“I couldn’t help it. I happen to have been born to do it.

I am sure that I would have been a rotten failure doing anything else.”

~ Ends Of The Earth ~

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Sulphur Bottom Whale Model 1907

Despite his many years working for the American Museum of Natural History, Roy Chapman Andrews had only very limited hands-on involvement with the museum's exhibits.  One of his first projects was to assist in the construction of a life-like model of a Sulphur Bottom Whale, more commonly called a Blue Whale [Balaeoptera musculus].  This project was led by James L. Clark, himself a young member of the department who had not yet become famous as an artist and sculptor.  

Andrews told this story in several different versions in his books and popular magazine articles.  Andrews' first autobiography, Ends Of The Earth was sparingly illustrated, his second autobiography, Under A Lucky Star had none at all. 

Here then is a little known article published by Scientific American in 1907 with images of the model under construction.  Images of this model were published in National Geographic, May 1911 in Andrews article:  Shore Whaling, A World Industry, also in his two biographies Ends Of The Earth, and Under A Lucky Star; in each case they are attributed to the author.   In : American Museum Whale Collection, a December 1914 article by Andrews for The American Museum Journal, the exact same images are marked as copyright National Geographic Magazine.  

I have determined that the photographs were originally taken by a museum photographer named J. Otis Wheelock.  

I have provided the original text of the accompanying article immediately after this image of the cover.

The Whale In The American Museum of Natural History.
A Life-like Model of the Largest Living Mammal.
[By Anonymous.  Scientific American Supplement.  September 14, 1907]

The American Museum of Natural History in New York has recently added an exact model of a large whale to its mammalian collection, and the achieve­ment is one deserving of more than passing notice or credit. Relics of whales are common, from the huge jaws to be seen in many a seaside village to the more or less complete skeletons in museums. But there have been obvious difficulties in the way of preserving complete specimens. Not only is there the practical problem of-large size, but the.oily skin is almost impos­sible of natural-appearing preservation.
This model is the outcome of a notable forward movement in the policy of the museum. The old formula for "stuffing," say, a bear, was arsenical paste, wire, and a bale of hay. The skin was literally "stuffed" to a barrel-like' distortion, and the whole labor cost but a few dollars. To-day the skin is mounted over a model, the work of a sculptor who knows anatomy, and the final result may represent weeks of skilled labor. But it is a correct representa­tion of the animal as it lived.
When it was decided to add a whale model to the collection, the idea was to obtain a satisfactory facsimile of the real creature. The species chosen was the sulphur bottom, a whale which is common off the coast of Newfoundland, where regular shore sta­tions are maintained for its chase. This whale is the largest species known, and is indeed larger than any of the reptilian monsters of geology, of which actual traces have been found. The work was placed in the hands of Mr. Roy C. Andrews, of the museum staff, who visited Newfoundland, and was fortunate in secur­ing his data from a large whale measuring 76 feet.
From these data an exact model was made, scale one inch to one foot, and from this model the large one was plotted. The model was divided into sections, and its various dimensions accurately copied on paper ruled in squares. From these plans others of life size were enlarged for the use of the blacksmith, the carpenter, and other workers. The work was done in the large gallery where the whale now hangs. A working platform was constructed, and on this light T-irons were laid out to mark the backbone and the ventral lines  This framework was bolted together with plates to allow it to be divided into sec­tions of eight feet each, for transportation if required. This provision, however, proved unnecessary, as the finished whale now swings over the spot where its lines were laid down. Rigidity was given to the frame by cross bracing; and iron ribs were next added.  

These ribs, like the back and ven­tral lines, are accurately bent to the size and contour of the finished model, but are a little smaller; the final covering of laths being carried on a wooden framework fitted over the iron and projecting about a couple of inches beyond it. Up to the stage when the iron ribs were attached to one side, the model was lying on its side. 

Ropes were now rove through the rings in the ceiling, placed to bear the finished whale, and the framework was raised until it stood upright, resting on the platform. The second set of ribs was now added, giving the complete skeleton shape. The iron frames for the fins and the flukes were next bolted on, and a wooden framework fastened over the skeleton. 

On this framework laths were nailed . These laths were of basswood, two inches broad, and 3/16 inch thick; they were laid diagonally across the skeleton, and this wood was chosen as being soft and bending well to the frame­work. The framework being now completed, there remained the most important part of the work, from the public's point of view—the outer modeling and col­oring. The final outer skin is of papier mache. The whale was covered with wire screen of a mesh rather coarser than that used for windows in summer, and the papier mache was worked into this.

