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Indepth Arts News:

"Suggestive Curves"
2000-01-28 until 2000-05-07
Peabody Essex Museum
Salem, MA, USA United States of America

Boat-building is a time-honored craft, one that takes long training, patience, and aesthetic sensibility. Yet rarely have American museums treated it as a visual art in the manner of painting, sculpture, or even architecture. On January 28, the Peabody Essex Museum gives boat design its due with Suggestive Curves. This groundbreaking exhibition showcases the work of craftsmen from the United States, Native America, Asia, and the Pacific Islands, spanning two centuries of small-watercraft design. Suggestive Curves offers a new look at an old trade by displaying boats in ways that draw attention to their shape and elegance. The exhibition runs through May 7, 2000.

Each of the twenty-two boats selected for this exhibition is a descendant of a long ancestry of innovation and experimentation, says Lyles Forbes, the museum1s assistant curator for maritime art and history who organized Suggestive Curves. Their contours and configuration reflect the purposes for which they1re used. And while they1re primarily working boats, they all exhibit an innate beauty independent of their function.

For example, there is a sealskin kayak built in Greenland sometime in the late nineteenth century. Its Inuit designer skillfully employed what few materials he had at his disposal: sealskin tautly sewn over a frame of willow or driftwood. The lightweight craft is scarcely wider than the passenger it is designed to carry. As such, it1s perfectly suited to cut through the strong winds and icy seas of the Davis Strait. But a look at the kayak today reveals that pragmatic considerations weren1t the only ones its builder took into account

The Peabody Essex Museum began collecting small watercraft in the 1820s. So the boats in Suggestive Curves reflect the museum1s diverse collections of art and culture: a double-outrigger canoe from Bali, Indonesia; a Burmese sampan; a birch bark canoe from the Cree tribe; the sailing dory of a Swampscott fisherman.

Yet while more than half the boats in Suggestive Curves come from that collection, the others are drawn from a diverse group of American maritime museums and institutions. There1s a pirogue from Thibodeaux Louisiana, courtesy of the Center for Traditional Louisiana Boatbuilding; a Housatonic oyster skiff from the Mystic Seaport Museum; and even a California longboard from the Huntington Beach International Surfing Museum. Each boat in the exhibition represents a distinctive

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