The Noble Maritime Collection is a museum and study center located on the former grounds of the famous old retirement home for "aged, decrepit, and worn out seamen," Sailors' Snug Harbor, on Staten Island's North Shore. Its mission is to preserve and interpret the art and writings of the distinguished marine artist, John A. Noble (1913-83); to continue Noble's legacy of celebrating the people and traditions of the working waterfront of New York Harbor; to preserve and interpret the history of Sailors' Snug Harbor; and to operate a maritime study center inspired by Noble and the mariners of Sailors' Snug Harbor.
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.
The museum features the work of John A. Noble, the maritime artist who chronicled the last chapter in the Age of Sail and the dramatic changes that ensued. It is fully accessible for the disabled and has galleries, classrooms, a printmaking studio, rehearsal and performance spaces, a library, a new, state-of-the-art archive, offices, and a gift shop. Period rooms, including 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 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 available to children and adults, and a printmaking studio is available for classes and use by artists.
Among the Noble Maritime Collection's on-going adult programs are CloseKnit, a knitting group that makes knitted items for mariner's worldwide and needy people in the community. The museum also hosts A Helluva Choir, an open choir for people "who think they can't sing," and an adult writing group that has published one book of its writings and plans another.
The museum's exhibitions feature contemporary art as well as historical subjects. Most recently the exhibition Lifespan: The Bayonne Bridge in Transition opened; it features views of the bridge by eleven contemporary artists, a selection of material from the museum's archive about the hsitory and construction of the bridge, and renderings of the bridge when its roadbed, which has to be raised to accommodate containership traffic, is completed. At present its newest history exhibition is The Atelier of Wichita Bill, a recreation based on photographs with actual furnishings of the studio in Picardy, France where John A. Noble's father, the American romantic painter John Noble (1874-1934) worked from 1908 until 1914.
The museum's resources include the Noble Maritime Library, which concentrates on maritime history in New York Harbor, and the new archive which opened in 2010 and which was constructed to house the museum's collections of art and documents as well as its collection of Sailors' Snug Harbor artifacts and documents gathered in the 20 years since the museum came to the Snug Harbor site. In 2010, the Trustees of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor in the City of New York made the museum the custodian of its prestigious collection of art and artifacts, which illustrate the rich history of the venerable retirement home for mariners. The collection on loan includes paintings by 19th century American artists, nautical artifacts, and folk art created by sailor residents, including hand-crafted ship models. In collaboration with the Trust, the museum is cataloguing, preserving, and exhibiting the Trust’s collection. Some objects from the collection are displayed in the museum’s classrooms and Ship Model Gallery.
Also 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 at 40°65' 74" N and 74°06' 56" W, along the west side of main channel of Upper New York Bay, between Staten Island and the Statue of Liberty. Built in 1883, its historical significance lies in the story of Katherine Walker, who took over lighthouse duties when her husband died in 1890. His last words to here were, "Mind the light, Kate." She was officially appointed in 1894 by the Lighthouse Board, and kept the light from 1894 to 1919. The Noble Crew is in the process of restoring the structure for use in public programs.
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 above, 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; The Sailors' Snug Harbor Coloring Book; and most recently a children's activity book called What you see along the Kill van Kull.
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 park which is free and open to the public daily.
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