Hands to Make and Mend – a short appraisal of sailor-made ship models
By John Gilman. 44 pages soft bound coloured card cover, 13 drawings and 24 photographs in full colour, published by Deckchair Books, 32 Osborne Street, Leek, Staffordshire ST13 6LJ at £6.00 + £1.00 p&p. Please order from the author by email firstname.lastname@example.org or from No.1 The Beeches, Blue Anchor, Minehead, TA24 6JW. Cheques payable to John Gilman.
John Gilman needs no introduction as a prominent West Country maritime historian of many years standing with particular emphasis on the Bristol Channel ports of West Somerset. What is not so well known is his formidable knowledge of sailor-made ship models and his considerable skills as a ship modeller in his own right. Here the author is well qualified – history graduate, Royal Navy national serviceman, merchant seaman, educationist, scholar and author.
His latest book, and his first on this intriguing subject, does not disappoint. He writes in an easy style, targeted at the layman and younger reader as much as the serious maritime historian. Packed into its forty-four pages the book offers a wealth of insight into a familiar but little-understood subject from the perspective of a real expert. In its condensed form there is no space to afford the luxury of indexing, footnotes and full references, making the book difficult to use for quick reference, but forgivable as enough references are embodied in the text to allow the researcher to follow up his/her own line of enquiry.
The book is likewise not sub-divided by chapter and is written as one long essay systematically progressing in the text through the various categories of sailor-made ship models that the reader is likely to encounter. The subject is set in the context of the changing world order of the shipping industry and in particular to the sociological aspects of globalisation, numerical shrinkage of manpower, rapid port turnaround, and the demise of the European seaman in favour of those from the third world, all of which have contributed to the total change of seamen’s recreational pursuits and the subsequent loss of this genre as an ongoing form of folk art.
The book is more than adequately illustrated with the author’s own photographs of sailor-made models – full hull, waterline, dioramas, ships in bottles, working pond models, models in wood, tin, paper, every kind of scrap material, bone and ivory. In addition, some quite delightful pen and wash vignettes by the author show off his skill as an artist, but it’s a pity he does not illustrate one of his own beautifully crafted ‘sailor-mades’ which this reviewer has been privileged to handle. I can only assume this resulted from modesty rather than oversight. In conclusion, as an ‘insight’ into a much misunderstood and in the maritime history world, neglected, corner, you will not better this appraisal of sailor-made ship models – thoroughly recommended.
Reviewed by Peter Ferguson
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