Rotating Exhibitions Archives - New Bedford Whaling Museum

All Hands

All Hands

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Big & Little Braitmayer Gallery

September 1, 2023 – September 8, 2024

The New Bedford Whaling Museum Curator of Maritime History, Michael P. Dyer, explores the deep cultural connections between American whaling and the U.S. Navy in the 19th century up to the First World War. With a quarter-century of experience studying, collecting, writing, and exhibiting American whaling and maritime history, Michael brings a mature perspective to this hitherto unexamined subject. Starting in the late 1980s with the U.S. Naval collections at the Kittery Historical and Naval Museum in Kittery, Maine, and working at Mystic Seaport Museum, the Kendall Whaling Museum, and the Australian National Maritime Museum, he has grown into this subject at every professional level.

The exhibit features diverse objects such as whalemen’s scrimshaw of naval battles, marine paintings and prints, and personal biographies and objects of sailors who served in both branches. It also features U.S. Naval Hydrographic Office sea charts to which whalers contributed, Federal documents supporting the United States Exploring Expedition, and the facts surrounding numerous naval protection and police operations in seas around the world in support of whalers.

Objects from other institutional collections are included, such as cultural artifacts from Oceania collected by Lieutenant John Collings Long, stationed on the USS United States in Callao, Peru, in 1825 at the time the U.S. schooner Dolphin was dispatched to arrest the mutineers of the whaleship Globe of Nantucket. These objects are held at the Portsmouth Atheneaum and are exhibited on loan. Other subjects include Herman Melville’s time spent in both services in the 1840s, and the adventures of Captain David Porter defending American whalers in the Pacific during the War of 1812. American whalers also serve with distinction in the Navy during the Civil War, and many objects reflect their service and experiences.

This exhibition and publication were made possible by support from:

Boston Marine Society

Rodney H. Brown

Marilyn & David Ferkinhoff

Furthermore: A Program of the J.M. Kaplan Fund

Alan & Janice Granby

Alison Hedges & Robert Saunders

Captain & Mrs. Robert G. Walker

A singularly marine & fabulous produce: the Cultures of Seaweed

This major exhibition probes humankind’s fascination with seaweed across the nineteenth century and into today, tracking changing aesthetics and modes of representation.

A singularly marine & fabulous produce”: the Cultures of Seaweed

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Wattles Gallery

Opening: June 16, 2023

Closing: December 3, 2023

CAPTION: (above) Clement Nye Swift, Seaweed Gatherers, 1878. Oil on canvas, 41 x 93 inches, New Bedford Whaling Museum, 2015.9.1

Capturing seaweed and more with sunprints
Thursday, July 13, 2:00-3:30pm

Join the Museum as we engage hands-on-learning around seaweed and sea creatures in a fun and creative way. Families will be able to take home their own seaweed crafts!

Seaweed Roundtable: Science and Food
Thursday, August 3, 6:00-8:00pm

Roundtable discussion with experts in modern seaweed applications – including sustainable aquaculture, renewable foodways, as a biofuel alternative, and a mode of carbon sequestration – moderated by Naomi Slipp, Chief Curator, NBWM. Light reception to follow.


Seaweed Roundtable: Arts and Culture
Thursday, October 5, 6:00-8:00pm 

Roundtable discussion with experts in the culture and aesthetics of seaweed – including in painting, decorative arts, literature, and visual and material culture – moderated by Naomi Slipp, Chief Curator, NBWM. Light reception to follow.

“Tide pool Exploration” excursions in partnership with Sippican Lands Trust


A Singularly Marine & Fabulous Produce: the Cultures of Seaweed opens to the public from June 16 – December 3, 2023 and is curated by Naomi Slipp, Douglas and Cynthia Crocker Endowed Chair for the Chief Curator, and Maura Coughlin, Northeastern University. This major exhibition of over 125 works probes humankind’s fascination with seaweed from 1780 to today, tracking changing aesthetics and modes of representation, all while underscoring a continuous and unwavering interest in seaweed as “singularly marine & fabulous,” as described by Thoreau. Art, science, and industry combine in this innovative exhibition that thinks about the past cultures of seaweed, and its applications today and into the future.

Nineteenth-century American, European, and English audiences were drawn to the myriad unique and mysterious qualities of this vegetation of the sea. Seaweed was a subject of middle-class parlor entertainments, personal gift giving practices, serious scientific study, industrial application, “making-do” working-class culture, culinary experimentation, and aesthetic examination in painting, photography, sculpture, decorative arts, and textiles. In various locations, seaweed appealed to working class laborers and farmers, and to middle and upper class collectors and scientists. It also appeared as a subject and a material in fine art, personal scrapbooks, and various shoreline industries, and is today a celebrated subject and material in contemporary art.

