Compass Pointing Towards Art and Life in the Early 19th Century

“Laguna Azul” by Alexander A. Maldonado (San Francisco, 1969)

I recently popped over to the South Street Seaport Museum to take a peek at its new exhibit: Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions. The artifacts,  taken entirely from the American Folk Art Museum’s collection, are shown in four rooms—each with its own theme portraying life at the Seaport in the early 19th century.

At first glance, the opening room, entitled “Exploration,” does not seem to portray life at the Seaport in any way. The room is decorated with maps, portraits and animal sculptures, but a closer look reveals themes of geography, sea exploration and the spread of information and ideas— including the discovery of new animals species!

"Sea Serpent Weathervane" - Artist unidentified (New England, c.1850)

Speaking of the spread of information, perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibit was the “Social Networking” display. As a frequent customer at the Starbucks on Nassau Street (you can often find me tucked in a corner pecking away on my little laptop) I was surprised to hear that coffeehouses have been used as a place for large meetings, business transactions and even solitary reflection for hundreds of years.

The third room, “Shopping,” displayed a variety of artifacts that were purchased and sold at the Seaport as well as the types of goods purchased by ship captains and their families. And finally, “Wind, Water, Weather” reflects upon the danger of navigating the sea and advancements in sea travel at the turn of the century.

Compass is a wonderful collaboration by the South Street Seaport Museum and the American Folk Art Museum. They worked together to create an exhibit that encompasses (see what I did there?!) both the narrative of the South Street Seaport and life in the early 19th century world. Be sure to check out this great exhibit that runs at the South Street Seaport Museum through October 7th!

"Heart-and-Hand Love Token" - Artist unidentified (1840–1860)

[Photos by John Parnell and courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum]