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With just a few weeks left until the Journey of Transformation show ends its run at Mystic Seaport, I figured I would take the holiday lull to complete the series documenting my process on the 7 silkscreens hanging until December 18th.
The course of this project weaves in and out of several trips through New England and the various spots that would prove epic in the history of the Charles W. Morgan. At some point the final work seemed obvious but for so long I was simply documenting questions and searching for answers. I wandered around New Bedford the first time I visited looking for something current to tie to the 38th voyage that was to come in the months ahead. As with many historically prominent industrial cities these days, New Bedford is a struggling working class town, doing its best to hold onto the past and embrace the future—a blend of industry and tourism. Being the birthplace of the Morgan, the arrival of the oldest surviving wooden whaling ship was sure to be cause for celebration. I left New Bedford at the end of the day with an empty piece to the puzzle.
By the time the Morgan left Mystic for one additional entry into its log I had more questions about how to embrace the voyage than I had answers. At that point it had been years since I first walked aboard the ship in the midst of its renovation. With every notch carved and every piece of wood fit and every hand that touched the legend, the restoration took on a life few of us ever imagined. And that life changed the second she touched water again. It would not be until after my visit to Provincetown—during the voyage—that the idea to represent each port of call started to take shape. Without a doubt I needed more from New Bedford than I was able to gather on my previous one day trip. I returned to the museum and walked around as I had done the last time, knowing that the Morgan had come and gone and may never return. While of utmost importance to the history, it was but a moment in time and I needed to relive that moment once more.
Once again I gathered notes and thumbnailed as I walked. As I stood upon the balcony of the museum looking out on the harbor, looking out on the dock the Morgan tied a line to, I watched the seagulls glide by, singing there songs as the sailors do, heading into the wind, soaring above the homes and business that make up New Bedford and I started to see the past and the present all wrapped together over the rooftops.
On the other side of the museum sits the Seaman’s Bethel, a nondenominational house of God built in 1832 to minister to the needs of the whale men who converged on New Bedford for work. One such whale man was Herman Melville, who attended services here before venturing on his 18-month voyage that would later give life to Moby Dick. With so much history in its making I had wondered where we would find the Morgan in 40 years time.
As I worked out the details of the various ports, New Bedford kept getting pushed to the bottom (or near bottom) of the stack—lost in a pile of papers being moved around the table on an hourly basis. That original sketch kept slipping out and irritating me. All the other thumbnails based on that day led me no where. A seagull, a rooftop drawing, and a church. Where was the whale? Where was the Morgan? It wasn’t until the issues I had with the first screen run, the first of the series, that I started to rethink the structure of each banner. Pulling back on the look of the overall collection I stripped it all down to the designs and images and worked back into each as I figured out how to resolve the halftone issues I had with the first run while still maintaining something of what I intended in the project.
The result was a play on graphic and textured patterns and in that rediscovery the one that popped out was New Bedford. Simple and clean. Dark blue, light blue and white. The white whale. Moby Dick. Seagulls guiding the ship. Atop the city the Charles W. Morgan stood ready for its voyage, then and now. (Above is the test print for the light blue screen)
Drying, the white and light blue await the final color, and I wait to see if what looked good on the monitor will in fact work on fabric.