December 27, 2012

Maine Maritime Museum's exhibit is ship shape

The display features about 150 objects, including tools, journals, cooking utensils, scrimshaw, maps, models and paintings galore.

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

BATH - The thought of condensing 50 years of collecting into an exhibition that fits neatly into a museum space felt daunting to Nathan Lipfert, senior curator at the Maine Maritime Museum.

click image to enlarge

Maine Maritime Museum in Bath opens a new exhibit that includes this model of the U.S.S. Kearsarge, best known for sinking the Confederate sloop Alabama off the coast of France during the American Civil War.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Maine Maritime Museum exhibits a foremast cap from the schooner Luther Little, one of the two ships that lay quietly for years in the harbor of Wiscasset. The museum’s “Ahead Full at Fifty: 50 Years of Collecting at Maine Maritime Museum” runs through May 26.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below


WHEN: Through May 26; 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily except New Year's Day

WHERE: 243 Washington St., Bath

HOW MUCH: $15 adults, $12 students and seniors, $10 children age 6 to 16; free 5 and younger

INFO: 443-1316 or

So he chose not to think about it too much.

Instead, he and museum pioneer and trustee emeritus Charles Burden made complementary lists of their favorite objects, and began the framework for the exhibition on view through spring, "Ahead Full at Fifty: 50 Years of Collecting at Maine Maritime Museum."

"We just sat down and starting making lists of things that we knew were of interest either from the point of view of the historical intrinsic value or the story of how it came to be in the museum's collection," Lipfert said.

"Charlie made a first list. I added some things a little bit later, and we both kept thinking of things. In fact, I am still thinking of things. I am still walking though storage rooms and saying, 'Oh, we should have put that in the show.' "

The museum was chartered in 1962 and opened in 1964. The 50-year anniversary coincides with the earliest seed of an idea that grew into the Maine Maritime Museum. In the half-century since, the museum has amassed a collection of some 22,000 objects and untold pages of documents that pertain to Maine maritime history.

Which is to say: That's quite a lot.

Among the 22,000 objects are 500 paintings, 7,000 shipbuilding tools, 130 small boats, 500 ship models and nine buildings, seven of which are on the National Register of Historic Places. Not to mention all the ship parts, navigational instruments, furnishings, fishing gear, engines, dioramas, textiles and other items.

Lipfert and Burden boiled all that down to about 150 objects for this exhibition. They chose tools, journals, cooking utensils, scrimshaw, maps, models and paintings galore.

Of those 150, a few pop out.

One of Lipfert's favorite pieces in the show is a punch used for metal sheathing. This is a shipbuilder's tool, built around 1800.

It looks something like an upright piano, and proved a major benefit for makers of wooden boats. Boats that were intended for long passages in warmer climes were sheathed below the waterline in copper to discourage the buildup of barnacles and other marine growth.

The practice of the day required men to punch holes in the sheaths before attached them to the hull. This machine was capable of punching holes in 100 sheets in 11 minutes.

It sped their process and made uniform holes.

"It's not particularly beautiful, but it's big and it's cool," said Lipfert, who professes a love for objects of use more than objects of beauty.

"I am interested in history of shipbuilding, so I have been researching ship-building tools for a long time. This one is unique."

Situated in the middle of the gallery is 14-foot, low-profile boat used for duck hunting in Merrymeeting Bay. Lipfert likes this object for many reasons, including because it illustrates how the museum often acquires objects.

The boat was built in Bath in 1879 by Albert Ward, who lived in the north end of town. Ward and his family used the boat for hunting and fishing on Merrymeeting Bay and later up on Rangeley and Moosehead lakes. The boat passed on to Albert's son, Galen Ward, who was born in 1879 and died in 1977.

The following year, when the boat turned 100, it was donated to the museum.

If nothing else, Lipfert hopes people who view the exhibition walk away with a sense of how and why the museum acquires objects.

"We just don't go out and buy everything. People are giving us things, and we've formed relationships with people who have large collections. We participate in maritime history with people and families," he said. "I want people to hear or read the stories about how we acquire stuff. That is one the biggest questions we get from random visitors."

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

A three-dimensional painting of the Percy & Small Shipyard by Maine artist R. Valentine Gray.

Courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum

click image to enlarge

“Coastguardsman Walking His Beat” by Morgan Rhees.

Courtesy of Maine Maritime Museum


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