The mystery of John Shewan

Last week’s foray into the world of miniature figurines created a new subset of records for me to research this week. A number of the models that Barbara Campbell made little people for, had makers with very little information connected to them. It was these model makers I was trying to find today.

Following on from the lateen masts of last week, I learned a new term this week as well. ‘Loose footed’ refers to the way in which the mainsail is attached to the boom. According to Nick (at work) there are three types of connection. One of them utilises a track along the boom and the sail slides back and forth – sort of like a curtain. Another uses rings that give the sail a little more movement – again, sort of like a curtain.

There are arguments for all three types but, apparently, in the 1980’s, American sail designers started moving towards the loose footed type. After achieving greater speed and efficiency, smaller craft started adopting it as well. Which is funny, really, because, I assume, the loose footed option was probably the original design once upon a time.

I am constantly amazed at the number of nautical terms I come across every week (not to mention the ones I find in Patrick O’Brian books). The following quote comes from a letter I found in a file today:

It is not possible to use mast hoops for the mainsail owing to the rigging, and the luff of the sail is, therefore, secured to the mast by a track and slides.

Sometimes, Nick will rattle off entire paragraphs of nautical terms and, I must admit, I have no idea what he’s talking about. Though, to be fair, I am learning.

But, back to the research…one of the models I was trying to trace had the maker as one John Shewan. There was no information about him anywhere. His record was empty. I found a few file entries on the system but, when investigating the files, of Mr Shewan, there was no sign.

What I did discover was a meandering trail of letters between the curator of shipping at the museum and some guy called Johnston who was ‘having made’ a couple of wonderful models that the museum might be interested in. It would appear that both models were made by some chap called Tucker from Lewick.

What this left me with was another record (Tucker) with no information. And the mystery of John Shewan with no way of knowing why he existed in MIMSY at all. Grrrr. Very frustrating.

Anyway, the day was spent, mostly, in the document stores, trying to decipher badly written letters and make connections where connections are very scarce on the ground.

Meanwhile, in the cricket…Ashton Agar took his first test wickets today. He really is becoming a hero.

This week I discovered that John Shewan actually DID make the model. I found a letter from 1957. It was from his solicitor asking if the labels could be changed in the museum to indicate he made them rather than Arthur Johnston…who didn’t.

John Shewan actually made full sized boats for a living in the Boatshed at Lerwick. I assume he made the models in his spare time. Another of his models is in a museum in Scotland, here.

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