Catherine Fach Green
NINETEENTH-CENTURY NORTH AMERICAN FIGUREHEADS FROM THE MARINERS' MUSEUM COLLECTION: AN HISTORICAL OVERVIEW, AND A STUDY OF TWENTY-TWO CARVINGS IN THE MUSEUM'S COLLECTION.
(Under the direction of Professor Timothy J. Runyan) Department of History, July 2003.
This thesis provides an overview of ships' figureheads and researches the histories of specific nineteenth-century North American figureheads in the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia. In many cases this research establishes or confirms a figurehead's identity and places it in a timeline of nineteenth-century carvings.
Nineteenth-century North American figurehead designs, subjects, and carving styles were influenced by European ship carving traditions. This five-thousand-year evolution is explored in an historical overview. Published sources on European and American folk art, ship construction, figure carving, ship carvers, maritime history and nautical archaeology are synthesized into a timeline of bow decoration on vessels. Special attention is given to the stylistic changes and subject choice of nineteenth-century North American figureheads, in particular, which comprise the majority of the museum's collection and the focus of this study.
This thesis scrutinizes documents from curatorial, registrar, and conservation records, and incorporated additional information from resources in the Mariners' Museum library, archives, and photography department for each of the twenty-two figureheads considered. Each figurehead is also subjected to comparative analysis in order to establish its place in a stylistic and historical timeline. The result for the museum is a representative typology of nineteenth-century North American figureheads and a comprehensive understanding of twenty-two carvings in their collection. This provides a solid foundation for a dedicated ships' figurehead exhibit and a base for further research into the identities of specific carvings.