When Jeff Kappel’s father passed away this May just a few months shy of his 100th birthday, he was faced with the decision of rehoming his father’s extensive collection of Ships in a Bottle.
Jeff chose 19 items to donate to The Whaling Museum’s collection, saying “I want it seen. My father collected for years and loved sharing his collection with people, and I want to continue that.”
The craft of ship in a bottle is a finely crafted and challenging folk art. The earliest surviving models date to the late 1700’s. Popularized by both American and European mariners who needed to pass long hours at sea, the creator would use a discarded bottle, bits of wood and other materials to create a tiny yet accurate model of a sailing ship. With great patience for handiwork, the model was created with complete but collapsible rigging, which was inserted folded into the neck of a bottle, set into a painted diorama, and had the sails raised. Each ship in a bottle is unique, and was often created as a gift or souvenir. Retired seamen also maintained their skills by engaging in the hobby.
Lester Kappel spent a lifetime collecting ships in a bottle, some of which were loaned years ago to the Whaling Museum for a special exhibition about the craft.
A selection of ships in a bottle from this collection will be exhibited in the Museum’s craft workshop by September 2023 and will be on display thereafter. Summer hours at the museum are Tue-Sun, 11-4pm. Beginning September 3rd, fall hours start and the Museum gallery hours change to Thu-Sun, 11-4pm.
by Claire Spina
New York artist Hulbert Waldroup captures Concer’s heroism in a two-sided portrait painted on salvaged ship wood. One side shows Concer at work, bravely aiming his harpoon at a whale. On the opposite, he stands along a shore, grinning as he extends a hand towards us. Waldroup’s piece allows viewers to interact with Concer in two different environments, one that demonstrates his remarkable courage and professional success, and one that emphasizes the valuable spirit of Concer as an individual, beyond his achievements at sea. In employing this duality, Waldroup communicates the importance of Concer’s contributions, without reducing him to a token or statistic. “I give the viewer the opportunity to find and reshape the spaces where they find themselves,” says Waldroup in his artist statement. His rendition of the story acknowledges the unlikely circumstances of Concer’s success while maintaining a sense of optimism and endurance that bears relevance today.
This balance is a persistent aspect of “Whalers of the African Diaspora.” Despite the heavy subject matter, an inspiring narrative runs through the exhibition, highlighting the unique contributions of every whaler, innovator, and artist involved. The show extends beyond those at sea, honoring the impact of African Americans on spirituality, culture, labor laws and innovation. Each artifact on display – from ship parts to scrimshaw carvings– are powerful symbols of Black whalers’ presence in the industry, both on and offboard. As Grier-Key puts it, “My hope is that the viewer comes away with new knowledge that is a deeper understanding of not just remarkable achievements but the ordinary spirit of service and justice that is within all of us to bring about change.” Given the show’s inspiring subjects and stories, Grier-Key’s statement rings true. By celebrating those who changed the course of the whaling industry, “Whalers of the African Diaspora” offers everyone the opportunity to learn, grow, and make a difference.
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Written by staff, volunteers, and trustees of the Museum!