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The Camera's Coast

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SPNEA holds one of the world's outstanding collections of historic maritime photographs. The exhibition The Camera's Coast, which goes on view this month at the Cape Ann Historical Museum, Gloucester, Massachusetts, presents a sampler of this wonderful visual resource.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were years of great social and economic change. Although major ports bustled, traditional coastal occupations, from alongshore fishing to shipbuilding to deep-water voyaging, were in decline. Meanwhile, mushrooming industrialization, with its hot, dirty cities, gave growing numbers of vacation seekers the motive and the means to seek refuge along the coast. Today, old photographs provide us with our best views of the wonderful realm the coast then was, before the overspreading of modern development.

At the core of the SPNEA's maritime photograph collection are the vessel portraits taken by Nathaniel Stebbins, a Boston-based professional. Beginning in the early 1880s, and continuing until 1922, this wondrous trove includes images of all manner of vessels and watercraft, but most particularly yachts. During this era the sport, the science, and the art of yachting blossomed, and nowhere more notably than in New England waters. Many of these yachts-and many commercial vessels as well-displayed an elegance of proportion so deeply satisfying that prolonged contemplation of their images seems almost to border on the sinful.

Other noted photographers represented in the exhibition include the vessel and landscape photographers Henry G. Peabody and Baldwin Coolidge, and rural vernacular photo-graphers Emma Coleman and Fred Quimby. Also well represented are many works, from snapshots to artful studies, by unknown photographers, without whose keen eye and often loving efforts our understanding of the past-and by extension, of the present-would be immeasurably diminished.

-W. H. Bunting
Guest Curator

TOP LEFT The racing catboat Koorali. The traditional Cape Cod catboat, with but one sail, was the essence of simplicity. The adoption of ever-bigger mainsails for highly competitive, professionally crewed racing in the 1890's necessitated the addition of a balancing jib, along with the excrescence of a bowsprit. The heaviest man in the crew was usually the mainsheet tender, while the most agile shook out the reefs in the near-1,000-square-foot mainsail while walking back from the end of the forty-foot boom. N. L. Stebbins photograph.

BOTTOM LEFT The full-rigged ship Panay, of Salem, Massachusetts, departs Boston bound for the Philippines. Loaded with cases of tinned kerosene, she will return to Boston in eleven months with a cargo of sugar. The Panay was among the last products of Boston's once great wooden shipbuilding industry, which, in its heyday, had led the world. She was also one of the last members of Salem's once great fleet of East Indiamen. Captain Joseph Luscomb, of Salem, stands on the Panay's poop, perhaps contemplating the long road ahead.

ABOVE LEFT February, 1899. Men of the U.S. Life-Saving Service station at Orleans, Cape Cod, while drilling, await a lull in the waves before launching their surfboat.
ABOVE CENTER Martha's Vineyard, 1887. Sightseers pose in front of Gay Head Light after their trip up the cliff from the steamer wharf in a Wampanoag Indian's oxcart. Baldwin Coolidge photograph.
ABOVE RIGHT Late 1800's. Tugboat cruising the waters off shore.

ABOVE LEFT The saloon, or main cabin, of the schooner-yacht Gitana, designed by the noted Boston naval architect D. J. Lawlor for William F. Weld, a grandson of the great Boston mer-chant and ship-owner of the same name. Note the piano to starboard. The Gitana was widely traveled, sailing often to the Caribbean and several times to the Mediterranean. N. L. Stebbins photographs.

ABOVE CENTER Porch-sitting, the Chequesset Inn, Wellfleet, Massachusetts, early 1900s. Built in 1902 by Captain Lorenzo Baker, the Chequesset was the centerpiece of a luxury resort complex. Baker, a legendary capitalist, had pioneered the development of the banana trade, his efforts eventually bearing very considerable fruit in the form of the United Fruit Company. Much sought after today are the Chequesset's mammoth rockers-one is shown being operated by an elderly gentleman-designed so as not to take flight in a strong wind.

ABOVE RIGHT Bagaduce River, Hancock County, Maine. The North Castine-West Brooksville ferry, operated by a Mr. Jones and his daughter Sadie. Sadie is shown standing in what is presently the bow. Were there a fair breeze, presumably the mast and sail lying beyond the team would be stepped, and set, respectively. A. H. Folsom photograph.

ABOVE LEFT A big halibut about to be landed from a fishing schooner at T Wharf, Boston, 1880s. Three dories are "nested" in the foreground-boating such a fish into a dory out on the banks was no mean trick. This vessel is probably a George's Bank, Brown's Bank, or "shore ground" fresh fish trawler. Such vessels often landed sizable fares of halibut. Trawl fishermen fished from dories, catching "ground," or bottom-feeding fish, on trawl lines, often a mile or more in length, armed with as many as 1,800 baited hooks. Baldwin Coolidge photograph.
ABOVE CENTER York, Maine. Early 1880s. George H. Donnell, a "shore" fisherman and lobsterman, artfully posed by photographer Emma Coleman. Rural vernacular photographers such as Coleman, responding to increased industrialism and urbanization, sought to depict scenes representative of a passing, and seemingly simpler, rural way of life. In truth, all lives are complicated.
ABOVE RIGHT Boston. 5 P.M., August 12, 1906. Passengers aboard the City of Bangor experience the thrill of travel-along with fear of impending seasickness off Cape Ann, Massachusetts-as the big side-wheeler departs Foster's Wharf. Early tomorrow morning she will round spruce-scented Owl's Head and arrive at Rockland, Maine, to connect with smaller steamers. She will then continue on to other Penobscot Bay and river stops before reaching Bangor, where her course will be reversed. N. L. Stebbins photograph.

The Camera's Coast, featuring seventy historic photographs from SPNEA's Library & Archives, will be on view at the Cape Ann Historical Museum, 27 Pleasant Street, Gloucester, Massachusetts, from September 6, 2003 through January 31, 2004. For hours and directions, please call (978) 283-0455.

The Camera's Coast