Art and Decoration

The Ship in Decoration

ANNE ELIZABETH WILSON May 15 1926
Art and Decoration

The Ship in Decoration

ANNE ELIZABETH WILSON May 15 1926

The Ship in Decoration

ANNE ELIZABETH WILSON

Art and Decoration

EVERY age has its fads and fancies, but I venture to say that there has never been a more picturesque enthusiasm than the present vogue for ships in decoration.

For one thing, the

feet of the fashion are founded in tradition and historical romance, which lifts

it out of the class of ordinary fad-ism and elevates it to the level of a hobby of research and creation; for another, it presents creative possibilities.

Of course, for centuries on this continent the old sea-faring families have cherished the beautifully balanced little models of the gallant clipper ships which made our Atlantic coast famous in the days of sailing vessels, and for years these have been gathered up by antique enthusiasts while combing that happy-hunting ground of old things—the New England coast and the Maritime Provinces of Canada. Impetus was given to this type of collecting, a little while ago, when interest began running so high on the subject of Colonial sea-faring in general; when such books as Frederick William Wallace’s “Wooden Ships and Iron Men,” his great history of Canadian shipping, and others like it were so widely read. Then there were Sabatini’s novels, full of tales of high adventure in the Spanish galleon. These things undoubtedly tended to augment the already lively interest in ships and their possibilities. Ships, in themselves, of course, presented a singularly happy decorative form. There has never been a single motif, however, so widely used as the ship subject in the history of decoration. In wall stencils, in the over-fireplace panel, ' in hand-blocked rows on the hems of rough crashes and jutes in window-curtaining; sailing around the vellum glow of lampshades, and above all, in models of complete detail as part of the room’s actual furnishing, the ship has come into its own. At Christmastime, I remember looking through a number of magazines entirely devoted to arts or decoration, and among gift suggestions, paintings and decorative ideas generally, I found illustrations of no less than thirty-five ship studies in one

form or another. Certainly now is the time to consider ships in our scheme of things if ever! It is well to take the tide at its flood.

Old Ship Models

T TNDOUBTEDLY ^ the most popular form in which the ship-interest is being expressed to-day is in the old model, complete in every detail and arrayed in all the color and accoutrements of its gay original. There is not a gift-shop or antique establishment where such models cannot now be found—modern replicas of old heroines of the seas.

They do vast credit to their makers in their richness of finish and the soft “antiqued” appearance which they present, but to many enthusiasts there is not much “fun” in simply purchasing a replica of this kind. If one is interested at all, there is always the desire to study, plan and create, and here again we have an explanation for the popularity of ship models, for they are among the simplest of fabrications if their first requirements are understood. In their making, the co-operation of various members of the family is usually necessary, and for

that reason they have even a greater interest.

The first essential of home construction, of course, is to decide what type of vessel is to be one’s model and then study, absorb atmosphere and live with the antecedents of your choice for several weeks, before actual work is begun. It is interesting, I think, to settle upon some famous ship as a model to work from, although it may give one greater creative scope to study ships of a chosen period, and from them evolve a darling of one’s fancy. It will have its own ear-marko of originality. Favorites among historic ships are Columbus’ three sisters, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. Another quaint old boat of a little later date is The Sea Venture which carried English settlers to the new world and dropped them at Bermuda. It is mentioned because it is a variation from type, being a long-nosed light vessel, as opposed to the high, rather top-heavy Spaniard, of the time. The Mayflower is almost too well known to fame to be interesting, and besides, it is connected in the mind more with American than with Canadian history.

It would be interesting to look up vessels of particular interest to us—for instance, that in which John and Sebastian Cabot sailed. There was high romance, too, in those wave-skimming and intrepid little boats in which sailed Samuel de Champlain and Jacques Cartier. Parkman’s works show them, as do, even, many school histories. As for early

Canadian vessels: they are copiously illustrated in Wallace’s “Wooden Ships and Iron Men,” which I mentioned earlier.

Making a Ship Model

PERHAPS, however, the most popular form just at present, is the Spanish galleon type. Certainly it is the most colorful and offers more scope for purely decorative effect. The following instructions, therefore, deal with a ship of that type, of about 1520 A.D., but the general principles could be applied to any wooden ship. The boy of the family—be he juvenile or adult—will delight in the business of carving out the hull and whittling the various fixtures, I have no doubt.

The hull is molded or carved from a block of clear, dry pine, 27 inches long, ten inches wide, and twelve inches high. This block is made by gluing together pieces one and a quarter inches thick. After the hull has been shaped, a section of the stem is cut away and a carved oak figurehead set in and glued. Of course, the figurehead may be secured or evolved in many different ways if one is not closely following a particular ship, and so me interesting experiments can be made in this characteristic addition.

The sides should be left about a quarter of an inch thick. Floors and cabin-work are then glued and bradded into place, the gun floor or platform being placed about one and an eighth inches below the centre line of the portholes.

Strips of oak, any convenient length, of about an eighth of an inch thickness and a quarter of an inch in width, soaked in scalding water, may be readily bent and bradded to the shape of the hull to form the timbering. Two hexagonal blocks are fitted to the stern to form

bay-windows peculiar to ships of the time.

