Friday, August 12, 2011

Icons, Ship Models and the Art

Attempting to capture the essence of a model-builder’s work, this illustration captures the ideal model builder’s situation. See the leaflet, “Build This Model of Flying Cloud Donald McKay’s Most Famous Clipper Ship of the Year 1851” by James Tate; reprinted through Courtesy of Popular Mechanics (date unknown). It's here in our catalog.

Iconic attention-grabbers, finished models are entertaining, too. People like you identify with the concepts that a miniature conjures up, imagining themselves to be part of the scene before them: it's reality brought down to size. Model makers are artists who like the process of model-building. It’s a way to be busy but productive, while daydreaming about some historical ship’s times---be it 20th century sea battles or the first sea-going adventures or circumnavigation.

The Model Ship Her Role in History. / Norman Napier Boyd. This book inspired me to learn more about the ship modeler's art.
It is a curious fact, that all historic ship models were not created equally. In fact, although we think of ship models as the domain of hobbyists with loads of talent and time on their hands, models have traditionally served a wide array of needs, from devotional to opportunistic.

Why build a model?

Models, representing full-sized objects in miniature scale, conveyed ideas about how a vessel should look once constructed. As far back in history as Egyptian times (to 5000 B.C.), models were made to represent the powerful, the dreams and intent of the entombed person. As history unfolds, we see that before rulers and shipwrights built ships, models were made first, to help envisage the sizes and shapes 3-dimensionally. This convention persisted to the twentieth century in contracts between client and shipyard.

Then, too, ship models were made by sailors and prisoners to replicate existing naval and merchant ships. These models represented memory and culture and typically they resembled ships on which they had sailed and thus had significant experience. And those model-makers closely following their religious beliefs constructed models as votives or offerings, pleas for escape from calamity at sea.

Models encompass the world of recreation and entertainment. With the technologies of the twentieth century such as radio control and filmmaking, movie-goers were delighted and awed by the illusion of shipwreck, battles at sea, mutiny, etc., all told with ships that were a fraction of life-size---the model.

In the Foreword to Boyd’s book, Dr. Alan Scarth is quoted as saying that ship models play an important part in the knowledge base that is gained by a visit to a Maritime Museum. A ship model, due to its 3-dimensional quality is symbolic, holding the attention of its admirer while an inspection of every detail is matched to their imagination and personal questions.

You can read or peruse model shipbuilding books in the Los Angeles Maritime Museum Research Library. This Library display can be seen in the Navy Hall at the Museum, along with books and models,and all around the Museum.