This major exhibition at the NBWM includes loans from over thirty lenders along the Eastern seaboard. Objects in the exhibit range from rarely exhibited watercolors by significant American artists John Singer Sargent and Andrew Wyeth to exuberant decorative arts – including glass, silver, and ceramics — by Pairpoint Company, Tiffany & Company, Wedgewood, Thomas J. Wheatley, Haviland/Limoges, and Georges Hoentschel – to amateur-made seaweed albums, collages, and early salt-paper and cyanotype photographs.

A 222-page hardcover scholarly catalogue includes contributions by 12 leading interdisciplinary scholars. Public programs, including scholarly roundtables, tidepool exploration workshops with local Lands Trust partners, and children’s programming, extend the exhibition themes. The programming and catalogue make connections between the cultural histories of seaweed and urgent environmental issues of today related to climate change, aquaculture, and sustainability. How was seaweed a material of interest in the past, and how is it providing critical answers to our future?


The Cultures of Seaweed exhibition, publication and public programming is made possible by major support from:


Presenting Sponsor


Susan S. Brenninkmeyer
The William M. Wood Foundation
The Wyeth Foundation for American Art

Additional Support from


Marnie Ross Chardon & Marc E. Chardon
Victoria & David Croll
Vineyard Wind


Jewelle W. & Nathaniel J. Bickford
Marilyn & David Ferkinhoff
The Nature Conservancy


Cynthia & Douglas Crocker II
Gilbert L. Shapiro


Vanessa & John Gralton
Keith Kauppila
Frances F. Levin
Maine Coast Sea Vegetables Inc.
Maine Seaweed Council
Beth & Carmine Martignetti
Carolyn & James Rubenstein
Springtide Seaweed, LLC

Heat Waves by

Marine Heatwaves

Marine Heatwaves

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Jacobs Family Gallery

Opened: May 23, 2023

Closing: December 31, 2023

CAPTION: (above) Deb Ehrens, Marine Heatwaves, 2021. Materials and dimensions variable.

In the world of oceanography, marine heatwaves are a recently “discovered” phenomenon. As NOAA explains, “Marine heatwaves are periods of persistent anomalously warm ocean temperatures, which can have significant impacts on marine life as well as coastal communities and economies.” They are becoming more intense and more frequent.

Marine Heatwaves is an installation at the New Bedford Whaling Museum from May through December 2023. It was created by visual artist Deb Ehrens in collaboration with Caroline Ummenhofer and Svenja Ryan, oceanographers who specialize in climate change from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

The project aims to bridge art and science, areas that often appear as opposite disciplines, but are revealed to share a common language. The trio began the project with months of conversation about scientific and artistic processes and were surprised and delighted at the similarities. The three spoke in-depth about the challenges of creating visual representations of complex ideas and data. Ehrens asked Ummenhofer and Ryan: “What is the driving force that makes you dive into these massive data sets, travel to polar regions, and seek out new data from the past?” When they both replied, “the thrill of discovery!” Ehrens realized that these scientists are direct descendants of the naturalist explorers who used ink and pen for journal entries and illustrations. Using that as inspiration, Ehrens envisioned large moving forms that would capture the big systems and big data at the heart of climate research. To execute what she imagined, she merged kinetic sculpture and three-dimensional design on fabric to create “Heatwaves.”

Each “Heatwave” begins with a color gradient commonly used to convey oceanographic data. Next, Ehrens wove data generated by Ryan and Ummenhofer's computer models in and around 19th-century drawings of creatures impacted by marine heatwaves. She layered the computer code over whaling logbook entries of historical weather recordings used for comparison with current climate models. Then, Ehrens embedded graphs, charts, scientific instruments, and satellite photos of marine heatwaves to create depth and texture in the design. The heatwave imagery is intentionally both large and small scale because the trio want to intrigue viewers from a distance and invite them to come close and explore. This macro/micro viewing experience mirrors how both scientists and artists dive deep into rabbit holes on their way to seeing the big picture.

This project layers historical and contemporary scientific exploration, imagery, and data to invite visitors to explore and understand marine heatwaves and their environmental impact. Today, the tools are different, but the quest is the same.

As the kinetic sculptures spin, imagine the immense circulating air masses and ocean currents that drive our climate.
Come close. Look for the visual stories connecting today’s climate science to New Bedford’s past.
Explore the impact of marine heatwaves on our fisheries, marine ecosystems, and biodiversity.

CAPTION: (above) Deb Ehrens, Marine Heatwaves, 2021. Materials and dimensions variable.

A block print of several pilot whales on rag paper.



