A singularly marine & fabulous produce: the Cultures of Seaweed - New Bedford Whaling Museum

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