Model Ship Builders Bring History To Life
by U.S. Max Lonzanida, Naval History and Heritage Command
August 27, 2018
The gallery of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum has a plethora of historic ship models. Visitors peer through the plexi-glass cases to see builders models of the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) and the ill-fated USS Maine (ACR-1). A civil war exhibit features a large scale model of the ironclad USS Monitor, and a War of 1812 exhibit features a wooden model of the USS Constellation. The intricate models displayed behind plexi-glass provides visitors a glimpse into history. The museum also hosts two model shipbuilders during the week, which offers visitors a rare opportunity to see history come life.
Model of the USS Maine (ACR-1) at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum in Norfolk, Virginia . The USS Maine, an armored cruiser commissioned in 1895, is best known for her loss in Havana Harbor on the evening of February 15 ,1898. Sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain, she exploded suddenly, without warning, and sank quickly, killing nearly three quarters of her crew. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Hampton Roads Naval Museum)
The museum is host to two resident model shipbuilders from the Hampton Roads Ship Model Society during the week. This offers visitors the opportunity to see the model ship building process up close. Both have been volunteering at the museum for a combined eleven years, and both have their unique twist of how they became interested in scale models.
Lee Martin tells visitors that he has been building model ships since he was a child, but obviously less intricate ones. Pat Roll explains that he became interested in model ships while he was teaching at the US Naval Academy; and goes on to say that model ships were everywhere on the campus. Lee retired from a career manufacturing computer components, many of which were used in the Grumman F-14 Tomcats that Pat piloted. Pat retired from the US Navy in 1993, after serving as a Naval Aviator; he jokingly tells visitors that the components that Pat built for the F-14s that he piloted never failed.
June 28, 2018 - Volunteer model shipbuilders from the Hampton Roads Ship Model Society, work on a wooden model of the USS Constitution. Pictured are resident model shipbuilders Pat Roll (left) and Lee Martin (right) working at their workbench in the gallery of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum. Both have been volunteering at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum for a combined eleven years. (US Navy Photo by Civilian Public Affairs Officer Max Lonzanida)
Model shipbuilding dates back to antiquity. Archeologists have uncovered models of wooden sailing vessels and boats in burial vaults dating back from ancient Greece and Egypt. These small scale mockups were meant to symbolize vessels that were owned by the deceased. In the 1700s, sailors on long ocean voyages would pass the time by carving model ships from scraps of wood, and would fashion sails from scraps of cloth. In the 1800s through the 1900s, ship builders would construct Admiralty models for the Royal Navy. These were meant to showcase a new ship and allow for feedback from Naval Officers and architects; which is a practice that is preserved with the various builders models found throughout museums nationwide.
The museum also offers area school students the ability to build their own ship models, in the form of Lego building blocks. Museum educators have complete Lego kits and plans ranging from a relatively easy model, such as a WWII era Liberty Ship to an advanced model, such as a mockup of an Arleigh-Burke Class Destroyer; and over the years hundreds of schools have booked this free program as a part of their curriculums. In-fact, the museum hosts a Lego Brick by Brick building event every February, where the young, and young at heart, come out and try their skill building a Lego creation of their own. This event often draws in a crowd of well over 2,000.
May 21, 2018 - Middle school students enjoying a free Lego educational outreach. This outreach is offered through the Hampton Roads Naval Museum's Educational Department. Museum educators visit area schools to provide a historical lesson based on the school's educational curriculum. Thereafter, students are able to build a Lego model based on the plans that are provided in a method that allows students to get their hands on history. (U.S. Navy photo by Hampton Roads Naval Museum Educator AJ Orlikoff)
But for a smaller crowd of curious visitors from near and far, watching Lee and Pat work under the lamplight and magnifying glass at their workbench is sight to behold. Together, they have been toiling away at a wooden model of the USS Constitution. Their workbench is lit with lamps, and they often peer through a large magnifying glass, which alludes to visitors that surgery is being conducted. Tools of the trade, such as various exacto knives, cutting boards, clamps, glue, and cut pieces of wood are also displayed for visitors on the workbench. Both often take the time to show visitors what is required to put in a deck plank, or how to make a knot for a ships’ rigging. Both have had their work displayed at other museums, and they are often happy to give anyone stopping by their workbench an overview of the process and share a little bit of their humor as well; all without having to peer through the plexi-glass.
About the Museum:
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is one of ten Navy museums that are operated by the Naval History & Heritage Command. It celebrates the long history of the U.S. Navy in the Hampton Roads region of Virginia and is co-located with Nauticus in downtown Norfolk, Virginia. Admission to the museum is free, visitors can simply by-pass the ticket line at Nauticus and come up the stairs or use the elevator to the second floor. The Museum’s Lego Outreach Program is offered by their Education Department free of charge to area schools.