today for your ship's bell.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

New Marine Paintings by J. Robert Burnell- Exhibit Runs Through Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Winona Morning" watercolor on paper by J. Robert Burnell
Final Week of the J. Robert Burnell Marine Art Exhibit. 
Show ends Saturday, January 22, 2011.

Portsmouth marine artist J. Robert Burnell grew up around the water in a family of watermen, and sailing his own boat since he was ten years old. He has sailed on nearly every type of workboat on the Chesapeake Bay. It's no wonder that Burnell's love of the water reflects so naturally in his nautical themed paintings.

You won't have to go far to see one of the largest collections of Burnell's marine art all in one exhibit. Over 20 new acrylic and watercolor paintings by J. Robert Burnell will be on display and for sale in the 'foyer gallery' at Skipjack Nautical Wares & Marine Gallery at One High Street in Olde Towne Portsmouth. You will also be able to preview some of  his nautical artwork on our web gallery at Skipjack's Marine Art Gallery throughout the event. Just click on the words printed above in red.

The exhibit opened Friday, December 3, 2010 as part of Olde Towne Portsmouth Virginia's monthly 'First Friday' event. The exhibit runs through Saturday, January 22, 2011.

"Headin Home" acrylic on canvas by J. Robert Burnell

Award-winning artist J. Robert Burnell is recognized for his vivid depictions of life on and around the Chesapeake Bay. The subject is his favorite - each piece open and honest, providing a unique understanding of its mood and people.

One of the keys to Burnell's success on the canvas is the work he does outside the studio. Burnell believes in details. They are a reflection of his work. He has amassed a library of thousands of slides and photographs of work boats to which he constantly refers to for accuracy of detail.

Among his favorite subjects are the working boats and marine scenes of New England and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. He is equally conscientious of historical correctness, researching every object’s time, place and use. Each piece open and honest, providing a unique understanding of its mood and people.

About the Artist - J. Robert Burnell

"Evening Tide" watercolor on paper by J. Robert Burnell

Burnell began studies in architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology, studied printmaking at Old Dominion University, and participated in independent studies with John Pike, Edgar Whitney, Ed Betts, Don Stone, Rex Brandt, Robert Bateman and George Post.

From 1972 to 2002, Burnell was an instructor of watercolor painting at Tidewater Community College in Portsmouth, and has led summer workshops in watercolor and acrylic painting for over 30 years. He is a member of the American Society of Marine Artists and is listed in Archibald’s Dictionary of Sea Painters.

During his career, J. Robert Burnell has won numerous art awards including eight “Best in Show.” He has been honored with solo museum exhibitions at The Courthouse Galleries in Portsmouth and the Reedville Fisherman’s Museum, and group shows at the Rawls Museum Arts and Virginia Lifesaving Museum.

In addition to museum shows, Burnell had annual solo exhibitions at Atlantic Gallery in Washington D.C. during its operation. Other gallery exhibitions of his work have been offered by River Gallery in Chesapeake, VA., Cudahy’s Gallery in Richmond, VA., Turtle Creek Gallery in Dallas, TX., and Vincent Hester Gallery in Portsmouth, VA,. His work is also shown in the Maritime Gallery at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, CT., and Skipjack Marine Gallery in Portsmouth, VA.

His work is included in several museum and major corporate collections. Among them are the National Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian Institution, Old Ebbitt Grill (Clyde’s Restaurants, Inc.), Branch Bank & Trust, Inc., Towne Bank, Bank of America, Inc., Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Nature Conservancy of Virginia, Bons Secours Health Systems, Inc. and Leesylvania State Park.

He was selected to create the signature painting for OpSail 2000, for the Great Chesapeake Bay Schooner Race in 2002, and three times for Norfolk’s Harborfest. Additionally, his work was selected for exhibition in the 2007 Mystic International at the Maritime Gallery of Mystic Seaport Museum.

When Robert Burnell is not painting boats, he continues to maintain and sail one of his own. You just might see him out on the Elizabeth River.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Years!

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did so. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
~Mark Twain~

Happy New Years from us old salts
at Skipjack!