When the Mariners' Museum in Newport News, Virginia, is discussed these days, chances are mention of its fabulous Monitor Center will be part of the conversation. The center, which opened in March 2007, uses life-size re-creations and high-tech wizardry to help tell the story of the famous Union ironclad. One of the museum's most prized exhibits, however, is on the opposite ends of the size and technology range: August F. Crabtree's intricately carved miniature ship collection.
visitors to the museum—be they landlubbers, ship modelers, or old salts—are amazed by the elegant and vivid detail of the ships. Built to a scale of 1:48 and complete with working parts and decorations, they illustrate the evolution of water transport from raft to steam power. Crabtree's small vessels are much more than mere models; they are sculptures in miniature. The late William Francis Gibbs, one of America's greatest naval architects, said of these small ships, "Certainly there is nothing that I have seen here or abroad that takes their place in historical accuracy and detail."