The White House Interior Has Been Graced with the Designs of Esteemed Artisans in the Ship Model Craft for Several Administrations; Bostonian Peter Ness Was One of Them

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Master craftsman, Peter Ness (1890-1976) produced the finest models of the ships he remembered seeing as a seafarer of the European trade as well as the esteemed ships from history that he admired - all from hand forged brass fittings and hulls with details he carved from scratch. A collection of his models will be sold at Boston Harbor Auction's Spring Ship Model and Nautical Antique Sale on April 30th.

Old Ironsides, Lot 105

A master craftsman who immigrated to the United States from Norway in 1912, Peter Henrick Ness (1890-1976), constructed ship models from scratch. His rich seafaring family history helped to create a ship’s blueprint in his mind’s eye. From this blueprint Ness was able to apply accuracy to the replicas of ships he built with the use of sight and memory gained from his experience in the European trade.

Ness is the endeared dean of ship model making. He fabricated his models in a manner that is reminiscent of exactly how these ships were built. Other craftsman in the art practiced a more general method of model making where the interpretation of the artist would be evident in the end result as well as a noted “fine tuning” of details meant for display or exhibition appeal. “Ness made the models as if they were mini ships. They were heavier and bulkier. If you look at the spars, for instance, they are thick and they taper less at the ends. He represented a ship and its hardware better than anyone”. Ness hand forged his own brass fittings such as the anchors, bells and wheels. He also properly used chain instead of cutting corners with string where a chain, perhaps connected to the anchor for example, might be displayed on a ship. Where the lines are rigged through the dead eyes of the model, Ness properly “served the cords” by wrapping the cords around the ratlines rather than the use of glue and other methods of securing the thread.

Ness specialized in ships built by Boston shipbuilder Donald McKay (1810-1880). McKay built the clipper Sovereign of the Seas which, in 1854, posted the fastest speed ever by a sailing ship - 22 knots. Many of Ness' models are in fixed exhibits inside the Smithsonian, Boston's Museum of Science and a whaler he built was displayed in the White House during the Roosevelt administration.

Boston Harbor Auctions has procured a collection of Peter Ness built ship models that will be auctioned at the Lannan Gallery in Boston on April 30th, 2016. The ship models include a gorgeous replica of “Old Ironsides”; the most famous American Navy ship, the USS Constitution, which docked in Charlestown across Boston Harbor from Ness’ home in East Boston. This entire model is built of varnished and carved hardwood with hand-forged brasses that include three anchors, rudder pintles and gudgeons, bell, stovepipe, mast bands and spar tips. The rigging is infinite and includes standing and running cords, clove-hitched ratlines, hand carved pulleys and deadeyes.

Other Ness models in the collection include The slave ship Fredericus Quartus of 1698. A Danish Naval ship, she was the largest ever built for that navy and one of the largest in the World of the day and began slave voyages to the Americas at the time of her launching and was one of the two ships largely responsible for the enslavement of Africans during the colonial period of Costa Rica. A beautifully executed model commissioned by a private resident in Canton, Massachusetts near the end of Ness’ model building tenure is the Sovereign of the Seas. The Sovereign of the Seas model shows exquisite detail in her unabbreviated and complex rigging cords and clove-hitched ratlines.

These models will be sold with a deeper collection of 53 amazing ship models, a 19th century figurehead from a ship, diving helmets and an astonishing array of gleaming polished nautical antiques and lighting. Chelsea Clocks, telescopes, original John Alden blueprints, marine paintings, engine order telegraphs, binnacles and the usual suspects.

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Larry Lannan
Boston Harbor Auctions
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