Jim Shoesmith (1922 – 2013)

Jim was always interested in small craft boating from his youth and teenage years spent along the shorelines of Westport, Massachusetts. It was during this time he learned fundamental sailing and aspired to build his own boat at some point in the future. As fate would have it after his high school years, he joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and served in World War II. After returning home from his military service, he joined the Fall River Fire Department and served that community for 32 years until his retirement in 1977.

In his leisure time he began looking at plans of New England small craft, notably mid-19th century types such as Friendship sloop’s and pinky schooners. He realized that with his commitment to the fire department service he wouldn’t have enough time to actually build his own boat and instead turned to making models. He happened to connect with two other prominent Providence, Rhode Island modelers, Warren Brightman and Alfred Brownell. Brownell, in particular, had done model work for the Smithsonian’s maritime curator Howard Chapelle and became Jim’s mentor. One of the key things he learned was the construction techniques and use of woods advocated by Brownell. Such traditional methods as constructing a hull from laminated waterline lifts, using clear pine, and boxwood decking. He would twist his own linen line for rigging, and form his own metal fittings from brass. He was very aware of the desire for longevity in his models so that they would stand the test of time. His skills became highly refined and subsequently his models were acquired by both collectors and museums. In fact, Mystic Seaport Museum was one of the first to acquire a replica 1825 era inshore fishing vessel called Lion a Chebaco Boat for their collection.

His modeling career became more and more involved, especially after his retirement in 1977. He spent several years measuring and then drafting out his own detailed set of drawings for the 100’ Arctic exploration schooner Bowdoin. This model proved to be a definitive example of this vessel’s configuration at the time of her Arctic voyage under the command of Donald B. MacMillan between 1921 and 1954. It was entered in to a prestigious 1980 ship model contest at The Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA, and won a silver medal, for the scratch built model catagory. The model was so admired by members and trustees of the Maine Maritime Museum, where the actual vessel was preserved, that a trustee paid him nearly $100,000 for its acquisition. The schooner itself was subsequently sold to the Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine and use by its cadets for sail training and annual cruises.

The Maine Maritime Museum has recently added several more of his models to its collection, a Quoddy Boat, Friendship Sloop (scale 7/16”=1’), a Chebaco Boat of 1825 (scale ½”=1’) and an Eastport Pinky Schooner (32” long). The New Bedford Whaling Museum also has models by Shoesmith, in particular a beautifully decorated Japanese whaling sampan at ½” = 1’ scale. During the 1980s and 90s, a large collection of his ‘small fishing craft’ models was on extended loan to the Fall River Maritime Museum. Additionally, in 1992 his BOWDOIN model was exhibited at the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, as part of an exhibition entitled: “Crafts of Art & History: contemporary ship models.”

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