ISLANDS MARITIME MUSEUM
The Channel Islands Maritime Museum has moved into a new home and had a change of name, but the collection of historical nautical scale models and maritime art now has room to breathe. Where the former location in a shopping mall was rather like a crowded closet of curios, the new location at the Oxnard Harbor in a one-time restaurant, surrounded by the boat slips feels more like a real museum and showcase for one of the best collections of seafaring ship models to be found anywhere.
Formerly the Ventura County Maritime Museum, now more tying itself to the Channel Islands, the museum entertains visitors from all over the United States and more than thirty foreign countries offering an ever changing schedule of exhibitions. The museums permanent collection features extensive marine art with works ranging from early the Dutch and Flemish painters with precision so meticulous, an interactive viewing screen system was installed to see the amazing reality of the tiny details. Scenes of naval battles by 17th century artists Willem van de Velde and Bonaventura Peeters, as well as collections of modern maritime artists include John Stobart, Montague Dawson, David Thimgan, Roy Cross and Christopher Blossom.
The museum holds one of the largest collections of antique Napoleonic Prisoner of War sailing ship models to be found in the US. From 1775 to 1825 over a hundred thousand sailors of various nationalities, but mostly French, were held prisoner by the British aboard floating prison hulks. The upper ranks could roam the decks with time on their hands and using whatever materials were available, made detailed models of ships on which they served or could see in the harbors from their captivity. Made of wood or bone the models vary in quality and accuracy, created from memory or observation, but reflecting fascinating connection to history.
The other major collection of ship models is the stunningly detailed life’s work of famed model builder Edward Marple. A dental technician who served in the Army in WWII and the practice in Arizona until failing health led to his retirement. Building his models with dental tools, with his wife Dorothy doing the research, obtaining original ship plans over 26 years, until his death, Marple built some of the most detailed and accurate maritime ship models ever. The collection of nine completed models and one frozen in progress on his workbench are presented together to display his progress as an artist. The Marple collection ranges from the Robert E. Lee river steam boat and Charles W Morgan whaling ship to the most intricate of British vessels of the 18th Century the HMS Royal George, built for King George III, and the 74 gun HMS Conqueror.
A section of the museum with its own fireplace and views out into the harbor, rather like a gentleman officer’s drawing room is dedicated to Admiral Nelson, called Nelson’s Corner, with portraiture of Britain’s most famous commander whose victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 sealed Napoleon’s fate. A number of paintings depict the decisive battle at sea during which the one-armed Lord Nelson, commanding from his HMS Victory, defeated thirty-tree ships of the line of the combined French and Spanish navies off the Atlantic coast of Cape Trafalgar south-west of Spain. A model of the 104 gun HMS Victory stands in the heart of the display. (The actual ship which can still be seen in Portsmouth, England, is currently undergoing a renovation).
Particularly unique at the Channel Islands Maritime Museum is the model collection of the Chinese Treasure Fleet of the Ming Dynasty. In the 15th Century sixty years before Columbus sailed in three small ships, the Chinese were carrying cargoes of porcelains, lacquer ware and fine art on massive treasure ships called Bao Chuan, “junks” with nine masts and the length of a battle ship. With a fleet of 62 ships, manned by more than 27,000 crew members, including navigators, explorers, doctors and soldiers, these leviathans sailed on seven exploratory voyages under the command of a eunuch Admiral named Zheng He from 1405 to 1433, which most likely reached the shores of the North America and California. Kids especially will get a kick out of the “Turtle Ship” a treasure ship sporting spiked top armor defense from its red wooden roof.
Exhibits on whaling, scrimshaw, the speed record Clipper Ships which raced from the California around the horn to the East Coast, the history of the Channel Islands Harbor and Port of Hueneme, and items from the ship wreck of the La Jenelle complete the collection. The museum’s Elementary Education Program, conducts tours for thousands of elementary school students and the At Sea Education program supports three day youth sailing expeditions onboard working tall ships.
the Channel Islands Maritime Museum
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