Editor's note: Richard M. Candee provided source material to Resource Library for the following article. If you have questions or comments regarding the source material, please contact the author through the Portsmouth Historical Society directly through either this phone number or web address:


Maritime Portsmouth, The Sawtelle Collection

June 3 - August 31, 2011


More than 190 paintings, prints, and artifacts are on exhibit at the Historical Society's Discover Portsmouth Center from June 3 through August 31, 2011. The exhibit is titled Maritime Portsmouth, The Sawtelle Collection.

Over the last quarter of the twentieth century collectors Joseph G. and Jean E. Sawtelle built a major collection of maritime art and artifacts related to The Port of Portsmouth: along the Piscataqua River dividing Maine and New Hampshire and from the Atlantic seacoast to the Isles of Shoals twelve miles away. The Sawtelle's goal was to create a significant Maritime Museum in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

While the museum vision withered after the unexpected passing of Joe Sawtelle in 2001, the Portsmouth Historical Society's Discover Portsmouth Center and the Portsmouth Athenaeum are now exhibiting the entire local maritime collection, including earlier gifts to both institutions.

The collection is documented by a full-color hardcover catalogue, Maritime Portsmouth, The Sawtelle Collection, the 31st volume published by the Portsmouth Marine Society.

(above: Front cover of the book Maritime Portsmouth, The Sawtelle Collection, edited by Richard M. Candee. Image courtesy of Richard M. Candee)


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Eighteenth century English settlers used the fast-flowing Piscataqua River to export the region's natural resources, masts for the Royal Navy, sawn lumber and hewn timbers for building. There was also considerable 18th century wooden shipbuilding on the Piscataqua estuary, especially along the many tributaries that fed the river. Portsmouth, near the river's mouth, quickly became the main commercial center.

(above: Figure 1, Joseph Frederick Walsh Des Barres (Swiss, 1721-1824) Detail of Chart of New Hampshire and Maine Coast and  Piscataqua River from the Atlantic Neptune [published  London, 1778] )      

As ships grew in size during the first half of the 19th century, shipbuilding shifted to the deepwater towns on both sides of the river in Eliot and Kittery Maine, as well as Portsmouth itself. By 1850 these yards were building larger and faster vessels that increased the speed of shipping. Piscataqua shipyards provided one tenth of all the luxurious American clippers built before the Civil War.

(above: Figure 2, China trade painting. possibly by Sunqua (active 1830-1870), of Portsmouth clipper ship Wild Pigeon (ca. 1851-60). Oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. Gift of Sawtelle family to the Portsmouth Athenæum 2005.)

Local boys and young men from New Hampshire and Maine manned these ships, sometime working their way up from cabin boys and common seamen to captain or "master," and helped sail them to ports all around the world. One of these 19th century teenagers include two Portsmouth boys who would later take up the brush. Thomas P. Moses (1808-81) began painting in the 1850s and was as close as the small city ever got to having a commercial port painter in the post-Civil War years.

(above: Figure 3, Thomas P. Moses (American, 1808-1881) Coming From the Navy Yard, Portsmouth. Titled, signed, and dated on the reverse, "T. P. Moses, Aug. '67", Oil on canvas, 24 x 30 inches.)

The collection contains nearly two-dozen portraits of Portsmouth-built ships by well-known port artists from around the Mediterranean such as Honoré Pellegrin [ figure 4] and Raffaele Corsini, Samuel Walters, Francis Hustwick, and William Gay York in Liverpool, and well as artists of the China trade, and by ship painters like J. E. Buttersworth in New York and William Stubbs of Boston.

For figures 4 though 6 images pease click here.

The industrial revolution left Portsmouth a declining older port, but summer visitors began to visit for summer recreation. Portsmouth and the Isles of Shoals attracted painters like Julian O. Davidson, Hendrick A. Hallett, William Formby Halsall, Childe Hassam, Joseph Lyman, and Arthur Quartley all represented in the collection. In Kittery George Wasson worked with John Haley Bellamy who taught him to carve.

