The Steamboat Era Museum is home to a large collection of beautiful steamboat models, each handcrafted by area resident and amazing friend to the Museum, Bill Wright, with interiors design by Nancy Hubbard Clark.
The story below appeared on May 21, 2009 in The Free Lance-Star and is shared here with permission.
Steamboat Sales in Miniature
IT'S HARD TO SAY which was more pain-staking.
Was it crafting the 8-foot-long, 3-foot-high, sliced-in-half basswood model of the 1900s steamboat Lancaster, complete with paddle wheel, pilot house, open-for-viewing staterooms and hand-carved wooden eagle emblem painted in gold?
Or was it crafting tiny chairs, tables, chandeliers, sinks, beds and even a turn of the century toilet in half-inch scale from basswood, toothpicks, costume jewelry, scavenged fabric and wire from the stopper of a wine bottle.
The folks at the Steamboat Era Museum in Irvington, about 90 miles from Fredericksburg at the tip of the Northern Neck, won't waste time trying to decide.
They're just appreciative of the thousands of hours and the care model-builder Bill Wright and miniaturist Nancy Hubbard Clark put into creating the centerpiece of their new exhibit.
The exhibit centers on this one steamboat as a way of understanding the craft that once shuttled passengers and freight from Fredericksburg to the Chesapeake Bay and beyond.
RENEWING HIS HOBBY
Wright's job was perhaps the most involved. The Irvington resident and former military pilot worked eight to 10 hours a day, six days a week from October until early April bringing the Lancaster to life.
It wasn't the first boat for this model-maker, who once launched a balsa glider with a 7-foot wingspan over a bridge in Washington with just a long rubber band.
After retiring to Irvington in 1980, he revisited the hobby he'd so enjoyed as a child by creating models of classic Chesapeake Bay craft—bugeyes and log canoes, skipjacks and schooners.
Eventually, he lent his services to the Steamboat Era Museum, making several models for an exhibit that opened last year.
"He does such an amazing job that we turned to him again for this exhibit that explores the various parts of the steamboat Lancaster," said museum Director Terri Thaxton.
With the help of exhibit whiz George Frayne, a fixture at the Reedville Fishermen's Museum, Wright got started.
The team began by collecting all the pictures, drawings, blueprints and other information they could.
Armed with that, Wright began creating the 102-inch model that includes a gracefully curved hull, outfitted rooms that range from a bridal suite to a dining room to a formal saloon, a top deck with loading rigs, a full pilot house and even working light fixtures.
One of the toughest chores: crafting the angles of the hull and cross-bracing the structure behind the hull and upper decks.
Wright worked in his basement, outfitted with woodworking equipment, small-scale knives and blades, and other tools.
He's proud of the model; probably not his last for the museum.
"Though not of this size again, I hope," he said.
TINY DETAILS ARE HUGE
Clark, an Irvington resident, started doing miniatures when she made a dollhouse for her daughters that was a copy of her grandparents' home.
Those very same grandparents actually took a wedding trip aboard the Lancaster in 1902.
With strips of wood, cardboard, rice and beads she made baskets of corn and tomatoes for the galley, where she sculpted a sink from modeling clay.
She made chairs from basswood and crafted green leather seat-covers from an old pair of kid gloves.
Jewelry parts became chandeliers. Pieces of Popsicle sticks became radiators. Patterns printed on heavy paper became paisley rugs and wallpaper.
"And when I couldn't figure out any way to make or find something we needed, I'd call Bill, who's a genius, and he'd create it from wood, as he did with the pot rack in the galley," she said.
She may not have put in as many hours in as he did, but Wright lauded her creativity and attention to detail.
"She brought the rooms of this steamboat to life," he said.
Plan your visit to allow time for the many other museums and historic sites here in the lower Northern Neck of Virginia.
Our museum volunteers will be happy to help you plan an itinerary that matches your interests.
The Steamboat Era Museum • 156 King Carter Drive, Irvington, VA 22480 • (804) 438-6888 • Hours & Directions