Tradition

In bygone days, a ship was almost a human individual in the eyes of its crew, and the ship`s special character was personified in both her name and her figurehead. Centuries of tradition lay behind the seaman`s feeling of superstition and awe for the figurehead in particular. In ancient times, the Greeks and Romans placed carved images of their gods on their galleys to placate those gods, and the figureheads of Norse warships were designed to strike terror into the enemy and scare away guardian spirits. During the Renaissance in Europe and the following centuries, the lavish carvings that ornamented ships bore witness to the wealth and strength of the nations that launched them. The figurehead symbolized the living spirit of a ship. Romantic in conception, it also suggested the hidden poetry of a sea captain`s nature and a crew`s sense of the romance of seafaring. In his story, "A Smile of Fortune", Joseph Conrad makes it dramatically clear that the figurehead was looked upon in a very personal way by the captain , who associated it with the luck of his ship and his own fortunes. Injury to or loss of the original figurehead was considered an especially ill omen. In Conrad`s tale, the ship`s figurehead was lost.

A suggestion was made that a new one could be secured, for one happened to be available at a shipyard at that moment. In response, the disheartened captain of the headless ship flushed red as if something improper had been proposed. He said that he would sooner think of getting a new wife, and then asked wether he seemed "the sort that would pick up with another man`s cast-off figurehead?" Another story, discovered in an old newspaper account, concerned an aged sailor protesting when the figurehead was removed from the ship "Centennial", "It is enough to blanch the faces of old seamen to sail without a figurehead". There have been accounts recording that the strange fact that some figureheads, having fallen into the hands of South Sea chiefs during trading voyages,were set up and worshipped as idols. It is no wonder then that a ship`s own crew felt a superstitious attachment to its figurehead. In fact, sailors often carried a fragment of wood sliced from the figure in their pockets, to bring them luck on a voyage. Ship carving belongs to one of the few areas of art that has developed from an old cultural tradition and has differentiated itself from typical sculpting of modern times. It is descended from the art of primitve cultures, in which the connection to mythology, religion and superstition was still noticeable. Claus Hartmann`s great-grandfather, Cpt. Johann Mohrschladt, recognized these special values of a figurehead, and he appreciated each one beyond its decorative function on board a ship. He collected figureheads from wrecked and stranded ships found on far- off coasts during his travels around the world. For Claus Hartmann, his attachment to seafaring has a long family tradition. His father also restored old treasures, created some more of his own, and established a handsome collection which adds to the very special atmosphere of Claus and Birgit`s studio today.