The South Street Seaport Museum features a number of permanent collections on display, such as exhibits at the Walter Lord Gallery – complete with information, documents, and models of ocean liners from the early twentieth century. Featured ships include the Queen Mary, the Queen Elizabeth, the Aquitania, the Mauretania, and the Franconia. Also on display are ship models from the renowned Van Ryper shop, founded by Charles K. Van Ryper in 1933.
The museum also has boats that are open for the public to enter and explore, such as the 1908 Ambrose, and the 1911 Peking. Another popular destination is the museum’s gift shop, Bowne & Company Stationers, which is designed to resemble a late nineteenth century job shop, and still uses a genuine nineteenth century letterpress to create stationary.
Through January of 2011, the fascinating DecoDence exhibit will be open to the public, and is centered on the French ocean liner SS Normandie.
A one of a kind ship, the Normandie’s elegance was incomparable throughout history, and still goes unmatched today. The art deco interior of the ship was that of sophisticated beauty. Its grandeur was such that on June 3, 1935, in the midst of the depression era an estimated 100,000 New Yorkers lined the New York Harbor as the ship completed its four-day maiden voyage from France. The Normandie’s name was derived from the French providence “Normandie,” home to Le Havre, the region in northwestern France where the ship was built.
After years of cruising the ocean in singularly exclusive fashion, the Normandie was assigned to war duties. The ship was renamed the USS Lafayette and was awaiting further orders. While docked, the Normandie caught fire and capsized in the New York Harbor. Fortunately, its interior and furnishings had been removed prior to the accident.
The DecoDence exhibit at the South Street Seaport Museum is celebrating the legendary ocean liner by displaying original pieces from the Normandie, including genuine furnishings, letters from voyagers, and interior decorations from the lavish liner. Visitors can explore the many mementos capturing the ship’s essence. There are numerous photographs depicting the stunning craftsmanship, and a special set of photographs in the exhibit is dedicated to displaying celebrity passengers of the Normandie, such as Bob Hope, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Salvador Dali, Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Jack Benny, and others. Original pieces from the ship include first class ware, such as tea sets, ashtrays, and a Baby Grand piano from one of the salons. A continuous black and white film footage reel documents a voyage aboard the Normandie. Preserved crew outfits are also on display. There is much to learn about the extravagant SS Normandie at the DecoDence exhibit.
Also on display for a limited time is the exhibit Treasures of a President: FDR and the Sea. Featured pieces include items loaned from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. An avid sea enthusiast, FDR had plenty of sea faring memorabilia, much of which is now on display in his Naval Room. Among the items in the exhibit are a collection of ship models, vivid paintings and portraits, film footage of the president at sea and other documents demonstrating FDR’s love for the ocean.
Written by George Morales | Edited by Rebecca Benison