For figures 7 though 10 images pease click here.

Portsmouth's 19th and 20th century commercial waterfront became industrialized with coal pockets as railroad lines replaced the wharves for manufactured goods and individual travel.

For figure 11 image pease click here.

To recreate Portsmouth in its lost Age of Sail, Joe Sawtelle worked with John Stobart, the internationally recognized marine artist, to add Portsmouth to that master's paintings and limited edition prints of once-forgotten American ports. The Sawtelles already owned Stobart's 1979 painting of the Portsmouth clipper ship, Dashing Wave entering San Francisco's Golden Gate and in 1986 formed a collaborative working relationship with the artist to show Portsmouth's "Merchants Row" as it might have looked in 1828.

For figures 12 though 13 images pease click here.

When the country was at war, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard gains funding for shipbuilding and increased the local employment. Here were launched the fighting ships that took on the pirates of Tripoli, the Confederate raiders during the Civil War and Spanish American War, and since WWI naval submarines. Many are represented in Maritime Portsmouth. Artifacts, prints and paintings specifically related to the USS Kearsarge and its battle with the CSS Alabama in the Sawtelle collection form the core of an exhibition at the Portsmouth Athenaeum as "Fire in the Water: Portsmouth's Kearsarge Sinks the Deadly Confederate Raider Alabama" from May 6 to Sept. 17, 2011. www.portsmouthathenaeum.org

For an image regarding the "Fire in the Water" exhibit at Portsmouth Athenaeum, pease click here.

- The above text concerning the Sawtelle Collection was modified from Richard Candee's essays appearing in both American Art Review and Antiques and Fine Arts


About the author

Richard M. Candee is Professor Emeritus of American and New England Studies at Boston University where he served as Director of the Preservation Studies Program and a joint MA/JD on Preservation and the Law until 2004. Active in the preservation of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, architecture, he organized the Vernacular Architecture Forum's 1992 tour of the city for which the book Building Portsmouth was written. He has won Life-time Achievement Awards by both Massachusetts and New Hampshire for his service to the field, as well as recognition of many preservation organizations in Portsmouth, NH. (left: Richard M. Candee. Photo courtesy of Richard M. Candee)

In 2009 he was responsible for the Memorial Bridge between Portsmouth, NH and Kittery, ME being named one of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 11 Most Endangered Historic Properties and helped lead the fight for bridge rehabilitation.

In 2002 he served as curator and wrote the catalog for an exhibition at the Portsmouth Athenaeum, The Artful Life of Thomas P. Moses (1808-1881) "Poetry, Music, Painting -- Anything But Money." He also recreated and filmed a memorable "Thomas P. Moses Floral Concert."

As Trustee and Vice President of the Portsmouth Historical Society since 2004, he organized the city's history and preservation non-profits and led the fight for a non-profit cultural orientation gateway, the Discover Portsmouth Center, in the former city library. In 2008 he explored the life and work of local artist Russell Cheney (1881-1945) in a major exhibit at both the Society's Discover Portsmouth Center and at the Portsmouth Athenaeum. He continues to compile the Cheney catalogue raisonné and has developed the web site www.russellcheney.com with Carol Cheney. An exhibit of the folk art carvings of the Adams family of Durham NH at Discover Portsmouth followed in 2009 and a retrospective of the drawings of Bill Paarlsburg in 2010.

About the exhibition catalogue

A full color 216 page hardcover catalog, Maritime Portsmouth, The Sawtelle Collection, published by Portsmouth Marine Society is also available. Please click here to see more information concerning the exhibition catalogue.


Resource Library editor's note

The above text was published in Resource Library on July 8, 2011, with permission of the author, granted to TFAO on July 6, 2011. We wish to extend appreciation to Sandra Rux, Curator at the Portsmouth Historical Society, for inroducing Richard M. Candee to us.

Images are courtesy of Richard M. Candee.

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