index of sculptures 1988 to 2024

Schooner (S.S. Roosevelt)

Bas-relief in salvaged wood #47, 215 x 155 x 12cm.
West Collection, Oaks, Pennsylvania, United States.

The Roosevelt drying out her sails at Cape Sheridan, September, 1908. The Dark Spots on the Shore are the Supplies and Equipment of the Expedition.

Robert E. Peary’s Polar expeditions.

The schooner S.S. Roosevelt was a vessel built in 1905, designed by Robert Edwin Peary (1856-1920) to assist him in his ambition to be the first man at the North Pole.

Peary had made his first trip to the Arctic in 1886 through a donation of $500 from his mother. Accompanied by the Dane Christian Maigaard, he traveled from Godhavn, Greenland, nearly a 100 miles due east in the second-farthest penetration of Greenland’s ice sheet. In 1887 Peary met the 21-year old black sales clerk Matthew Hanson and after learning that Henson had six years of seagoing experience as a cabin boy, hired him as a personal valet. Peary returned to Greenland for a longer stay in 1891, familiarizing himself with the area and the Inuit people, studying their survival techniques, adopting their fur dress and learning how to build igloos. He hired Inuit as hunters and dog-drivers and, in May 1892, reached the 1000 meter Navy Cliff overlooking Independence Fjord. Here Peary concluded – for the first time – that Greenland was an island.

With the recognition from his successful expeditions, Peary eventually gained the support of a wealthy backer and was able to buy his own ship, the S.S. Roosevelt. During its first voyage in 1906, the Roosevelt made its way through the ice between Greenland and Ellesmere Island, establishing a ‘farthest north
by ship’ for the American hemisphere. With the vessel as a base, they ventured out onto the ice for an attempt at the North Pole. The dogsled parties made well under 10 miles a day until they became separated by a storm. Peary travelled on without a companion trained in navigation, and it is from this point that his claims begin to arouse suspicions. Upon returning, having barely escaped with his life off the melting ice, he asserted to have achieved a ‘farthest north’ record at 87°06’ and returned to 86°30’ without camping, implying a round trip of no less than 72 miles in two days.

For his final assault on the Pole, Peary set off from New York City on July 6th 1908 under great public interest. His expedition wintered near Cape Sheridan on Ellesmere Island, and departed for the Pole on February 28th 1909. Peary set out on the last stretch with five assistants, none of whom were capable of making navigational observations. They were Matthew Henson and four Inuit: Ootah, Egigingwah, Seegloo and Ooqueah. On April 6, 1909, he established ‘Camp Jesup’ allegedly within 5 miles of the pole after which they proceeded to plant a flag. Here Peary wrote his famous journal entry ‘The Pole at last!’ For this to have been true however meant that they must have covered over three times their usual daily distance. This later shed doubt on Peary’s claim, especially because Matthew Henson’s account speaks of tortuous detours to avoid pressure ridges, often several meters high, and leads of open water.
Upon returning to civilization, Peary learned that Dr. Frederick A. Cook claimed to have been first to reach the North Pole in 1908. But a Danish panel of explorers and navigation experts scrutinized Cook’s reports and rejected his claim. After this Peary decided not to submit his evidence for independent review but instead have his claim certified by the National Geographic Society, a major sponsor of his expedition. The first undisputed visit to the North Pole would not take place until sixty years later, by Wally Herbert in 1969.

Peary’s ship S.S. Roosevelt spent her latter days working as a towboat in the Puget Sound. Later, in 1937, after becoming totally disabled in an accident, she was laid up in the Panama Canal. Her crew, who had not been paid, sold off her equipment. Finally, the once famed Arctic exploration ship was left to rot away.

Matthew Henson [1910] unknown photographer – US library of congress.

Matthew Alexander Henson (1866 – 1955), the first African-American Arctic explorer, was an associate of Robert Peary on seven voyages over a period of nearly 23 years. They made six voyages and spent a total of 18 years together on expeditions. Henson served as a carpenter, mechanic and dog driver, traded with Inuit and learned their language, and was known as Peary’s ‘first man’ in their attempts to reach the geographic North Pole. (source)

Peary in arctic furs, c.1909 (source)

Part of the Motor Memory presentation in 2008 at OkOk gallery in Seattle, WA, USA.