At this stage Mr. Andrews had the collaboration of Mr. J. L. Clark, the sculptor-anatomist of the museum. To Mr. Clark is due the external modeling, each detail of which is a close copy from life. The wonderful grooves along the lower jaw of the whale—grooves the use of which is not definitely known—are exact in number and position. The blowhole (just behind the hump on the head), the line of the meeting jaws, the tiny external orifice of the ear, and the curves around the eye, were a few of the details needing exact care.  The modeling completed, there remained the coloring, and here the thoroughness which has characterized each stage of the construction has been maintained. 

The body color of the whale is a light slate flecked with peculiar markings. Why the whale received its name "sulphur bottom" is not apparently known, but there is no trace of sulphur color in these fleckings; they circle the hinder parts of the body in patches of a lighter gray slate, and under the belly beneath the film they emerge into an almost solid band of white—as though the whale had been whitewashed. The blotches have been applied with an airbrush, and are successful in suggesting a local lack of coloring matter in the skin, rather than a wash of paint. Figs. 6 and 7 give a good idea of the completed specimen, and of the successful modeling and coloring.

The size of the gallery where the whale hangs allows visitors to obtain a good idea of the proportions of the monster, but handicaps the photographer. The two pictures reproduced show this limitation, and so a few dimensions may be added. The total length of the whale is 76 feet, and its greatest body breadth, across the shoulders just behind the blowhole, is 12 feet. At this point its girth is 36 feet. From tip to tip across the flukes measures 16 feet.
The weight of the original whale was estimated at 63 tons—8 tons of blubber, 8 tons of bones, 40, tons of flesh, and the blood, whalebone, and viscera ac­counting for the remaining 7 tons.
The sulphur bottom whale attains the largest size of any species, and the longest authentic record of length is 86 feet; this model therefore fairly repre­sents the size of the largest living creature. Off the coast of Newfoundland several hundreds are captured annually. Watch is kept on shore, and when a whale is sighted, a small steamer starts in chase. The cap­tured whale is towed ashore, where in several places machinery has been installed for cutting up the car­cass. Little goes to waste; the blubber yields oil, and parts of the viscera are turned into leather. The flesh and the bones are used in making fertilizer, and the whalebone has many uses, although that supplied by the sulphur bottom is not of the best quality.
Whale Model in Mammal Gallery, as seen from floor level of visitor

Here is one account by Andrews from his best selling Autobiography Under A Lucky Star.  1943 I had been in the Museum only a few months when my big chance came. In the Director's office I was introduced to a fussy little" gray-haired gentleman named Richardson. He was, Dr. Bumpus said, going to build a life-size model of a whale to hang in the third floor gallery-well. I was to be his assistant. was considerably frightened but tried not to show it. What I knew about whales was less than nothing. I had never met a whale in Wisconsin's Rock River! By that time, however, I had learned to keep my mouth shut and my eyes and ears open. No one could know how ignorant I was if I didn't talk. But the job wasn't as terrifying as it sounded for we were only to enlarge a scale model which Jim Clark had made under the direction of Dr. F. A. Lucas, then Director of the Brooklyn Museum. 

Construction details, however, were a hidden mystery to me, for Fve never had the slightest interest in mechanics. My mind doesn't run that way any more than to mathematics. But I got along all right because Richardson knew what he was about until we came to the paper covering. The framework of angle 
iron and bass wood strips was impressive, for the whale boasted a length of seventy-six feet. But the paper wouldn't work. It buckled and cracked and sank in between the ribs. Our whale looked awful. It seemed to be in the last stages of starvation. I used to dream about it at night, and the Director was in despair. 

Finally, he called Jimmy Clark and me to his office. "This whale is getting on my nerves," he said. "It is beyond all endurance. What shall we do?" Jimmy and I knew exactly what to do for we had spent 
many hours discussing that emaciated whale. "Fire the paper, gentlemen," we chorused, "and let us finish it with wire netting and papier-mache." The Director beamed. "Done. If you turn that wreck of a Cetacean into a fat, respectable whale, Fll give you both a knighthood." 

Jimmy and I hopped to it with a crew of twelve men. It was amazing what a well-regulated diet of papier-mache did for the beast. He lost that pitiful, starved, lost-on-dry-land appearance, his sides filled out and became as smooth as a rubber boot; we could almost feel him roll and blow as we built him up with 
our new tonic. After eight months, the job was done. During thirty-five years our whale has hung in the gallery and is still as good as new. He has been stared at by millions of eyes, and is still one of the most popular exhibits in the Museum. 
Roy C Andrews  November 16, 1907

An interesting account of  the Newfoundland Blue whale and this model can be found at:  Acadiensis, Vol. XXVII, No. 1 Autumn/Automne 1997   The Construction and Display of the First Full-Scale Model of a Blue Whale: The Newfoundland Connection.  By Chesley W. Sanger, and Anthony B. Dickinson Memorial University of Newfoundland.