Connected \\ September 11, 2019

Dropping Anchor

The museum’s shining, new 40,000-square-foot wing will open to the public on September 28th with much anticipation and fanfare. As we look forward to the launch of a new PEM, we are looking back as well. The new wing is positioned just beside the oldest portion of the museum: our founding structure, East India Marine Hall. Built in 1824-5 and today recognized as a National Historic Landmark, East India Marine Hall ties us to our history and has been, in the most basic sense, anchoring the institution for almost two centuries.


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Eric H. Muller ( photographer), East India Marine Hall, ca. 1958. Photographic print. Courtesy of the Phillips Library. © Peabody Essex Museum.


Over the past few weeks, our collection team has been preparing for the reinstallation of a special object, one that adorned the facade of East India Marine Hall for over 100 years. And there is no better way to embark on our most exciting chapter yet than to reintegrate our past with our present – bringing a special opportunity to delight in the unique and storied history of Salem.

On Monday, September 16, join us for a ceremony with PEM’s Rose-Marie and Eijk von Otterloo Director and CEO, Brian Kennedy, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll, and PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director and Chief Curator, Lynda Hartigan, as the historic 4,450-pound anchor returns to our museum campus.

Removed for its safe-keeping during our expansion construction, the anchor will reclaim its spot in front of East India Marine Hall, resting close to the maritime art gallery on the first floor of the new wing – which spotlights the sea as a force that inspires both creativity and innovation.

Under the care of Angela Segalla, Director of PEM’s Collection Center, the anchor has undergone extensive conservation in preparation for its big drop – including a six-step process intended to expose its original characteristics.

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Anchor aweigh. Photograph courtesy of Angela Segalla.


We have all been working diligently to make sure that the anchor receives the treatment it needs to be protected for decades to come,’ notes Segalla. However, throughout this process, more of its story has been uncovered.

The anchor came to the museum in 1906 through the United States Navy, with one commander having “devoted considerable time” to securing it. Made for an unknown ship, the iron anchor was hand-forged sometime before 1820 during the era of the early frigates. Its twisted shank suggests it endured a massive storm, powerful enough to bend iron. However, the malleability of hand-forged iron probably ensured its survival. “It was a beautiful feat to hand-make such an object,” says Segalla, admiring the anomalies that pepper its surface.

These distinctive features have been revealed during conservation. To uncover the shank, flukes and crown, we used an air abrasive to remove the paint – an art in itself since this weighs heavily on the final outcome. Using something too harsh can change the landscape of the anchor, while using something too light would not get the job done. Rick Tower, of Tower Blasting and Painting, had the solution and it has exposed unique characteristics of this historic piece.

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Blasting the twisted shank. Photographs courtesy of Angela Segalla.


“A great deal of the anchor surface was obscured by thick layers of paint. Stripped of its camouflage, the life of the anchor became more visible. The amount of time spent in the water had an interesting affect, with deep grooves and patterns along the bottom. So much so that the iron almost resembles petrified wood. Keeping these hints of history and imperfections was imperative to the team.

One of our missions was to seek out the right kind of paint that does not obscure the nuances of what the anchor has to tell us. This specialty paint is carefully selected and its application is an art form.

With the over-paint removed and a fresh coat in place, attention turned to the wood stock with assistance from John Watson, known as the Gothic Carpenter. John preserved the original wood while reinforcing the interior stability making it suitable for installation.

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© Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Allison White.


“The life of the anchor between its creation and its installation in front of EIMH is a bit of a mystery,” says Segalla, but looking back through the various correspondences, I saw something that reminded me that somebody from the Navy worked much like I am now to get this piece ready to go on view in front of the museum. I really am honored by the fact that I get to be involved in this way, with such a powerful symbol of the museum – its longevity, the community, how it all began, and where it continues to go... It is all symbolized by this anchor, and it is such a pleasure.”

Join us outside East India Marine Hall and witness a moment of history. The anchor drops at 2 pm on Monday, September 16, 2019.


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© Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Aislinn Weidele of Ennead Architects.


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© Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


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© Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


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© Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola


Allow us to reintroduce ourselves. There is the new building, of course, but it does not stop there! A new PEM is launching this September – a new wing, new installations and a whole new museum experience. Be a part of the story, follow along and share in the excitement using #newPEM.

Join us for a new wing celebration on September 28 and 29, 2019 to officially kick off the Peabody Essex Museum’s newest and most exciting chapter yet! Tour the new space, and enjoy live music, art making and performances throughout the day. General admission is FREE. For more information, visit: pem.org/newpem.

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