Guns and Small Parts

GUN barrels are shaped or whittled and glued to carriages. The two anchors are of oak made in three pieces, then glued together. Lanterns may be made of corks with button molds glued on top and bottom, or spools. Railings are solid pieces notched out.

The main deck should be fitted carefully so that it may be lifted out when guns are finally put into place. Then hatchways should be cut and a combing fitted; likewise hatch-covers, stair-ways, and ladders. Belaying pin racks should be fastened to the deck at each mast.

Mast and Spars

THESE are shaped from strips of clear pine five eighths of an inch by fiveeighths of an inch. Spars are made from smaller-dimensioned strips. Crows nests are small cup-like turnings, hollow inside.

Rigging is made from good quality, white linen fish line, stained brown. Blocks and pulleys are fashioned from bits of aluminum or boxwood.

The whole is stained with walnut water stain, which should be allowed to dry thoroughly, shaded in, then shellacked three times, using thin white shellac, sand-papering lightly between each coat. Next, the windows are traced with a drawing pen, using bronze powder in banana oil. The panes are indicated by painting in with artist’s oil colors. The timbering may be stained by mahogany red and the figure-head gilded.

For the sails, get the heaviest duck obtainable. After cutting the sails to size, hem them, leaving a raw edge. The fin-

ished sails are then

tinted with water color to give the effect of age. Usually some device is painted in red in the centre. Finally, they should be shellacked heavily once. When dry, the raw edges may be cut away nearly to the stitches, with a sharp penknife. The sails are now ready to be bent and lashed to the spars with thin linen fish line, as photograph shows. Flags and banners are made in the same way, though not necessarily hemmed, as the shellac holds them from ravelling.

When your model has had its last touch of shellac and is complete in all its little “fixings,” your next problem will be its placing in the room. Usually a high position is most desirable, somewhere near the level of the eye, so that the silhouette may be taken in at first glance and may not be distorted above or below that level. It is inadvisable to “dust” a ship model at all. When dust gathers, blow it out with a bellows. Do not leave it too near the heat or expose it to constant dampness, and you will avoid the danger of cracking or warping. It will help preserve it if gone over with furniture oil now and then. A good mixture is equal parts of turpentine, methylated spirits, vinegar and paraffin.

Other Decorative Uses ol the Ship

ONE of the most popular mediums for the ship motif, is wrought iron ornament. The wrought-iron fire screen, on the face of which a ship sails against a background of filtred light (the background is either of metal netting or

punched work) is a delightful conception. Original, too, is the wrought-iron ash tray—an almost medieval little ship atop a metal stand. The ship subject has ever been popular in the woven rugs, one reason perhaps being that the woven rug had its greatest vogue in the Maritime Provinces of Canada and New England, where a ship was almost the symbol of life itself to the sea-faring population. The ship tea-caddy is an innovation that strikes me as quaint. This can either be made in the ordinary shape, and the ship worked on the cover, or cut out slightly in the actual outline of the ship. I have seen this very successfully and effectively done, although the “stuffing” of the caddy can come up only so far into the shape.

The ship has even invaded the field of the cushion and the coverlet. Nothing makes a more colorful applique for,instance, than brilliant pieces of silk oh a black background for the sofa cushion. The hull might be of one color, the sails of another, and little incidental trimmings of black and white and design. The

sail in a striped material would be debonair, and if oars were shown—as in a galley —they would be effective in white. An excellent background for such a design is the black satin sofa throw which is now so much used, and which when folded over the arm of the sofa with its design uppermost is as much a permanent decoration for the chesterfield as the cushion.

The applique quilt which is now so popular, also lends itself to the ship design. Here the same effects can be carried out in

striped cottons, chintzes and calico, as with the richer silks. It occurs to me that there is one very well-known ship design in the available patterns for this work.

For the Table Setting

“'T'HE Golden Hind" always impressed A me as being a magnificent name for a ship—and I was reminded of it the other day when I saw one in silver in the centrepiece of a dinner table. Such delicacy and beauty of fret-work fairly took away the breath. Of course it was a tremendously valuable piece of property, but the idea occurred to me that a very excellent replica of it might be made in silvered wood, or dressed in tin foil. Tin foil, by the way, can be secured in great variety of design and color if one but knows where to search it out, and I remembered a piece of my own possession in gold with a small stripe of purple, that would have made a sail to inspire the heart. Other ship touches on the same table, were salt cellars. These, of course, are quite easily procurable, and not out of reach of the ordinary purse when purchasing good table silver.

Symbols ol the Sea

IN A class with the ship idea, also appearthe varioussea-faringsymbols. The anchor, being perhaps the best known of these, is also evident, and in connection with it, very often is the gull, flying near. There could be no more decorative frieze than these two, and I have seen them used on the new modernistic linens and

crepes, stencilled in flat color or in block printing. Another symbol is the wave, just on the curve. This is now so widely used that we have almost come to accept it as a usual conventional form like the scallop.

The compass is also introduced widely in the new designs in printed and handblocked fabrics, although, of course, slightly and variously conventionalized. It is usually represented by a circle effect, within which a star-like formation appears.