Intricate ship models showcase history

BRYAN EATON/Staff photoThis model sailboat is being raffled by the Merrimack Valley Ship Model Club. The club’s ship model show in the basement of Unitarian Universalist Church continues until 5 p.m. on Saturday.

NEWBURYPORT — The Bounty’s rigging is perfectly in order, her masts stand tall, and her broad, copper-plated hull looks ready to hit the water. But this ship isn’t meant for the open ocean.

Michael Swanson, a member of the Merrimack Valley Ship Model Club, built this model of The Bounty in his spare time, carefully researching and reconstructing every detail, from the knots in the rigging to the planking on the deck.

This model, just one of many featured in the Ship Model Club’s exhibition this week, took Swanson three years to complete, and he said some of the models on display were in progress for up to 20 years.

“There’s a tremendous amount of gratification that comes from creating these works of art,” Swanson said. “But it’s not instant gratification.”

For club members, the time commitment is worth the chance to create art, share history and revisit their childhood passions.

“There were no Legos in those days, no computers, so you built models,” said Steven Chanin, a member of the club. For him, like many others, the decision to pick up modeling again after retirement was a natural one.

But while some shipbuilders use purchased kits for their models similar to the ones sold to children, some build theirs entirely from scratch. Others buy kits, then make changes so the models are more historically accurate.

Some of the ships in the exhibit have ties to Newburyport, while others sailed in World War II or the War of 1812. There are models of the boat that Monet painted on, and the famous Flying Dutchman.

The exhibit features full ship models, as well as ships in a bottle, models of shipwrecks, and half hulls, or small models of one half of a ship’s hull, which used to be given to shipwrights as a design template used to craft an entire ship based on the model.

Club members come from as far as southern Maine to participate in meetings every second Saturday of the month to discuss tips and tricks, and do a show and tell of what they have been working on.

But despite the dedication of the club’s members, Swanson made clear that with the rise of video games and other toys replacing models, they’re having trouble engaging the next generation in shipbuilding.

“We’d like to think that this is not a dying hobby,” he said. “There’s woodwork, there’s metalwork, and there’s painting and a lot of research. But when you’re done, you’ve got something nice.”

The ship model exhibit is open through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church, lower level, 28 Pleasant St. Club members will be at the exhibit to share their processes and the history behind their models.

There is also a raffle of an EC-12 radio-controlled yacht and a model of the three-masted schooner Benjamin Hale, with all proceeds going to the church.

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