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Face Off

Our collection is filled with portraits of Mainers and mariners. Looking closely at them gives us a glimpse of the people they knew, the places they visited, and the lives they lived.

Let’s get in their face.

Camilla Loyall Ashe Sewall (1870-1931), shown in a coral dress with dotted tulle.

She and her husband, Harold Marsh Sewall, were diplomatic powerhouses in Samoa and the Republic of Hawaii, socializing and politicking for American annexation.

It is during her time in Hawaii that she ran into Hubert Vos, a Dutch painter. His resume was impressive—exhibitions in Paris, Amsterdam, Munich, etc. A member of the Royal Society of British Artists. This portrait was painted during his visit to the island in 1898. His next stop was to paint the Emperor of Korea, which is a good indication of Camilla’s importance. Camilla Loyall Ashe Sewall
Hubert Vos
Gift of Camilla Loyall Ashe Sewall Edge

Bardwell Patten
Gift of Brita Patten Gwinn

To the best of my knowledge, William D. Sewall never wore a toga. He should have, because this marble bust of him proves it’s a good look. No longer just a shipbuilder, he is now imbued with the gravitas of a Greek or Roman philosopher.

To Romans, old-age was a desirable sign of seniority and status. So portraits often exaggerated signs of elderhood—wrinkled brows, sunken eyes, sagging cheeks, dimples from chin to chin. Everything you now would ask your nephew to Photoshop out.

The Bath-born sculptor John Adams Jackson (1825-1879) studied in Italy and clearly saw plenty of these Roman portraits. Whether or not William D. appreciated this authenticity is another story. Bust of William D. Sewall
John Adams Jackson
Gift of Jane Smith Sewall

Oh dear. Well, not every face can be chiseled from Italian marble. This mustachioed gentleman with mitten hands surprised me while I was peering over a shelf in our storerooms. He’s seated in a dory and clearly dressed for cool weather, with his blue knit sweater. His mustache appears to be real hair pasted to his face. It looks like there is more hair underneath the floppy foul-weather gear, but I didn’t dare check.Dory with Fishermen
Gift of Barbara Ellis

Most of the portraits we’ve looked at so far displayed social status. But there is another status that is highly valued—that of a vetted, skilled worker.

This employee badge for the New England Shipbuilding Corporation dates to 1943-1945, when its workers were churning out Liberty ships. Photo badges such as these provided some reassurance that measures were being taken to thwart German spies. O’Brian, a.k.a. Employee 81675, aced her employee photo here by giving the camera a sidelong look.New England Shipbuilding Corporation Badge
Portland Harbor Museum Collection

This watch face (not the first or last face pun here) is porcelain and inlaid with dazzling gold leaf.  For the turn of the century, it was pretty darn close to being a “smart watch”—four subdials (or complications) indicate the seconds, month, date, and day of the week.

At face value, it is an important object. But even more significant to us is its original owner—Captain Sam Percy, principal of the Percy & Small shipyard.Watch of Sam Percy
Gift of Eleanor Percy Irish

This young lad with Bieber-esque boyish looks is Samuel Barker, the son of Captain Samuel Barker. The portrait was painted while he and his father were abroad at Paris 1852.

It was an interesting time to be an American in Paris—that year a coup would place Napoleon III in power and France was reforming itself as an empire (once again). Styles and politics were radically changing and Samuel’s black dinner jacket—now dime-a-dozen and rentable—was cutting edge fashion.Samuel Barker
Burden Collection

I’ve gone on enough about faces, so it’s time to mask up.

This is a US Navy ND Mark IV gas mask, mass-produced between 1943-44. ND stands for “Navy Diaphragm,” which indicates that the mask features a voice diaphragm—you could at least be heard, if not seen. The “U” on the mask’s forehead means it is universal and fits anyone.

That’s it for now. But why the long face? More Orlops are on their way—you can be the first to know by subscribing below.USN Mask
Bath Iron Works

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Christopher Timm
Curator of Exhibits