A Transatlantic Voyage to the “Ocean State”

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

At the generous behest of our board member, Thomas Ragan, Wolfsonian curator Silvia Barisione and I traveled to Providence, Rhode Island this past weekend to attend a lecture by ocean liner aficionado Stephen Lash, to tour and explore the collections of the Ship History Center in Warwick, and to enjoy an ocean liner-themed dinner event. Stepping off the plane and out of the terminal, we were greeted by snowflakes and freezing temperatures.

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If the outside air was more than chilly on this spring day in New England, our reception inside the Ship History Center could not have been more warm and cordial.

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Framed posters of Grace Line and other steamship companies line the walls of the museum, and there are impressive models of ships and liners, including one of Robert Fulton’s North River Steamboat, later christened the Clarmont.

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Fulton’s first commercially successful steamboat carried passengers from New York City 150 miles upstream to the state capital of Albany in 1807. The Wolfsonian–FIU museum has a number of artifacts documenting the 1909 Hudson-Fulton Celebrations.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gifts of Francis Xavier Luca & Clara Helena Palacio Luca

Before the guest lecture scheduled for later that Friday evening, Silvia and I had the privilege of being guided through the library and archives and invited to open boxes and drawers to get a sense of the depth of the collection amassed over many decades by the contributions of SSHSA members and subscribers. Afterwards, we listened to an informative and entertaining presentation delivered by Stephen Lash on the art and design of the French Line.

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Mary Payne (Past president, SSHSA board), Stephen Lash, and Captain Dave Pickering (SSHSA board member)

Photograph courtesy of Aimee Bachari, Education Coordinator, Web Developer SSHSA

Many of his projected images highlighted the beautiful Art Deco interiors of the great French passenger ship, the Normandie, also documented in brochures, plans, and books in our own collection.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Thomas C. Ragan

On view in The Wolfsonian’s permanent galleries are two colored laquer, gold-leaf, and plaster bas relief panels designed by Jean Dunand. Titled, La Chasse [The Hunt], our pair are duplicates of those which adorned the men’s smoking room aboard the Normandie.

The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of The Frederick and Patricia Supper Foundation, Palm Beach, FL

The following evening, we had the chance to mix and mingle with more than a hundred ocean liner aficionados, board members, VIP guests, archivists, curators, conservators, and other professionals from other maritime museums at the SSHSA’s Third Annual Ocean Liner Dinner and fundraising auction honoring the SS Normandie and the French Line.

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Appropriately enough, the dinner menu for the event was patterned on that served aboard the luxurious French Line’s Normandie, and SSHSA president Don Leavitt and executive director, Matthew Schulte provided a presentation using historic footage and images of the ship projected onto a large screen in the ballroom.

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In describing the inaugural transatlantic voyage of the ship whose prow and hull had been specially designed to minimize drag and a powerful steam quadruple-screw turbo-electric engine to maximize speed, the presenters updated regularly updated the guests with average speed estimates as the ship raced to successfully break the crossing record.

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The Wolfsonian–FIU, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection

Dinner was followed by a live auction hosted by Lite Rock 105 radio personality Steve Donovan. Though outbid by the “high rollers” in the room, Silvia and I contentedly returned to Miami with fond memories, contacts information, our photographs and copies of the wonderful reproduction dinner menus and passenger lists produced for the event.

Normandie Menu Cover

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Normandie SSHSA Cover

Silvia & Frank Dinner Photo

Our thanks again to our gracious hosts at the Steamship Historical Society of America, the staff and board members of the Ship History Center, and to Thomas C. Ragan for encouraging this trip. We hope that the contacts we have made will result in further collaborations as we look toward organizing our own exhibition on ocean liner design.

~ by "The Chief" on April 18, 2018.

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