Monday, December 13, 2010

Ships from Trees











Photograph of Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center, 1987, attributed to James P. Howes.


Beautiful Christmas lights on very tall fir trees reflect a romantic and quaint view of our winter holidays. The tall tree is an icon, symbolic of strength, flexibility and not only on land but also on the sea. The variety of vessels crafted from wood marked the beginning of travel on inland waters and oceans in canoes, triremes, and the first sailing ships.

Ship decking, planking and timbers were made from cut boards or hewn and shaped pieces of softwood, like Redwood, and hardwood, such as Maple and Oak. From ancient times until the twentieth century, people built vessels from wood. They also built houses, especially in the developing West, where a single Redwood tree could supply enough lumber to built twenty “average sized house” (Grapp, Footprints, 1967).

With the six men standing along the tree trunk here in a photograph from the late 1800s, we are seeing only a section of a tree that could have stood about 300 feet tall. Such a very tall tree was recently digitally captured by photographer Michael Nichols. The process of his images is now on view, along with three other adventure-photographers’ works, at the Annenberg Space for Photography in the current exhibit “Extreme Exposures”.

Steam schooners were wooden ships built in the early twentieth century to carry lumber: this vessel is a Pacific Coast steam schooner, photographed by Walter Scott, from A Pacific Legacy... by Wayne Bonnett, on page 67.



From the 1840s, the Pacific West Coast, rich in natural resources from then un-tapped forests, began to realize a huge increase in trade. First lumber-carrying ships were brigantines, schooners and barkentines, already experienced merchant sailing ships; these were superseded in the late 1890s and early 1900s by steam schooners.

This winter, plan a visit to the Museum to see models of these ships and photographs of the time when San Pedro was a destination for the wooden ships, on view at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library are available for borrowing by Museum members. See the book A Pacific Legacy/ by Wayne Bonnett in our online catalog.

Lumber ships: see scale models on display from our permanent collection at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.

Books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library give more history of wooden ships. These titles were selected from the collection:

Footprints: An Early history of Fort Bragg, California and the Pomo Indians. / by Bonni Grapp, © 1967.

A Pacific Legacy: A Century of Maritime Photography, 1850-1950. / by Wayne Bonnett. Published by Chronicle Books San Francisco, 1991.

Ships of the Redwood Coast. / by Jack McNairn and Jerry McMullen. Published by Stanford University Press, 1960, c1945.

Tall Ships: The Marine Photographs of Wilhelm Hester. / by Robert Weinstein. Published by Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, Canada, 1978.

Wood, lumber and timber. / by Phillips A. Hayward. Published by Chandler Cyclopedia, 1930.


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