Saturday, November 29, 2014

Escape From Black Friday 2014 - No, really.

As usual, click on any of the pictures for a larger view.

No, no, we didn't really go to China. I lied a little bit. Mostly to see who would be the first to recognize where we REALLY went, and the honor for that went, not surprisingly, to the honorable and most sagacious Tugster, who called my bluff over on Facebook within about five minutes. "China on Staten Island?" he said. "No! No! China! We're in China!" I protested, and he humored me with a "oh...wink wink...yes China...where the scholars are...".

He was correct, of course, the distant pagoda-roofed pavilion I posted yesterday was actually in the Chinese Scholar's Garden at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden in Staten Island. We usually Escape from Black Friday with a hike or a paddle, since on the day after Thanksgiving TQ and I like to work off the turkey. Before TQ and I started dating I used to do Paddle Off the Turkey Paddles; after we started dating we'd frequently visit his folks for Thanksgiving and since there's some good hiking near them, I un-stuck myself from the idea that I absolutely had to paddle on Black Friday, and we've had some fine hikes since then, enjoying being outside and active while so many poor suckers are fighting for whatever the year's big doohickey is. This year dinner was early enough that we decided to make a day trip of it and although I did know that the madness has actually moved to Thanksgiving night, we both gasped in horror when we stopped at a stoplight by a Best Buy and looked over to see this queue of people all lined up outside and being let in one by one by some poor gatekeeper. Sheesh.

Anyways, this year it was a bit windy to escape by boat, and TQ has had a cold that's hung on for about a week, so he wasn't quite at his usual energy level. Somehow this year I've been hearing so much about the Noble Maritime Collection - Noble's art is featured in Tugster's terrific documentary Graves of Arthur Kill (great stocking stuffer for the working harbor enthusiast, btw!), and more recently, Richard Spilman of the Old Salt Blog had spoken about the collection during a sea shanty presentation he gave recently. I'm actually planning to go to the shanty sing on the 21st, but I figured with TQ under the weather, a visit to just see the collection would be a nice alternative to our usual Black Friday adventures. I was ready to go on my own if he didn't feel like it (then I would've gotten to Escape from Black Friday via the Staten Island Ferry, which would've been absolutely fine, I love riding the ferry) but he though it sounded like a good idea too, so that's what we did.

Visitor's Center - go away. not here today. website? what website?

We were disappointed to find the Snug Harbor Visitors Center and all of the gardens were closed, despite the website making no mention of it - there was actually a sign on the visitors center door saying that they would be closed on Thanksgiving and open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but somebody had scribbled out Friday with a pen. Fortunately the grounds were still open, and we started with a nice walk around. 

Captain Robert Richard Randall, who willed his property to found the Sailors' Snug Harbor. The original property was in Manhattan, just north of Washington Square Park, but even in those days real estate was real estate and the trustees decided to build rental properties on the original estate and use the proceeds to fund the purchase of 160 acres in Staten Island, where the home was finally built. 

I'd been here once before to see a concert, but the friend with whom I went that time and I did not walk around much, so I didn't realize how extensive the grounds were. Certainly didn't know they had a farm here! 

Have to come back sometime in the summer when the fountains are running. 

Especially Neptune.

After a good ramble, we headed on to the destination du jour, the Noble Maritime Collection. Fortunately these guys WERE open, the grounds were nice but I would've been pretty bummed out if TQ had shelled out thirty bucks in bridge tolls to look at landscaping. With these guys open, it was definitely worth the trip. 
The collection is extensive, with three floors (at least) of all sorts of things to look at. The docents suggested that we begin with the houseboat studio of John A. Noble, the artist after whom the collection is named. I'd seen this in Graves of Arthur Kill and it was fun to see it in person. Noble worked as a seaman for many years, painting and drawing as he did so, eventually becoming a full-time artist in 1946. At that time, wooden ships were rapidly becoming obsolete, and the world's largest ship's graveyard was in Port Johnston, NJ - according to the collection's biography, from which I'm borrowing all of this info, he first saw it in 1928, and was captivated by the place. In 1941, he began cobbling together a studio, building onto the deckhouse of an old yacht. As described in the exhibit at the collection, if I'm recalling correctly, the studio became a floating studio when the piers began to shut down - most of us urban boaters can relate to that horrible feeling of losing your water access; he responded by moving his studio onto a barge so that he could float it away. 

The Noble Collection has done a beautiful job of restoring the studio and they have some interesting photos taken during the process - they took it all apart, replaced things, cleaned things, strengthened things - et voila: 

The biography I linked to above includes a short slideshow including a drawing by Noble of his studio and a photo of the studio at the ships' graveyard, with Noble aboard. The collection also features a number of his paintings and drawings - I think my favorite was a set of three from his Schooner's Progress series, following a schooner that he had worked on for some time and was therefore very familiar with, from building to boneyard. I wish I'd noted the name. The three that the collection has show her new, with sails unfurled to dry after a rain; older and underway, and then scuttled in the scrapyard. Haunting. 

The collection also has an excellent exhibit showing what the life of a Snug Harbor inmate (they were called "inmates" but they were free to come and go as long as they followed the rules of the instituation - among the exhibits is a copy of the rulebook every "Snug", as the residents were also called, was given upon being accepted). This was a bit chilling - sailing was a hard, hard way of making a living, the exhibit explained that it was easy for a sailor to lose touch with family and friends during his working years, and once he began to break down physically to the point where he was no longer useful at sea, which could happen quickly, there weren't a lot of places for him to turn. The exhibit included an application by a sailor who was accepted there - two questions and answers that stuck in my head were:

"Possessions and property?"
"Means of support if not accepted at Snug Harbor?"

A restored Snug Harbor dorm room.

Sailors who were able were expected to work, but for a sailor who could otherwise expect an end "in a cold hallway", to grab another phrase that stuck in my head, this place had to feel like heaven. 

Portum Petimus Fessi: "We who are weary seek a harbor". Snug Harbor's motto.

There was also some lovely art - both old - 

so many model ships - I loved this one with the lighthouse and the tug!

and new - very new! NYC residents - look closely at this wonderful miniature by Patrizia Vignola - see what she used as a "canvas"? That shape should be pretty familiar! :D Answer at the link if you can't guess.

Barometers, an octant, and a small light such as might be placed to mark a small obstruction in a harbor, all on display in the navigation classroom.

 Heading out shortly before 4 - moon rising behind the Music Building. 

Looking forward to my next visit, I'll be back in December with a few friends for the monthly William Main Doerflinger Shanty Sing (12/21, 2 to 5 pm). Fingers crossed that maybe the gardens will be open this time - I wouldn't even mind if there was snow, I think the Scholar's Garden would be beautiful in the snow.

I leave you with The Old Salt's video of a May 2011 sing. 


tugster said...

a sense of distance can be created by removing oneself from the daily routines, retreating to a place like snug harbor. inside and outside, it's truly a place where you feel AWAY from NYC, while actually close enough to see the traffic on the main shipping lanes.

bonnie said...

Indeed! It brought extra life to the Noble collection, watching the Kill Van Kull flow by outside and thinking of our own "Graveyard of Ships" not far away. It may not have been as energetic as some of our prior Escapes, but it fit the circumstances of the day and was thoroughly satisfying.

Rob K said...

Fabulous photos! I haven't been to Snug Harbor in decades! You've inspired me to get my butt out there. Let's hope they're open...

bonnie said...

Might be a good idea to call before you go!

bonnie said...

Great place though. Really enjoyed our visit!

angela said...

Bonnie-this was great!!!And I loved the museum.(illegal as it was!)> Will try to get there in December