Art adds historic touch to SSA's new Island Home
There's more to greet the eye on the Island Home than the bright upholstery, broad windows, and gleaming food service area. In addition to its sleek and colorful furnishings and décor, the new SSA vessel is adorned with an array of historical images. Courtesy of the Martha's Vineyard Museum in Edgartown, the six tall panels and 16 large photo reproductions will give first-time visitors and longtime passengers a new glimpse into the Island's rich history. And to add a fun, educational aspect to the crossing, especially for younger travelers, the museum is producing a quest. The intriguing scavenger hunt, a word puzzle, will have clues to its answers hidden somewhere in the half-dozen historical panels.
"The thing that's so exciting is here is a chance for people coming to the Island to get a sense of what's here, the heritage and values and scope of the Island," said Matthew Stackpole, executive director of the museum.
An arrangement of panels adds interest to the walls of the new ferry. Photo by Susan Safford
The six panels, each 30 by 40 inches, are titled Diverse Appeal, The Wampanoag, Arrival of the English, The Sea, Ferries and Steamers, and Summer Resort. Each is fascinating to view with the variety of design elements - photos of steamships and sailboats, an ox-drawn cart, a Campgrounds gingerbread house, a Tribal ceremony, historic persons like Capt. Zeb Tilton and Dr. Helen Attaquin, reproductions of historic documents, and much more. Each has several brief paragraphs of text as well.
The large 20- by 30-inch-framed photographs displayed in various parts of the seating areas depict views from around the Island, photographed in the 1880s and early 1900s, each with a short explanatory paragraph. There is the dramatic "Gale of 98," tugboats in Vineyard Haven harbor, Illumination Night, a 1915 view of the Aquinnah shoreline after the City of Columbus wrecked in 1884. A photo by Peg Knowles illustrates the opening Tisbury Great Pond in 1933. Other show Louis Pease's Fish Market, a view of Indian Hill when the now-treed land was open, the Gay Head lighthouse with its famous Fresnel lens, Harry Reed, who put aside his training as a doctor to become a lobsterman.
The history-themed displays evolved from the inspiration of former SSA member Kathryn "Cassie" Roessel, who died during the planning process for the new boat. Mr. Stackpole said he was excited about the idea when Ms. Roessel and Capt. Ed Jackson, Island Home project manager, came to talk with him about it. "I thought it was great," said Mr. Stackpole. "It's so exciting for us to be able to share part of our collection in such a visible way."
Matthew Stackpole, director of the Martha's Vineyard Museum, poses on the Island Home beside one of the educational panels. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Their first thought was to mount only a collection of photos, he recalled, but then they got the idea of creating more complex informative pieces - panels that would incorporate text, drawings, along with photographs on broad historic topics.
"Ed Jackson was so open as we were talking about it," said Mr. Stackpole. "The Steamship Authority folks were very open to having it bigger than we'd first talked about. It was a great collaboration."
Museum staff members pitched in, forming a team to bring the idea to fruition. Jill Bouck, curator, was part of the group that selected topics and images for the panels. She worked along with Dana Costanza Street, drawing images and artwork from the archives and past exhibits. Intern Anna Carringer focused on the photographs, selecting images with the aim of having all six towns represented. The collection also included several photographs of the original steamship Island Home, and one borrowed from the Nantucket Historical Association showing the Island Home crew in the 1880s.
Ms. Bouck said the process of selecting images and creating informative but succinct text entailed extensive winnowing, editing, and revising.
Festooned for Illumination.
Photographer: Charles H. Shute, 1880's.
The first Grand Illumination was put on by the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company in 1869 to draw attention to their new development. By 1880, the lighting of lanterns had spread to the Methodist Campground and the Highlands (now East Chop). This tradition continues today in the Wesleyan Grove Campground on Illumination Night each August.
"Talking about Gosnold discovering Martha's Vineyard in 50 words or less, how do you do this?" Ms. Bouck laughed. "We'd go round and round to get the words right. But it was fun."
Keith Gorman, librarian/ archivist and director of programs for the museum, was actively involved, working with Jesse Taggert and Dave Seibert, staff from Museum Design Associates in Cambridge where the panels were fabricated. It was a painstaking process as the mock-ups were sent back and forth for changes and final editing to make sure all details were correct. Mr. Gorman described each panel and the diverse information they contain. "They're standalone panels but at the same time give an idea of the breadth of the history of the Island," he said.
Mr. Gorman also consulted with Capt. Jackson about the new vessel's interior design and where the art works would fit and be most visible. Communication among the museum, the SSA, Capt. Jackson, and the design office was very smooth, he said, "It was a really great partnership."
On Friday, Feb. 16, Ms. Bouck and Ms. Street traveled to Fairhaven where the Island Home was located temporarily before it sailed for Woods Hole for training runs in advance of the start of reg
ular service on March 5. There they met with Capt. Jackson along with Sal Clemente and his wife, Darcie, a team of Boston-based professional installers of Artwork Art Installation, who were hired by Museum Design Associates. They toured the new vessel, viewing the display locations, and then watched as the Clementes installed the exhibit. Only a few days later, Islanders were admiring the fascinating photos and panels as they toured the Island Home on her commissioning day.
Developing a quest based on the material was a natural progression in the eyes of Lynne Whiting, an experienced schoolteacher and Education Director at the museum. Ms. Whiting had experience with Natalie Munn who was responsible for putting together "Quest Martha's Vineyard," published by MV Times Press last December. Written by high school students under direction of adult mentors and edited by Ms. Munn with assistant editor Natalie Munn, the book contains quests for 10 Island landmarks including Cedar Tree Neck, Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary, Polly Hill Arboretum, and the Martha's Vineyard Museum itself, with Ms. Whiting as mentor for that chapter.
Ms. Whiting met with other museum staff to introduce them to the quest process and gather ideas to begin a draft. After working further on the document, Ms. Whiting sent it to Steve Glazer, Valley QUEST coordinator who trained Island teachers in the quest process, for his comments.
"Do you think you can solve our puzzle? To do so, use your eyes, a pen and your walking shoes," the poetic document begins. Each stanza of the poem focuses on a single panel, and each rhyme is packed with educational information. Finally, each one ends with a question to be answered.
Ms. Whiting said that all the questions are based on the text in the panels. The puzzle is a mathematical one and mathematical clues can be found, one in each panel. She said that a second quest, this one geared to older children, will be based on the vintage photographs on display.
Asked if the quest it was fun to create, Ms. Whiting, who was off-Island at the time, responded in an e-mail message, "Of course, we wouldn't do it if it weren't fun for the creators and the users!"
Copies of the quest will be placed on the Island Home to keep young travelers occupied as they head to the Vineyard. Even though the puzzle is tailored for elementary school age children, it is likely that parents and other adults will be fascinated and learn a few things too.
Along with SSA distribution, sections of the quest and parts of the panels will be reprinted in The Times' Vineyard Visitor publication.