Building Wonder at the Mystic Seaport Museum
It can be scary when our favorite institutions change. I’ve been visiting the Mystic Seaport Museum since I was a little kid. An important visit annually, my family of sailors would swarm through the museum, feasting our eyes and hearts on the ships and the history. The Morgan, the whaleboats, the working shipyard, these were the stuff of dreams, and we couldn’t wait to return to reconnect with our favorite exhibits.
But running a museum is hard. The administrators have to bring locals back time and time again and attract new audiences to the campus. And as successful as the MSM is, deciding how best to allot financial resources, particularly during a global pandemic, is a daunting task. For a number of reasons, Steve White, the former director, and his staff came to the conclusion that the Maritime Gallery was a commercial enterprise that the museum couldn’t afford to underwrite. But even as they were coming to this decision, they contacted me to make sure that marine art remained an important part of Mystic’s identity.
I am president of the American Society of Marine Artists, and was a Maritime Gallery artist and award winner. Steve hoped that together, we could build an art organization on the museum campus that would support an artist-in-residence series and a studio and gallery space. Then Covid hit, and we put the project on hold. When Peter Armstrong took the reins at the museum, one of his first calls was to me. “What can we build here?” he asked.
I founded the Center for American Marine Art in response. The center is dedicated to sharing American marine art with the public through exhibitions, artist residencies around the country, and a free, public research database of artworks and publications for use by scholars and artists.
But these things take time to get established. The one thing we knew we wanted was to get some artists on-campus and working right away so the public could interact with them and learn about the creative process today. Since 2021, the Mystic Seaport Museum has hosted five artist-in-residence terms of varying lengths. The wonderful artists who spend their days in a central studio interacting with the curious include Patrick O’Brien, Joyful Enriquez and Serena Bates, all ASMA Signature artists and winners of national and international awards.
The museum and the center are currently in discussions to bring back the Mystic International Exhibition, the for-sale marine art exhibition that halted with the closing of the Maritime Gallery.
Furthermore, Peter Armstrong has brought one of the superstars of the maritime art field, Christina Connett Brophy, to the museum as the Senior Director of Museum Galleries. As she and her staff ramp up to show off the museum’s collections, the public can expect fantastic exhibits.
To those readers out there who fear a diminished museum, I would say be of good cheer. There are a lot of people working very hard to make sure that it grows and thrives. Visit the museum, become a member, volunteer, donate. Invest in what you love, and you’ll feel that awe once again.
Nicholas Raposo is Director of The Center for American Marine Art at the Mystic Seaport Museum.
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