New Bedford Whaling Museum

Upper level Gallery

Opened: May 19, 2023

Closing: February 19, 2024

CAPTION: (above) Daniel Ranalli, Stranding Series: Pilot Whales, Iceland 2019, 2022. Unique Block Print on rag paper, 24 x 20 inches.

Rescue and Record: Whale Stranding as Art and Action
Wednesday, November 1, 6:00-8:00pm
Roundtable discussion with artist and printmaker Daniel Ranalli, Katie Moore, Manager of the Marine Mammal Rescue and Research, IFAW, and Naomi Slipp, Chief Curator, NBWM. Reception to follow.

Cetacean stranding, more commonly referred to as beaching, refers to the phenomenon of dolphins and whales stranding themselves on beaches. There are around 2,000 strandings each year worldwide, with most resulting in the death of the animal.

Massachusetts artist Daniel Ranalli has been fascinated by the subject of whale strandings since he observed one first hand in 1991 at Wellfleet. As Ranalli explains: “My research into the history of such strandings uncovered a historical record of strandings in both the U.S. and abroad.” For Cape Cod, the history can be traced back to the early 1600s, and certain areas – the Outer Cape in particular, has a very high incidence of strandings and “drivings” (when whales were driven ashore intentionally). Combining an interest then in marine mammal science, the environment, and whaling history, Ranalli’s project is historically rooted and timely.

Whale Stranding draws together work from this series, made over the past thirty years – including recent pieces completed for this exhibition, and sets them in conversation with items from the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s collection, including photographs and stereoviews of historic whale strandings, illustrated logbooks from whaling voyages, and original whale stamps used on those voyages. While Ranalli is most fascinated by historical strandings, he does not explicitly address the current practices for combating strandings within his body of artwork. The exhibition, however, does expand outward to share current scientific work around and approaches to strandings locally and globally.

The exhibition includes related programming and the publication of a softcover catalogue, which includes essays from artist Daniel Ranalli about the inspiration and execution of the series, Robert Rocha, Curator of Science and Research about whale strandings, Michael Dyer, Curator of Maritime History, about the visual and historical influences on Ranalli’s work, Marina Wells, Photography Curatorial Fellow, on historic imagery of whale strandings, and full color plates of Ranalli’s work from the series and images of items from the collection.

About the Artist: Daniel Ranalli has been working as a visual artist for over 45 years. His work has been included in over 150 solo and group shows, and is in the permanent collections of over thirty museums in the U.S. and abroad. The recipient of two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and multiple fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Ranalli’s work can often be characterized as conceptual and/or environmental. In 1993 Daniel Ranalli founded the Graduate Program in Arts Administration at Boston University where he taught until 2015. He lives in Cambridge and Wellfleet, Massachusetts with artist, Tabitha Vevers.

Art On The Plaza

ART ON THE PLAZA: Marnie Sinclair

New Bedford Whaling Museum

Opening: June 6, 2023

“Single-use plastics” (SUPs) represent 50% of all plastic produced, are used once and thrown away. The impact of plastic waste on the environment and human health are drastic. Every year, over ten million tons of plastic enter the oceans. Plastics then breakdown into microplastics and are consumed by humans and wildlife. It’s been estimated plastic pollution kills 100,000 marine mammals – like Seamore the Seal - annually.

Kin was inspired by an unborn North Atlantic right whale calf that died with its mother from a ship strike off the coast of Virginia in 2005. Their skeletons hang inside the New Bedford Whaling Museum. The North Atlantic right whale is critically endangered. Today, there are about 335, and under 70 breeding females. Kin offers an opportunity for reflection about the human impact on marine mammals. By referencing familial bonds and generational loss, this emotional work inspires compassion toward these threatened creatures.

Marnie Sinclair (b. 1945) is a process artist and environmental activist who often uses her art to visually express the many complicated issues that surround climate change and ocean pollution. Sinclair was raised in the tropics, then lived and worked on Martha’s Vineyard, and now resides in Damariscotta on the Southern coast of Maine. In each location, she finds inspiration in the shorelines and native wildlife. Kin and Seamore the Seal are inspired by her deep concern over sustainability and marine mammal health. For their sake and our own, Sinclair exhorts audiences to aim for a more sustainable existence. As she notes, “All living beings deserve it!”


Marnie Sinclair (b. 1945), Seamore the Seal, 2019. Made of recycled single-use plastic, wire, and heavy-duty hardware cloth, 96 x 38 inches, collection of the artist.

kin 1 smaller

Marnie Sinclair (b. 1945), Kin, 2023. Made of recycled single-use plastic, wire, and heavy-duty hardware cloth, 108 inches long, collection of the artist.