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Be dazzled by Snowdrop

27 May 2015 by Jen

Carved ship before painting

A work in progress…

Are you stuck for something to do with the kids?  You could take a trip on the Mersey ferry Snowdrop, which has been transformed with a fantastic dazzle inspired artwork designed by Sir Peter Blake.  Dazzle was a scheme created in the First World War which saw Allied ships painted in outlandish designs to make them more difficult to target by enemy U-boats.

As well as admiring the colourful new design on the ferry, you can also look at the on board exhibition co-curated by Merseyside Maritime Museum curator Ben Whittaker. The displays explore the history of dazzle in the First World War and Liverpool’s war at sea, linking with the museum’s own Lusitania exhibition and featuring a number of photos of wartime dazzle ships from the Maritime Archives. This project continues National Museums Liverpool’s collaboration with Liverpool Biennial, Tate Liverpool and 14-18Now, after the dazzle inspired design was applied to the Edmund Gardner ship last year.

Block of wood awaiting carving

From this…

The exhibition features two ship models made specially by our ship and historic models conservators Chris Moseley and David Parsons. Each model is a reproduction of a dazzled model made by Norman Wilkinson in 1917, held in the Imperial War Museum collections.

Wilkinson developed the dazzle program operated by the Admiralty, and the original models were used by Wilkinson’s team to test the effectiveness of the dazzle design in confusing enemy U-boats on the speed and course of a ship. Models were painted by a special team (mostly women, but such was the secrecy around the project that we know little about them) at the Royal Academy in London.  They were then tested on a special turntable and viewed against different backgrounds and from different angles.  Approved designs were transferred to a scaled plan, and used by teams of painters across the country (including in Liverpool) to dazzle paint Merchant and Royal Navy vessels.  The team in Liverpool was headed by Edward Wadsworth and Leonard Campbell Taylor, who were based in room 229 of the Royal Liver Building.

Finished Dazzle painted ship model

…to this!

Chris and David built these models from scratch with only a few reference photos as a guide.  First they had to source scale plans to replicate the hull shapes and deck features of the particular class of ship represented by the models.  Starting with a rectangular block of Jelutong wood (a hardwood with similar properties to balsa), they had to use old fashioned tools and state of the art equipment to shape the wood blocks in order to recreate the ships shape and form.

Every individual deck feature such as masts, guns and wheel houses (and every one to scale!) then had to be created individually and carefully glued into place.  Then the real fun started – recreating the dazzle design!  With only a few profile photos to go off, Chris and Dave had to use their judgement and also a little creativity in order to painstakingly recreate the dazzle designs across the ship models.

The results are extraordinary, beautiful, and yes, dazzling, and a fitting tribute to Norman Wilkinson and his team.  You can see more photos of Chris and Dave creating these models in our ‘Making model dazzle ships’ Flickr album.

To check the sailing days of Snowdrop visit the Mersey Ferries website.

For more information on the Dazzle Ferry, visit the Biennial website.

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