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Artist designs USS Constitution in miniature

By Brian Lee, Telegram and Gazette Staff

This article is a courtesy of Telegram and Gazette Newspaper and published by permission from the T&G Staff and Mr. Rex Stewart. Photos - courtesy of T&G Staff Photos/Jim Collins. This article is a sole intellectual property of Telegram and Gazette newspaper and therefore cannot be copied, printed and published without expressed writing permission from the owner.

 

A 55-year-old artist wants a permanent place aboard the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown.

With the 200-year anniversary of the War of 1812 looming, Rex Stewart of Southbridge is raising money to hand-carve an approximately 6-foot-long wooden replica of the ship’s gun deck.

His goal is to have it displayed at the museum, although he has not been commissioned.

Mr. Stewart has already carved a 2-foot version of the historic vessel, which he calls “Rising to the Call.” It sits in the Elm Street apartment he shares with his wife and 8-year-old daughter.

Mr. Stewart said the broader aim of the piece is to transcend “the stigma of the military", in the sense that there were all different cultures serving on that vessel.

“There were very much men of color serving on those vessels,” he continued. “If you saw the movie ‘Amistad,’ you saw that there were black Marines, sailors” on that slave ship.

The piece took about five months to make and has already been displayed at the Constitution Museum in 2004, as well as at the Brimfield Antique & Collectibles Show and Woods Hole Historical Museum Model Boat Show, Mr. Stewart said.

The larger piece will take about a year to make. It will have more of the ship, including the masts, stern gallery and living quarters, “so people have a feel of the vessel itself,” he said.

The smaller one depicts about 75 people on the ship. Almost like a movie scene, their facial expressions are visible amid the bevy of activity portrayed, including gun aiming and grenade throwing.

In one interaction, a white soldier’s hand is “clutched up to the Lord because his comrade (a black soldier) was dying,” Mr. Stewart said. Although his piece is generic, he wanted to display “the accuracy of the uniforms, the men themselves, what goes on in battle, the whole nine yards,” Mr. Stewart said.

He said he did 30 years of research on the battle.

Mr. Stewart said his goal is to get a corporation to buy the piece to put it in the museum, and the money from the purchase would “come back to Southbridge” for youth education programs.

He said he has received letters from people who have wondered about his objective, which is to portray the military fighting for their country, while “at the same time tell the truth that men of color served on the vessel.”

Beyond that, he said, he wants to glorify “our heavenly fathers” and use the piece as an educational tool for children, scholars and the military.

At the Constitution Museum are relics from the ship and paintings, but you don’t see gunmen, he said.
 

 

Rex Stewart with his hand-carved model of the gun deck of the USS Constitution. He plans to carve a larger model of the deck for the USS Constitution Museum in Charlestown. (T&G Staff Photos/JIM COLLINS)

 

Fragment of the Rex Stewart's hand-carved model of the gun deck of the USS Constitution.  (T&G Staff Photos/JIM COLLINS)

 

Fragment of the Rex Stewart's hand-carved model of the gun deck of the USS Constitution.  (T&G Staff Photos/JIM COLLINS)

“Having this there would bring awareness to the Navy, our country, that there’s camaraderie with these men, in spite of what history says,” the self-taught historian said.

Mr. Stewart said he attended the State University of New York at Albany, but quit during his freshman year “because of the prejudice.” He said he knew his talents qualified him for full independent-study courses, but the art director gave him reduced credits. He promptly left the school and got an exhibit in a local museum the following year.

His work has been in publications or shows in and around New England and New York. It has also been on PBS television auctions and programs. He recently produced a piece for Ellis Island in celebration of the Hudson River and navigator Henry Hudson.

Mr. Stewart has work in the American Marine Model Gallery in Gloucester, but has pulled all his other pieces out of galleries.

Born and raised in Albany, Mr. Stewart first moved to Central Massachusetts in 2001 and left in 2005. He returned in recent months.

A fascination with New England motivated him to come to the area. He said he chose Southbridge because of its antiques.

In the years to come, he said, he will do tabletop pieces. His wife, Wanda, does restoration, and he will make paintings to sit atop the tables in cases.

Mr. Stewart, whose Web site is www.rexstewartoriginals.com, said he is in a holding pattern, but hasn’t lost hope.

“Commission work is coming,” he said. “I’m going to hit the mark.”

 

Donations for Mr. Stewart’s project may be sent to Rex Stewart, Box 503, Southbridge, MA 01550.

 

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Our Comment:

We support Rex Stewart's initiative and wish him luck in accomplishing his noble project. People like Rex keep our history alive and do not let our heritage to fade away.

On the other hand here is the question that has to be asked. Isn't it the Charlestown Museum that should be coming up with such initiative, securing funds and taking care of our heritage. The museum has staff, recourses and tools to do it. These are the people that specifically hired to do this job and, apparently, they care much less about it than enthusiasts such as Mr. Stewart. Isn't it the main objective of each museum to expand and enrich the exhibit, to develop and add to it new exciting elements, and what can be more exciting than museum models and dioramas. Nevertheless, throughout the website of Charlestown Museum, Rex Stewart's project is not mentioned, not even once, not by one single word. 

We are privileged to get to know Rex Stewart and be able to help him to spread the word about his initiative. But how sad it is to learn than not only he did not have any help from the museum to which he is going to donate the future diorama, but has to "break walls" in order to overcome the reluctance of the museum staff and their lack of will to do the job that they are hired to do.

It is true that most of museums cannot live on admissions only, they are receiving grants and significant donations. At the end a museum has money to pay for the premises, utility bills, insurance and staff. Put it all together and you will obtain an idea of how significant functioning museum's funds are. These funds are being granted to a museum for a reason - to keep it functioning, to fulfill its obligation to guard and preserve a specific area of historical heritage, to educate the youth, to upkeep the nation's cultural level. Shame on a museum, that spends the funds to keep the place and pay its staff, which does not display a fraction of the passion that Rex Stewart has. A staff, that becomes obstacle for enthusiasts like Mr. Stewart, which should be overcame while these volunteers are doing all the job. Yet, should the project become a success, a museum staff will take all the credit and all the benefit to secure more grants and donations... to pay their salary for...that's right, for not doing the job...

Praise Rex Stewart, his passion and his project. Despite all obstacles he sees the goal that is above all and works hard to achieve it. Support his project, donate to the cause and remember people to whom we owe our cultural riches.

 
 
     
  
 

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