May 17

And now, a few nice words about our friends at the Naval Historical Foundation…

Monday, May 17, 2010 1:00 AM

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I love getting presents. This, of course, sounds very greedy, but most honest people will admit they like getting presents, too. Over the years, the Naval Historical Center/Naval History and Heritage Command has been greatly pampered with the support of the Naval Historical Foundation and in the Navy Art Collection, we feel we have been showered with presents and appreciative attention.

To digress by way of background, as the story goes, many years ago Navy lawyers believed that the Navy could not accept gifts from private individuals and businesses. Thus, when someone had some nifty historic naval thing, they couldn’t give it directly to the Navy, but the Naval Historical Foundation accepted it, and in this way the Foundation amassed quite a fascinating collection. Years passed and the Navy lawyers changed their minds and now donors can give directly to the Navy. (Contributions to the United States Government are deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law!). For some time now, the folks at the Foundation have gradually been processing out and passing along their collection, and the result for Navy Art has been unexpected delights.

“Bamboo Kain, Newcastle Tribe,” by Alfred Agate, Watercolor, circa 1840, NHHC# 98-89-GJ.

My favorite was the Alfred Agate artworks, mostly resulting from the Wilkes Expedition. The Foundation donated this in 1998. I was thrilled to be able to write the NHHC’s online exhibit showcasing this collection and since then we’ve had some interesting contacts about it. About a year ago, an Australian aborigine/anthropologist working to rediscover his own culture paid us a visit to view the exquisite aboriginal portraits in the collection. Agate’s original line of work was as a portrait miniaturist, so his portraits are realistic and not patronizing. For the past few months the drawing of Mt. Shasta, believed to the first non-native artwork depicting this mountain, was included in an exhibit at Turtle Bay Exploration Park, Shasta County CA.

“Attack Of the Galley of Ferdinand I Upon the Galley Of the Turks,” by Jacques Le Lorrain Callot, engraving, circa 1627, NHHC# 98-90-L.

Another extensive gift was the Eberstadt Collection of prints. This collection was amassed in Germany and brought to the United States after World War I by the Eberstadt family and gifted to the Foundation in 1937. The prints cover early shipbuilding, the early development of the naval powers of Europe and significant early European naval actions. Having this kind of background material to supplement our study of U.S. Naval history is nothing short of a blessing.

“The Battle of Plattsburg,” by Read, Engraving, circa 1820, NHHC# 2008-58-741.

The Foundation has given us a number of paintings, but it seems that it’s the prints that always amaze me. Late in 2008 they gave us a big brown box with around 2000 semi-sorted prints that mostly deal with U.S. and English naval history. I call it “The Amazing Box” because of the things we found in it. Librarians will cry when I tell them that whoever amassed this collection apparently carefully sliced the prints from books of the 18th and 19th century. The Amazing Box has helped fill gaps in our collection for the upcoming War of 1812 anniversaries.

“Beached Rowboat,” by Midshipman James Cooper Hull, Pencil on paper, 1863, NHHC# (TBA).

Another recent transfer was a small portfolio of sketches by Midshipman James Cooper Hull, USNA Class of 1867, done while at the Academy in Newport, RI in 1863. They seem to be his assignments from drawing class. It only makes me sigh and wish for return of art education to the Naval Academy and schools in general. Bravo Zulu, Midshipman Hull!

I could just go on for days about the bounty that our friends at the Naval Historical Foundation have given us. I will share some more of these fascinating items in future postings, but for now, I just say “THANK YOU!” credit-n.ru
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