The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Kendall Collection 2001.100.2658

This decrepit bench on display in the Whaling Museum caught my eye. I showed the photo to brother T. and he identified it immediately: a sailmaker's bench!

T. worked at Hood Sailmakers back in the 80's when they had offices in Marblehead, MA. He was in the "handwork" department then, crafting and repairing sails in a large, open "sail loft" overlooking an arm of the harbor. The photos show the back of the bench, he explained. You sit with your legs opposite the bags of parts and supplies, your tools (mallet, fids, probers, awl,...) in the tray/holes at your right, needles stuck into that chunk of wood at the end. In front of your bench you'd have your "block," a large, free-standing piece of wood. The block functioned like an anvil for tasks like punching holes in sails to sew in rings.

courtesy: Elgewen
Each handworker had a "palm" to push a needle through multiple layers of sailcloth. T. had a hard-to-find left-handed palm. (He still has pain at the base of his left thumb.)

T. was working at the tail end of the tail end of the golden age of handwork. Computer-guided laser cutters were just coming in when the Marblehead loft closed. Until then there were after-work rum libations at Maddie's, and Friday afternoon keggers in the parking lot. Each December, workers scoured the loft for trashed metal parts to sell to the ironmonger — proceeds were used to decorate the loft's Christmas tree with mini bottles of booze. Ah, how comforting are the holiday traditions!

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