Peabody Essex Museum’s “In American Waters”

From oceanic voyages to romping in the waves, a new exhibit explores relationships to water.

Painting of masted ships on the ocean
Click on arrow at right to view additional images(1 of 3) Ship America on the Grand Banks, circa 1800, by Michele Felice Cornè©2014 Peabody Essex Museum
Masted ship stuck in the ice
Click on arrow at right to view additional images(2 of 3) Icebound Ship, circa 1880, by William Bradford ©2020 Peabody Essex Museum/Photography by Kathy Tarantola
Ship launching from the shore amid blue skies
Click on arrow at right to view additional images(3 of 3) Launching of the Ship Fame, 1802, by George Ropes Jr.Peabody essex museum/Photography by Jeffrey R. Dykes

“In American Waters,” a new exhibit of more than 90 paintings at the Peabody Essex Museum, portrays the magnitude of Odyssean journeys, along with the “beauty, violence, poetry, and transformative power of the sea.” Diverse works by artists Michele Felice Cornè, Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Hart Benton, and Amy Sherald, among others, offer a more expansive perspective on what’s been called marine painting. The genre “is so much more than ship portraits,” according to Dan Finamore, the museum’s associate director of exhibitions and Knight curator of maritime art and history. “In American Waters” takes viewers from the importance of shipping, trade, and independence in early America, through the commercial-fishing industry, and into Arctic exploration. It also highlights coastal scenes—and their connections to Native American and indigenous life—along with the timeless pleasures of swimming and bathing under the open sky. For those drawn to New England’s harbors, beaches, and Atlantic horizon, “In American Waters” (on display through October 3) also serves as a reminder of what is central to protecting coastal life amid climate change. “No matter where we live, the sea shapes all of our lives,” Finamore notes, “and continues to inspire some of the most exciting artists working today.”

Published in the print edition of the July-August 2021 issue (Volume 123, Number 6), under the headline “Ocean Views.”

Read more articles by Nell Porter Brown

You might also like

“Edifying and Beautiful”

Botanical illustrations on display at Harvard’s rare book library

Sarah Ganz Blythe New Art Museums Director

Assumes Harvard post in August

Taking Climate Action at Harvard

Focusing on prime polluting industries, plus politics and policy

Most popular

The Food-Climate Conundrum

A Harvard Radcliffe Institute symposium tackles sustainable food systems in a changing climate.

Parks for Tomorrow

Bas Smets harnesses nature to cool cities.

“The Ingenuity of an Architect”

Kimberly Dowdell influences her profession—and the built environment.

More to explore

Architect Kimberly Dowdell is Changing Her Profession

Kimberly Dowdell influences her profession—and the built environment.

Harvard Professor on Printmaking

An art historian analyzes an overlooked medium.

Dream Renovations to Harvard Yard Libraries

An ambitious plan for the next century of learning