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Noank museum showcases a rich maritime history

By Kristina Dorsey

Publication: The Day

Published August 12. 2013 4:00AM
photos by Tim Cook/The Day
The Noank Historical Museum, housed in the former Grace Episcopal Church, is a village landmark.

Noank is a small, quaint, very New England village - a place steeped in history.

How fitting, then, that the museum that is all about Noank possesses those same qualities.

The Noank Historical Museum - housed since 1967 in the former Grace Episcopal Church - pulls together an array of Noank-related art, artifacts and photos. This summer, it's offering, too, a look at boatbuilder's half models and at some well-known painters who populated what might be called the Noank Art Colony.

First, a little about the museum itself: it consists of one small room that's packed with items. (A few remnants of the church remain, too - a tin ceiling and a stained glass window announcing its construction year, 1902, among them.)

In a back corner is part of an antique carpenter's shed, a gift of Captain Adrian Lane, that overflows with shipbuilding tools, from planes to drills, donated by Ernest C. Anderson.

Sections within the museum touch on everything from the Morgan Point Lighthouse to Noank before the 19th century.

The site serves as a research site, too, with binders of Noank photos, collected under titles like "hurricanes" and "vessels," and binders, too, of mentions of the village in The Day newspaper dating back to the 19th century.

Now, the new features: The museum is making note of some early 20th-century painters who were part of the Noank Art Colony. The biggest name is Henry Ward Ranger, who lived and painted in Noank from 1902 to 1916; he was part of the famed Lyme Art Colony before making his way to Noank.

A Ranger painting of the Noank Baptist Church hangs on the Noank museum wall, and it's notable for being different from his works you might see elsewhere. Museum Curator Mary Anderson notes that Ranger tended to paint landscapes and seascapes - in other words, big vistas rather than the close-up of local architecture that's showcased here.

Anderson noted, too, that Ranger often took a boat from his home on the Noank shore over to Mason's Island.

"He loved the trees and the light that showed through the trees over on Mason's Island," she says. "He also influenced a number of other artists to go over there."

Under glass at the museum, too, is a figurative drawing that Ranger made in a Palmer House registry in 1902. He was visiting with artists - and brothers - Reynolds and Gifford Beal.

"They came by train, which was fun because (Ranger) drew a little train and portrait of the three of them," Anderson says.

Other Noank artists whose works are featured in the exhibition include Lars Thorsen (1906-1952) and William Sherman Potts (1876-1930).

The museum also honors a more recent artist, Robert Brackman, who lived from 1898 to 1980, with an ongoing showing of work by him and his students - and photographs from when Brackman was featured in Life magazine in 1940, working at the New York Art Students League and at his Noank studio.

As a nod to Noank's significant boatbuilding history, the museum is highlighting half-models that boatbuilders make as part of their creation process.

On the wall is a list of steps to wooden boatbuilding: draw a rough scale plan, build a wooden half-model, measure width of each waterline, make a line drawing - and then build.

Among the half-hull models is one of a motor yacht from Eldridge Boatyard, circa 1936. The accompanying wall text notes that Webster Eldridge (1882-1944) was the last full-time builder of wooden boats in Noank.

A black-and-white photo shows men at work on a boat in that Eldridge Boatyard back in the day.

Also currently featured at the museum is a poster recognizing the only soldier from Noank who was wounded in the Battle of Gettysburg. The soldier was Sergeant Edward Fowler, and the museum is acknowledging his part in history as this is the 150th anniversary of the battle, which ran from July 1 to 3 in 1863.

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IF YOU GO

What: The Noank Historical Museum

Where: 17 Sylvan St., Noank

Includes: Through Oct. 14, visitors can see work by Noank artists from the early 1900s and boatbuilders' half models, along with the museum's ongoing features.

Hours: 2-5 p.m. Wed., Sat. and Sun. or by appointment

Admission: Free

Contact: (860) 536-3021, noankhistoricalsociety.org

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