Houseboat Studio

Permanent exhibition in the D/E hyphen

The centerpiece of the museum is Noble's Houseboat Studio. The studio had been restored to its appearance in 1954, the year Noble and the studio were featured in the December issue of National Geographic. Noble created paintings, drawings, and lithographs there for over 40 years. 

Of his “little leaking Monticello,” Noble wrote in 1977, “Strange cabin! and odd its beginnings—and lonely its long and precarious career.  Through it all, our tenuous careers, its and mine, have been intimately and inexorably linked, for within its teak walls most of my pictures have been clumsily breech birthed for nigh unto forty years with great effort and small grace….

“After the Civil War, Newark Bay was bridged by the New Jersey Central Railroad.  One of the results of this engineering was that anthracite coal came to the banks of the Kill van Kull; and … the world’s greatest hard coal complex—Port Johnston….Well, after a fire sometime in the early twenties…its docks became…a great boneyard.

“I first laid eyes on these acres of new, old, and dead vessels as a boy in 1928 from the deck of a stone schooner….I must say the sight affected me for life—and shortly thereafter I was drawing them….Well, it was but a few years more, and I was making my living there, keeping the vessels which had not yet sunk pumped out and watching their lines….

“Now this great length of pier was punctuated by odd cabins that had been thrown aside in wrecking operations.  One of these was the teak saloon of a European yacht.  One summer day when things were slack I had a sudden impulse.  I cut a hole in its roof and fashioned a makeshift skylight.  Through the years I rebuilt and collected teak fittings—adding, changing.  Unknown to me was how much I was becoming wedded to my cabin studio.  The shock to me was deep when the dock, already badly collapsing, was abandoned, and in panic I built the wooden barge which enabled me to escape from the boneyard.  For years now I have been plagued with ‘Oh! the artist with the floating studio, etc. etc.’  There is no cuteness nor color in all this for me—the only small romance is that I did escape.

“The sources of the myriad parts that such a structure must have may seem peculiar now, for they came from that dim region where nothing is ever bought or stolen.  The spikes in my bottom were pulled from the deck of the steam schooner Robert Dollar….Most of the planks in the bottom came from the wings of an old Bethlehem Steel Brooklyn dry-dock….The Romanesque windows are black walnut and came from the old Carteret Ferry….The main skylight windows (on the opposite side) are from the classroom built aboard the four-masted schooner Guillford Pendleton….The intriguing little fiddle block and the small davit are from the Kaiser’s sailing yacht Meteor….here also are parts from the steam lighter McKeever Bros.—that carried New York’s dead horses to the rendering plant—the Hart’s Island, that bore the poor and unknown dead to Potter’s Field—and the William C. Moore, the immigrant barge from Ellis Island….

“Time naturally flowed on as did the tides around me.  To my port arose the largest oil still in the world, making Getty the richest man in the world, yet in time it rusted and was torn down.  To my starboard…a great rack for car tows slowly went into obsolescence….  Dockbuilders, a dredging company, a shipyard came and went,…the nickering vandalism of Sailors’ Snug Harbor trustees never ceased as architectural gems and noble trees came down…until even the seamen were gone.  It strikes me as weird that this stone was no sooner finished than the last of the great hulks of the boneyard burned to the water’s edge.

“Thus it came about that now my own little leaking Monticello pitches and survives in the wake of the passing tugs.”                
     
John A. Noble
Essays, 1977