The First Gallery
For those who enjoy the ultimate in the art of building ship models, a visit to the new model exhibit at the U.S. Naval Academy Museum is a must. The museum has been closed for redesign and renovations since 2007 and will reopen officially in August 2009, but the expanded "Ship Models from the Age of Sail" exhibit on the museum's second floor was ready for visitors during commissioning week.
This long overdue improvement has been worth the wait. For those unfamiliar with the Rogers Ship Model Collection, it is comprised primarily of Royal Navy dockyard models of warships built in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are in superb condition down to the finest detail and represent the various sizes and types of vessels that sailed under the White Ensign, from first-rate ships of 100 guns and more, down to schooners and cutters.
Also included are models built by French prisoners of war during their idle hours in British prisons for their own amusement, though they sold some to gain cash for supplemental food, clothing, and other necessities. Visitors will encounter models of East India Company ships, provided with an explanation of the breadth of the British seaborne empire, as well as a beautiful model of the USS Constitution in another case with a panel that discusses the growth of the early sailing navy of the United States and the War of 1812.
The feature that distinguishes this exhibit hall is the segmenting of naval life into 15 discrete areas, such as Navigation and Signaling, Life between Decks, the Gun Crew, and a Ship Modeler's Shop. To enliven the scene, the museum has incorporated life-size mannequins made of fiberglass and resin, finished in a whitish gray.
These vignettes of lifelike figures convey a ghostly quality to the tableaux that prods the imagination. Other exhibit areas explain ships' rigging, the capstan, ship rates, types of dockyard models, figureheads, ship decoration, individual models, and antique exhibit cases. Paintings and prints from the Beverley R. Robinson Collection adorn the walls, showing the ways the Royal Navy put its ships into action.
In all, the museum displays 47 dockyard models from its permanent collection and 28 French POW models from the period of the Napoleonic Wars. In addition, there are models on loan: HMS Sovereign of the Seas (later Royal Sovereign), the Dutch brig Irene, and the French topsail schooner La Volante. This exhibit is spaciously laid out and contains interpretive materials, artifacts, and explanatory panels on reader rails that amplify the scenes and ship models. Touch screens present film and video clips to demonstrate scenes, such as the operation of a ship's gun battery, to provide an up-to-date visitor-friendly feel to the gallery.
To give credit where it is due, Colonel Henry Huddleston Rogers, a veteran of World War I, purchased the models from private individuals in Great Britain after the war. He donated the majority of these models from his private collection to the Naval Academy in 1935. For many years, the models were dispersed throughout the Academy's offices and corridors. In 1993, Museum Director Kenneth Hagan brought them together in Preble Hall for upkeep, safekeeping, and display in their entirety. The collection is considered one of the finest of its type in the world. For many years the Elizabeth S. Hooper Foundation provided generous support for the maintenance of the collection, as did the Naval Academy Class of 1951. It is to be hoped that Naval Academy visitors, midshipmen, officers, and students from area schools will spend enough time at this beautiful exhibit to absorb its educational and aesthetic qualities. It is truly a work of art.
The museum is located in Preble Hall on the U.S. Naval Academy grounds, which requires a photo ID to gain entry. It is free to all visitors and open Monday through Saturday 0900 to 1700 and Sundays 1100 to 1700.