Christie D. Jackson, Trustees of the Reservations
Normandie, 1935, color illustration of ship interior.
The convergence of just a handful of pivotal forces defined the arrival of the ocean liner at the dawn of the 20th century. These forces include the firm establishment, beginning in the 1850s, of routine, reliable travel between the United States and Europe, a booming immigration transportation industry that shuttled millions across the Atlantic, and the rapid development of new technology for building ships larger and faster than was ever dreamed possible. Simultaneously, a small but very influential cohort of elite travelers began to put their trust in the new ocean liners, seeing them as fashionable, exciting modes of transportation. As competition in both speed and grandeur ensued, liners became important status symbols for their companies, resulting in the modern ocean liner—an engineering giant, crossing the Atlantic at top speeds and captivating the public’s gaze with its elegant stature.
Through this lens, we will see how the ocean liner’s arrival, and its heyday, are truly a story of the mingling of technology, aesthetics, and social ritual. Rapidly developing technology not only revolutionized ship engines, it also instigated a dramatic rethinking of ship design in an era preoccupied with social stratification and pedigree. New, architecturally sophisticated shipboard spaces, drawing from the example set by stylish land-based hotels, were decorated with lavish and historically-rich interiors. By creating these extravagant shipboard interiors, companies projected a strong visual message of luxury and refinement to their customers and the world.
Our June 13 lecture uses the furnishings on ocean liners to examine these topics. Special attention is paid to one particular furniture supplier for Cunard, the Frederick Parker Company, whose exacting attention to detail, a reverence for historic precedence, and an understanding of the needs of ocean-going passengers made the company ideally suited for the job. When Frederick Parker furniture was added to lavishly designed interiors, the results were truly stunning. Our lecture will wander through many of Cunard’s early interior spaces as well as look to passengers’ voices to hear their words about the challenges of crossing turbulent seas, the eccentricity of shipboard living, and all the novelties that traveling by sea could offer.
Christie Jackson grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where her interest in maritime topics first began. She received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and went on to receive two masters degrees, first from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in museum education, and then from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. While at Winterthur, she was awarded the E. McClung Fleming Thesis Prize for her research on ocean liner interiors. She has worked in various museums both as an educator and a curator. Currently, she is Senior Curator for The Trustees of Reservations, the world’s oldest land preservation organization that owns 116 sites across the state of Massachusetts. Ms Jackson leads the curatorial team in the care of a dozen historic houses across the state. Noteworthy also is the Trustees’ extensive collection of 35,000 objects.