Museum History

The Noble Maritime Collection is a museum and study center located on the former grounds of the famous retirement home, Sailors' Snug Harbor, on Staten Island's North Shore. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the art, writings, and historical maritime artifacts of the distinguished marine artist, John A. Noble (1913-83) and to continue his legacy of celebrating the people and traditions of the working waterfront of New York Harbor in its collections, exhibitions, and programs; to preserve and interpret the history of Sailors' Snug Harbor; to preserve and celebrate Robbins Reef Lighthouse; and to operate a museum and maritime study center inspired by these themes.

Founded in 1987 at Noble's home on Staten Island, the museum opened at Snug Harbor in 2000 after a $3.5 million adaptive reuse project that transformed a derelict former mariners' dormitory into a beautiful museum. The rehabilitation project garnered the 1999 New York Preservation Award from the Municipal Art Society of New York, the Preservation League Award, and President's Award from the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce.

The rehabilitation of the 28,500 square-foot former dormitory, built in 1841 and opened in 1844, was the product of over eight years of services and materials worth over $1 million donated by the Noble Crew, a group of volunteers of all ages, levels of experience, and professions. Its efforts were described as "a particularly moving demonstration of citizen volunteers taking on a daunting preservation project and completing it with great style," by a representative of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The Noble may be one of the nation's best examples of a volunteer restoration project." The Crew is active today, contributing its time and talent on a regular basis. 

In 2010, the museum took over the stewardship of the Robbins Reef Light Station, the off-shore, four-story, conical tower constructed of brick and cast-iron on a granite caisson located between the Statue of Liberty and Staten Island's North Shore. Built in 1883, part of its historical significance lies in the story of Katherine Walker, who took over lighthouse duties when her husband died. She was officially appointed in 1895 by the Lighthouse Board, and kept the light until 1919. The Noble Crew is in the process of restoring the structure.

The museum features the work of John A. Noble, the maritime artist who chronicled the last chapter in the Age of Sail. It is fully accessible for the disabled and has galleries, classrooms, a printmaking studio, rehearsal and performance spaces, a library, a state-of-the-art archive, offices, and a gift shop. Period rooms, including a recreation of a typical Sailors' Snug Harbor dormitory room from around 1900, reveal life at Sailors' Snug Harbor.

Noble's houseboat studio, the teak saloon of a European yacht, is the museum's centerpiece. The museum has two classrooms, the Soul of Sail Classroom and the Maurice K. Shaw Navigation Classroom, where character-based art and history programs are presented to children and adults. The museum's printmaking studio is available for classes and use by artists.

The museum's permanent exhibitions feature the Writing Room and the Dormitory Room, recreations of original Sailors' Snug Harbor facilities and the Ship Model Gallery featuring 40 models of vessels.  Continuing exhibitions focus on the history of the site; Treasures of Sailors' Snug Harbor is an exhibition of Sailor's Snug Harbor art and furnishings, and Daily Life at Sailors' Snug Harbor exhibits material about the lives of Harbor residents and the people who cared for them. The newest exhibition, Robbins Reef Lighthouse: A Home in the Harbor, explores the lighthouse through contemporary art, antique art, historical artifacts, documents, and records. A section about its most well-known keeper, Katherine Walker (1848-1931), features her furniture and family photographs.

The museum's resources include the Noble Maritime Library, which concentrates on maritime history in New York Harbor, and the archive which houses the museum's collections of art and documents. In 2010, the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor in the City of New York made the museum the steward of its collection of art and artifacts, which illustrate the history of the venerable retirement home for mariners. The collection includes paintings by 19th century American artists, nautical artifacts, and folk art created by Sailors' Snug Harbor residents, including hand-crafted ship models. Some objects from the collection are also displayed in the museum’s classrooms and Ship Model Gallery.

The museum has an active publication program. It has published five books, John A. Noble: The Rowboat Drawings, a selection of Noble's plein air drawings; Hulls and Hulks in the Tide of Time: The Life and Work of John A. Noble, the definitive biography and catalogue raisonné and winner of the 1994 first prize for books in the American Association of Museum's annual publication competition; Bon à tirer: The Prints of Herman Zaage, winner of the Honorable Mention award in the AAM competition; and Caddell Dry Dock: 100 Years Harborside. The children's book of museum manners, The Terrible Captain Jack Visits the Museum, won the second place award in the 2008 AAM competition, and the documentary Hulls and Hulks in the Tide of Time: A Portrait of John A. Noble, won the CINE Golden Eagle Award. As noted, the museum produces chapbooks, including The Fight for Sailors' Snug Harbor, a collection of Noble's writings about the preservation of Sailors' Snug Harbor; A Glimpse of Life at Sailors' Snug Harbor in 1880; and The Sailors' Snug Harbor Coloring Book.

Admission to the Noble Maritime Collection is by donation. The museum is fully code compliant and accessible to the disabled. Snug Harbor Cultural Center is a New York City park open to the public daily.