Monday, August 26, 2013


Mike Schaefer and Robert Marshall at the unveiling of Triumphant, February 2013.
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages - your daily dose of 'Merica.

In February 2013, in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of USS Hornet sinking HMS Peacock, we unveiled the first piece of the new Hornet in grand style.  The National Museum of the U.S. Navy hosted the evening gala event, and we introduced a carved wonder to the world.  Because it is that awesome.

Most HORNET supporters, and even team members, hadn't seen the impressive sculpture, which has a wingspan of over eight feet and is covered in 24-carat gold.  The piece was carved from more than 900 lbs of solid mahogany by artist Mike Schaefer.  The final finish of dazzling gold was performed by master gilder Robert Marshall.

In his speech at the unveiling ceremony, Mike described the work as “designed with broad curves and just enough detail to allow the full expression of the gold leaf; constructed from massive glued up mahogany solids, and incorporating sturdy joinery which allows the wings to be removed from the eagle during heavy seas.”  For artistic expression, “Triumphant is muscular –a warbird, capable of projecting power, anywhere; evocative – he calls you to action, join the cause, join the Navy; and dynamic – he’s already coming at you,” Mike explains.

Mike Schaefer and Hornet Executive Director Will King.
When carving was complete, I was one of the first people in the Hornet team to see the finished product.  And all I can say is that nothing really prepares you for the power of this piece.  I watched it progress in pictures from a bed of wood chips, but was completely awestruck when I saw it for the first time.

Triumphant was then transferred to the gilder for application of the 24-carat gold leaf.  Art conservator and master gilder Robert Marshall was tapped to perform the transformation.  Rob's firm had previously gilded the US Naval Academy's Chapel Dome and his work really has no equal. During the final stages of carving, Robert was so captivated by the piece that he decided to perform the work gratis.  That's more than $14,000 in materials and labor!  In preparation for gilding, the eagle was covered in more than a dozen coats of paint and varnish.  The 24-ct gilding went on quickly, over the course of one long day, and at Robert's skilled hand, is so smooth that it almost glows.

The finished piece was rolled into the Navy Museum and set up on a pedestal that raised the eagle more than eight feet in the air - allowing audiences a view of the eagle as it will be mounted on the ship.  It was guarded by Marines in 1812-era uniforms until the formal unveiling later that evening.
The Marines stand guard.  Don't let the costume fool you, there's plenty of kick-ass under the funny hat.

Chris Melhuish served as Master of Ceremonies, followed by remarks from Mike Schaefer, and I made a spirited attempt to bring up the rear with the keynote.  A former Captain of USS Constitution and an eloquent artist are hard acts to follow, let me tell you.

The night was capped off by one amazing and totally unscripted event - veterans Stu Kerr and Bill Ballenger presented me with a piece of the last USS Hornet's wooden flight deck.  Navy tradition has it that when a new ship is built to an old name, a piece of the last ship is incorporated into the new one.  The block of wood Stu and Bill presented will be driven into the backbone of the new ship during the keel laying ceremony - the kickoff to construction - forever tying the WWII-era aircraft carrier with our reconstruction of her equally illustrious predecessor.
Stu Kerr, veteran of the last USS HORNET, presents a piece of his former ship for inclusion in the new HORNET.

Since unveiling, Triumphant has been making the rounds and is now on display beside several original figureheads in the U.S. Naval Academy Museum - where we're told it is one of the most popular photo-ops for visitors.  Triumphant will continue touring, building support and awareness for the project until she's mounted.  It's fitting, I think, that this stunning piece was the first piece of the new ship to materialize.  Scottish poet Roderic Quinn might have said it best:

"Storms arose and tempests blew,
Yard-arms rolled with foam adrift -
Still the figurehead was true,
Still it went before the ship."
- The Figurehead by Roderic Quinn

More to follow...

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