OCEAN TIMES: "Scattered Treasures: Curatorial Efforts to Preserve Historic Artifacts From the S
We are excited to share that Conservancy executive director Susan Gibbs and founding board member Mark B. Perry have been published in the April 2018 volume of Ocean Times, the journal of the Southern California Chapter of the Steamship Historical Society of America.
Gibbs and Perry's fascinating article, "Scattered Treasures: Curatorial Efforts to Preserve Historic Artifacts From the SS United States" highlights the challenges and rewards of the Conservancy's extensive curatorial efforts.
The authors follow the original fixtures and fittings of the SS United States, from the vessel's heyday, to the auction of most of her distinctive and signature design elements in 1984, to the Conservancy's ongoing work to build the world's largest collection of art, artifacts and documents from America's Flagship while planning for a landmark future museum — the SS United States Center for Design and Discovery.
The SS United States under tow to Turkey for remediation, 1992.
Photograph courtesy of Stanton Daywalt.
The SS United States' 1969 retirement arrived as an unexpected surprise to her commodore and crew, and served as "an abrupt and unceremonious end to a stellar career." Gibbs and Perry describe the 1984 removal of the ship's original interior elements following this extended layup:
"For three days starting on October 5, 1984, the public was invited to tour every nook and cranny of the still intact liner and preview everything aboard. Bidding would follow on the 8th through the 14th, resulting in the proud flagship being picked clean of most of her distinctive and signature design elements and a multitude of treasures that had adorned her interiors. Maritime memorabilia collectors, former passengers and crew, liner enthusiasts, restaurateurs, hoteliers and others made off with massive troves of authentic in-service items whose provenance was unquestionable.
While it was undoubtedly sad to see the mighty ship slowly being stripped of her unique mid-20th-century character, some took solace in knowing that, for the most part, these artifacts were ending up in the possession of people who understood both their historic and financial value, and would appreciate and preserve them accordingly."
Buyers tour the bridge of the SS United States prior to the 1984 auction.
Photograph courtesy of Robert G. Lenzer.
With the SS United States' fixtures and fittings dispersed across the Nation and around the globe, the Conservancy faced a curatorial challenge after formally acquiring the vessel in 2011. Gibbs and Perry write:
"Undaunted in its quest to save both the liner and her legacy, the SS United States Conservancy continues to build its collections of unique artifacts and memorabilia. The organization has relied on the generosity of its supporters who have contributed funds toward keeping the ship afloat until her future is secured, and others who have donated items for inclusion in the Conservancy’s permanent collection. Other generous supporters have made designated donations to acquire her major and irreplaceable objects for inclusion in the planned museum and traveling exhibits."
The authors continue, highlighting several standout recent donations to the Conservancy's permanent collections:
"Earlier this year, the Conservancy received a very generous donation [by Steve Williams, whose uncle Melvin Williams had a passion for the SS United States] of the complete set of furniture and other items from the ship’s Captain’s Quarters....Upon donating the items to the Conservancy, Williams remarked, 'I have grown older and have a greater appreciation, understanding, and respect for the accomplishments of the people that came before us. Like my uncle and the SS United States’ designer, William Francis Gibbs, I believe we are honored to be the guardians of great moments in history.'"
Commodore John Anderson in the Captain's Quarters with ship designer William Francis Gibbs.
Photograph courtesy of Charles Anderson.
The Conservancy's curatorial collections continue to expand, thanks to our generous supporters and donors, ensuring that the unique history of the SS United States will never be forgotten. Do you own artwork, objects or photographs from America's Flagship? Click HERE to find out how you can make a donation, or reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not ready to part with your SS United States memorabilia? We're cataloguing the location and ownership of items from the vessel in advance of future exhibitions. Fill out our object loan survey HERE.