Maritime collections and their unique problems

David F. Mathieson


Within most museums in North America will be found fine paintings, prints, furniture, sculpture, textiles and other examples of American and world history. One unique item which is normally only found in maritime museums or museums within a maritime community, is the ship model. These objects are composed of many materials – wood, metal, paint, textiles, ivory, bone, paper, etc.

Any treatment requires a certain degree of connoisseurship of the subject category. At this time I do not know of a conservator in this hemisphere who has the vessel knowledge to carry out the appropriate treatment on a ship model. In many instances the damaged model needs treatment not only to the hull but also to the rigging and possibly the sails. The only people who have the knowledge and skill to treat such an object are master model builders. Master model builders not only create these uniquely constructed objects, but are also given the responsibility of restoring them.

AIC is the professional organization to which we look for the unification of conservators and a meeting place for those interested in the field. The Nautical Research Guild (NRG) is a similar organization for ship model builders. It has been in existence since 1948 and has a membership of over 1,700 members. The NRG conducts an annual meeting with scholarly presentations which are published and produces a semi-annual publication, the Nautical Research Journal. The achievements of the model builders associated with the NRG are of the highest level and should not be taken lightly.

When I spoke to the members of the NRG at their last annual meeting, I stated that my purpose for being there was to build bridges not models. I suggested to this group that they attend the AIC annual meeting and consider membership. In turn, I suggest that AIC members participate in the activities of the NRG. There are philosophical as well as practical issues which can be discussed and shared between both organizations.