Thursday 19 December 2013

A Holiday Message: Using a ship model to teach children a life lesson

MMA, M2004.52.1&2, Gift of Evelyn Campbell, photo by Gerry Lunn
As Registrar, I have the pleasure of collecting and handling all kinds of artifacts: from small to large, fragile to robust, and from inexpensive to one-of-a-kind items.
At this time of the year, it is always fun to go into the museum’s storage rooms, like elves in a toy room, searching for items that convey the holiday spirit to share with the world. This year we have selected some nautical Christmas cards and two ship models with a heart-warming Christmas story.
A couple of these ship models are quite different in comparison to the hundreds of others in our collection.  These are the “Gursky models” which are so unique that, when I was cataloguing them, members of the Ship Model Guild asked me whether we should collect such models for our maritime collection.
My answer was: “These are indeed unique models, they are not replicas of a typical Nova Scotian ship or made by a Nova Scotian shipbuilder, ship owner or a professional ship modeler, but they were built by a young Nova Scotian lady and her father, and the purpose was to tell a family story.  I felt that an exception should be made and that we add these to our collection.
You see, once upon a time, a father, Mr. Campbell, felt his two young daughters were becoming too materialistic and so he wanted to teach them a lesson.   One Christmas, more than thirty years ago, Mr. Campbell wrapped two very big presents and placed them under the Christmas tree with the tag addressed to his daughters from a “Mr Gursky ” a ficticious name he made up.
On Christmas morning, the children rushed in delight, to open the big box and found: a cabbage and a turnip.  They weren’t disappointed though - they thought it was very funny.  The next year, Mr. Gursky gave the children an old dirty sock.  Not only did the tradition continue, but it became more joyous as the two sisters started making their own gifts to return to Mr Gursky, silly things, like an empty box, etc.  Then, one of the daughters built the large schooner model. 
The model was brought out at Christmas time, year after year and once even accompanied the family to Florida.   Then, the Florida trips became more regular and  Mr. Campbell was not pleased with the hassles involved in taking the model back and forth from Florida, through customs, etc.  As a result, the smaller model, Gursky II was built. 
For some 30 plus years, this tradition continued in the Campbell family and now we are fortunate enough to have these models as part of our collection.
This sweet, inspiring story of the Gursky tradition is rooted in the deeper meaning of Christmas. These ship models were chosen to relay this message.
I hope this helps readers to see that artifacts are not just things, that most of them have a story to tell, and that this story is one to warm our hearts at Christmas ….. and maybe  everyday of our lives.
Please come down to the Museum to see the Gursky models and our wonderful Christmas card exhibit which will be on display until the end of January.
On behalf of all the collections staff at the Maritime Museum, Happy Holidays to one and all.
Lynn-Marie Richard, Registrar, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic

                                                 Photo: Courtesy of Gerry Lunn, Maritime Museum of the Atlantic


  1. a lovely story, thanks Lynn-Marie

  2. What a great story Lynn-Marie - thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Thanks Lynn-Marie, an awesome story.