Wednesday, August 25, 2010

John Hope House Visits Museum

---John Kennedy, Director of Education and Public Outreach

The Naval War College Museum hosted a group of 25 children from the John Hope Settlement House on Thursday, 19 August. Many of the students were second-time visitors since they had visited the museum last year as a part of the same program and they arrived with anticipation of doing some of the same activities. When asked what they remember most from last year, they quickly responded that it was the handling of the Civil War cutlasses and they wanted to do that again.

Due to scheduling conflicts, the JHSH was only able to send their 11-12 year old students. Normally, there would be 8-9 year old students as well. The enthusiasm brought by these students is infectious as they are willing and eager to respond and be a part of any interactive discussion or task. Since the last visit of these students, the museum  has enhanced many of the exhibits. The presentations of new artifacts built nicely upon what the students already knew about the Museum. The new exhibit of underwater artifacts, on loan from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission, let them view items that were used during the Revolutionary War. The story behind the collecting of these shards of pottery, grenades, musket balls, and cannon held their interest and prompted many questions.

In a lively discussion concerning the diet of sailors on board a ship during the late 1700s, the children were quick to point out problems associated with lack of refrigeration, no fresh water, and limited food supplies. Examples of such food as hardtack and beans, as well as examples of the size of portions allotted to the men, helped them to visualize the conditions that the sailors endured. This led to a discussion of how not having a proper, well-balanced diet led to disease and illness, most often scurvy, which could be fatal.

But then it was time to hold out the cutlasses again. In a scene that was a repeat of last year, they would hold the cutlass up at arm’s length and realize how heavy the weapon would be to carry in a boarding of another ship. Added to the cutlass this year were several cavalry sabers which proved to be not only heavier but also longer and more difficult to control. It proved to be a fun contest as each tried to outdo the other and demonstrate their individual strength. In the end, however, they all would agree that even a light object can become quite heavy and cause arms to become fatigued.

The mission of John Hope Settlement House has long been to work with children and youth as they develop their personal potential. Serving families that live in inner city Providence neighborhoods, JHSH has the reputation for offering a wide range of social services and programs supporting health education, financial and tax services, and childcare. The students are looking forward to another visit in the spring during school vacation.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Rededication of Kempenaar Park, Home to Constellation Anchor

RADM J.P. Wisecup addresses crowd at the dedication
On Thursday August 19, Naval War College President Rear Admiral James. P. Wisecup rededicated the newly renovated Kempenaar Park in front of an audience of staff, faculty, students and members of the Kempenaar Family. The park was first dedicated to Esau Kempenaar in 1976 in recognition for the family's friendship to the Naval War College. Since 1956, the Kempenaars have welcomed each incoming Naval Command College Class to Newport with a traditional New England style clambake. The park is also home to the anchor of USS Constellation, the stationary training vessel berthed at Newport from 1894 until 1946. It is worth taking a step back to revisit the anchor's long history with the the naval station and the college.
USS Constellation, launched on August 26, 1854, was the second of three U.S. Navy ships named for the constellation of stars in the national flag. The 22-gun sloop of war, the last all-sail vessel designed and built by the navy, served  two missions in the Mediterranean to show the flag and protect American interests. From 1859-1861, she served as flagship of the African Squadron, a force mandated to protect legal American shipping and suppress the transatlantic slave trade off the coast of West Africa.  Prior to her arrival in Newport, the sloop was assigned to the United States Naval Academy from 1871 to 1893 as a practice ship for midshipmen.

In Newport, the ship was used to train naval recruits at the Naval Training Station. The apprentices learned rope splicing, sail handling, seamanship, and naval discipline during their time on board the permanently-moored vessel. After several years of duty as a receiving ship, Constellation was designated relief flagship of the Atlantic Fleet under Admiral Ernest J. King. On January 19, 1942, after King left for Washington as the new Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral Royal E. Ingersoll transferred his flag to Constellation for the next six months while the navy readied the gunboat Vixen (PG-53) for flag service. In 1946, the old sloop of war was towed to Boston for preservation as a naval relic.  The navy decommissioned Constellation in 1955 and transferred her to a nonprofit organization in Baltimore where she remains today. Though she was then believed to be the Baltimore-built frigate Constellation (1797) she is now restored to her proper Civil War-era configuration.

