“Super Models” Coming to Whaling Museum in Sag Harbor
By Michelle Trauring
Donald Sultan has no interest in actual sailboats. He doesn’t even like being on the water.
But his bathrooms in both Sag Harbor and New York say otherwise.
There are war ships, merchant ships, clipper ships and even sailboats thoughtfully placed in each — all meticulous, all handmade, and all miniature.
“They go with the tub,” Sultan said by way of explanation. “The beauty of the ship in real life is actually almost too much for me to take in. But a model ship, you really let your imagination go with it. It’s a craft, a very special craft, and they’re all accurate. So you get to see the beauty of the riggings.
“They’re poetic, really, and also, it’s the dream,” he continued. “It’s like people who love model trains, it’s the dream of the old rails. There’s something about them.”
In search of new boats to see, the avid collector approached the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, and was promptly led to the basement, and then the attic. When he saw them — two dozen 18th– and 19th-century ships, some protected by cases, but most of them covered in dust — he thought, “We’ve gotta get these things out of here and clean them up.”
Countless cans of compressed air later, the finest 15 ships and boats will be on display starting Saturday, August 5, and are aptly titled “Super Models.” Ranging in size from 8 inches to 4½ feet, these are ships that represent maritime history — ships that could have been spotted down in the harbor back in the 1800s, according to Richard Doctorow, the collections manager at the museum.
“Once Donald had the idea to show as many of these models as possible, it became very obvious that this was a show we should be doing,” Doctorow said. “We have examples of maritime art done by local contemporary artists, inspired by the models themselves. When Vito DeVito came in, we thought he was a natural fit to have him included as one of the artists in the show. That was our original intention.”
But when the artist said he had nine more etchings in his same suite of whaling scenes, Doctorow realized DeVito deserved an exhibit of his own, he said, which will show in tangent with “Super Models” as “Through the Spyglass: Turn of the Century Whaling.”
And just as the curator thought the museum couldn’t get more packed, he came across Water Mill resident Steve Abramson’s collector’s edition of “Moby Dick,” complete with illustrations by LeRoy Neiman, which will also be displayed as prints in the museum alongside the epic tome, and two addition shows. There are only 10 of 1,500 original books remaining, each signed by Neiman and oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, and will be available for purchase.
“It falls under the category of when it rains, it pours,” Doctorow said of the book, which was published as a limited run in 1975. “Just as we had settled on ‘Super Models’ and Vito’s art, this book fell into our lap. So it was a question of not should we do it, but let’s get it going as fast as we can.”
Ten years after this particular “Moby Dick” publication is when Sultan began collecting model ships. He started small, he said, but today, his collection includes 25 cases full, which is about 40 ships total.
The artist has never attempted to make one. He would rather look at them, he said.
“I think everybody loves model boats — of course, that’s my egotism,” he said. “I mean, they must! Look at Mystic; it’s one of the biggest draws of the whole damn town, their model ship museum. What I love about them is the beauty of the ship and the craftsmanship. That’s very time consuming and, like scrimshaw, they were made by sailors, or people who were somehow really touched by sailing here in town. They’re really something to see.”
Three exhibitions will open on Saturday, August 5, at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. “Super Models” will feature a collection of ship and boat models curated by Richard Doctorow and Donald Sultan, as well as contemporary maritime art inspired by the installation. “Through the Spyglass: Turn of the Century Whaling” unveils a suite of 10 prints of whaling scenes and themes by local artist Vito DeVito, and a circa-1975s edition of “Moby Dick,” printed by Water Mill resident Steve Abramson, will be on display, including its 13 original works by LeRoy Neiman.
An opening reception for all three will be held on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the museum., and the exhibitions will remain on view through September 10. For more information, call (631) 725-0770, or visit sagharborwhalingmuseum