Even those who don’t know a pintle from a porthole are bound to come away impressed from the marine design and engineering exhibit “Lighter, Stronger, Faster: The Herreshoff Legacy” at the MIT Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Set to open October 18, 2018, the exhibit introduces visitors to the work of what have been described as “New England’s least-known family of geniuses” —namely, the Herreshoffs of Bristol, Rhode Island.
The exhibit is actually an outgrowth of an unprecedented archiving project undertaken by the MIT Museum within its Hart Nautical Collections, headed up by curator Kurt Hasselbalch. Back in 1961, the museum received a donation of more than 14,000 plans and records from the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company, founded in 1878 in Bristol by brothers John B. and Nathanael Herreshoff. Though this treasure trove of design history was cataloged and microfilmed in the early 1990s, Hasselbalch says the museum team realized that just wasn’t sufficient for today’s digital world: High-resolution digitization was called for.
“The whole collection is going online, making it the first major marine design collection available on the World Wide Web,” Hasselbalch says. “There are other design collections and other marine design pieces and bits and pieces around the world, but if you look, there isn’t really anything really close to this in terms of scale and historic importance.”
To spotlight that landmark achievement, the MIT Museum organized the complementary exhibit “Lighter, Stronger, Faster.” And it’s a big undertaking in its own right. The estimated 5,000-square-foot exhibit will feature close to 130 objects — artifacts, plans, photographs, art — and a combination of multimedia, hands-on, and digital interactive displays to tell the Herreshoff story.
Although Nathanael Herreshoff, also known as N.G. or Captain Nat, would become famous in boating circles worldwide for his innovative boat designs (even earning the nickname “the Wizard of Bristol”), the story that the exhibit tells is not just “a hero story,” says Hasselbalch.
“It’s a story is about brothers, it’s about an incredible New England family…. There are things that they did that have become emblematic of how you build a really good product,” he says. “The Herreshoff focus was to design and build the very best thing that you can. What a great, simple formula.”
“Lighter, Stronger, Faster: The Herreshoff Legacy” opens 10/18 and will run for at least two years as a “bridge exhibition” between the MIT Museum’s current home on Mass. Ave. and its in-progress new facility in Kendall Square. The Herreshoffs also have a permanent spotlight in their hometown of Bristol, Rhode Island, in the form of the venerable Herreshoff Marine Museum/America’s Cup Hall of Fame.