When first commissioned in 1855, Constellation carried six anchors ranging from 5500 to 7500 lbs. Museum records indicate that this anchor was removed and placed at South Dock in 1906. In 1924, the 13-foot-long/6,000-lb anchor was pulled by a team of horses to Quarters A, the former residence of the Training Station's commander. It rested there until 1978 when the Naval Education and Training Center transferred the anchor to the museum and NWC facilities workers moved it to its current location in Kempenaar Park. This precious artifact is a constant reminder of the rich history of both the Newport Naval Station and the Naval War College.
Constellation anchor at the newly designed Kempenaar Park

Kempenaar Park, c. 1979

The anchor resting behind the Naval Station Administration Building
(original Site of the Naval War College, now the location of the museum).
The anchor at rest on the lawn in front of Quarters A, c. 1947
A vintage postcard showing Constellation and  two of her anchors, c. 1939
The Training Ship USS Constellation
at her berth during a drill on Dewey Field, c. 1918

All images appear courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Exhibit of Contemporary Navy Art Opens at Museum

The Launch of the Springfield
On Wednesday August, 4 a new exhibit of contemporary art opened at the Naval War College Museum. Museum staff welcomed Naval War College faculty and members of the Naval War College Foundation as they received their first look at Painting the Navy: An Exhibit by Wilma Parker. This exhibit of eighteen paintings by Parker, a 1963 graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design who is currently based in San Francisco, offers visitors a unique perspective on today's United States Navy. Work on exhibit includes commissioned pieces such as The Launch of the Spingfield and scenes of families and historic ship visitors such as Art Class aboard USS Hornet.

The exhibit is open through November 30, 2010 in the museum's new second floor temporary exhibit gallery. For more information on the artist and her work please visit her website.
Art Class aboard USS Hornet

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Object Mounts Installed for Revolutionary War Artifact Case

--John Pentangelo, Curator/Registrar

Last May the museum borrowed artifacts from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission for an exhibit on the American Revolution in Newport. The loan includes items recovered from the shipwrecks of two British frigates; HMS Cerberus and HMS Orpheus. On 29 July 1778, a French fleet under Admiral Comte d’Estaing arrived in Narragansett Bay as allies of the Americans in their war for independence. While preparing to attack British-occupied Newport, French warships moved to intercept four Royal Navy frigates operating in the bay. On 5 August, the British commanders burned and sunk all four ships, including the 28-gun Cerberus and 32-gun Orpheus, to avoid capture.

The artifacts include an iron swivel gun, artillery projectiles, grenades, wooden blocks and sheaves, and personal items such as pottery and clothing. Each unique object provides a meaningful connection with the past. Evidence of the ships' burning before going under is found in the charred wooden blocks (below, right) on display.

Jon Litwin of Artifact Intact, a professional artifact mount maker based in Rhode Island(seen below, left installing the mount for a British grenade), designed and constructed individual conservation mounts for each artifact as part of the museum’s long-range improvements in collections care and best practices for exhibitions.

Using a system of brass armature supports, sueded polyethylene, and an inert linen fabric, Litwin has protected the fragile artifacts from vibration, case movement, scratching, and negative chemical reactions produced by fabrics and paints not meant for museum use. Richard "Schooner" McPherson of Service Craft Company built the base and pedestals used to elevate the objects and support the brass mounts.

Visitors to the exhibit will also find a rare chart of Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay produced by J.F.W. Des Barres in 1776 and revised and reprinted during the American Revolution. This map, the first hydrographic chart of the bay, has survived in nine different states published between 1776 and 1781. J.F.W. Des Barres first printed it in 1776 before British troops and warships arrived in Newport to occupy the city. Later versions added details learned during the three-year occupation. This version documents the events of 1778 including the Battle of Rhode Island, the arrival of the French fleet, and the sinking of HMS Cerberus and HMS Orpheus.

The artifacts were excavated in the 1970s by the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Ocean Engineering which included Bob Cembrola, the curator of the Naval War College Museum. These and other similar items recovered from the wrecks are under the care of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission. The museum wishes to thank the state for the generous loan of these precious reminders of Rhode Island's place in the history of the American Revolution.

Click Here to read more about the HMS Cerberus and the wrecks of other British frigates in Narragansett Bay.

All photographs taken by Elisabeth Lobkowicz. Courtesy of the Naval War College Museum.