On Wednesday, August 30th, those of us in the Material Culture course met for the first time at the Independence Seaport Museum. This semester we will be working to develop a history for one of the ISM's soon to be de-accessioned boats, Lesley. Lesley is a sneakbox, a model of boat most commonly used for hunting and fishing purposes since the early-1900s. This week, we were instructed to spend time alone with Lesley and sketch out our observations and write down questions or thoughts we had based on those observations.
My observations started somewhat broad. We know that Lesley was built as a leisure boat, but that most sneakbox boats were built to serve a utilitarian purpose. We also know (or are at least confident) that she was built in the 1930s, which would mean during the Great Depression. During discussion many said that would indicate considerable wealth from the owner, as most people during the Depression would not have had time for leisure. I, on the other hand, wondered if perhaps Lesley's design as a sneakbox was indicative of consideration for economical design. Without a doubt, her owner must have possessed sizable wealth to have the time for leisure cruises, but I do wonder if her design as a sneakbox means something that we can't yet see.
The biggest thing I focused on as I looked at Lesley, was the paint on her sides. I noticed that her underside was painted white, blue, and red (from top to bottom). I also noticed that the paint faded most at the seams between two slats of wood, and around the holes from screws and bolts. For some reason, the pattern of the fading paint stuck out to me. What kind of paint was this? What was its composition and was that particular manufacture of paint common? What kind of sealant was used to preserve it? Lesley's hull seemed to be unpainted and I wondered at first if the wood was once polished. On closer inspection, however, I realized that what I thought was a green discoloration (possibly from algae growth after she fell in her previous home), could very well have been a green coat of paint. The fading and chipping of the paint on the hull seemed the same as that from below.
One last thing I noticed in my examination of Lesley this week, was the numbers on the boat's underside. Looking at the boat from the front, on the left there were three raised, metal numbers (093) in a possibly Gothic font. On the right-hand side was 11P 390. Strangely, the 11 was raised metal as well, but the P 390 were painted on in black, sans serif font. We did not discuss these numbers or their meaning in class, but I wonder if the difference in font and materials used to place them on the boat holds some meaning? Regardless, I look forward to seeing what mysteries unfold as we continue researching Lesley's story.