Maquette Model Of the Gold Mermaid Figurehead for the Yacht Hi Esmaro was Built at Bath Iron Works in 1928 for Mr. Hiram Manville. She was 267 feet in length and was one of the super yachts built by Bath Iron Works in Maine. They also built the Famous Yacht Corsair for JP Morgan. As I mentioned the maquette descended in the Manville family and went from the family to me. I will have a letter from a family member testifying to these facts. There is a link to the auction information about the carving including several photos. None of the photos of the face do her justice so I have attached 2 photo of the face so you can get a better idea.
I also have included a link that provides information about the Hi-Esmoro including several photos of the yacht including bow shots which clearly show the figurehead on the yacht looking just like the model. The is a large model of the Yacht at the New York Yacht Club at their Newport club house which shows the figurehead which was given to the club by Manville because he was a member and it was customary for owners to give professional quality models to the club of the more major vessels.
By Richard Hunter
Figurehead Historian/ United Kingdom
The literal definition of a maquette is a sculptors small preliminary model or sketch, produced in the artist’s studio for a larger piece of artwork or sculpture, created in order to visualise how the finished item might look, maquettes where also created as a three-dimensional template to help scale up to a much larger finished work of art, maquettes of ships Figureheads are unusual, a number of Naval examples survive in major collections around the World, usually produced by the carver to be presented to the Sovereign for approval, once this was given the maquette would be presented to a favoured official or retained by the commissioning admiralty, merchant examples are extremely rare, in the case of the HI-ESMARO maquette we are looking at a piece created not as a presentation piece to show a prospective client, but as a working model created out of plaster on a wooden frame, HI-ESMARO was built for the American magnate Hiram Manville, proprietor of the Johns-Manville Company, at the Bath Iron works in Bath Maine, with a length of 267 feet and 1,333 tons, work began in 1928, she was launched on the 7th June 1929, with critical acclaim, being described as one of the most beautiful yachts afloat at that time, with an original price estimation of $769,000 she would in the end cost a staggering $900,000, equivalent to just over $12 million our time, as a proud owner Hiram Manville would have taken great interest in all aspects of the vessels design and layout ,not least in the style and subject of the vessels figurehead, an essential and aesthetically important element of the overall appearance of the vessel, the name HI-ESMARO has no obvious subject, being formed by the first syllables of his Christian name HI followed by ES the first two syllables of his daughter name Estelle, then part of his surname MA and finally his wife Romaine, a number of designs would have been produced in sketch form, once a design was settled to Mr Manville’s approval , in the case of the HI-ESMARO a young female mermaid semi-nude with a scaled fishtails, her left arm razed shielding her eyes as she scans the distant horizon, a scaled template of the bow would be produced by the carpentry department of the yard, and on this a three-dimensional model of the Figurehead would be produced, from this surviving maquette a full sized figurehead would have been produced again in plaster, to allow the carving to be cast in bronze, ready to be fitted on the bow, during the casting process this full sized representation may well have been lost, or destroyed during the process leaving the original small scale model, when it was no longer needed this fascinating survivor was given to the family of Hiram Manville and remained with them until its recent sale.
During its working life under the ownership of the Manville family HI-ESMORO was well documented and photographed on numerous occasions, the natural focus point being the Figurehead, in several surviving views this can be seen quite clearly and matches perfectly the figurehead we see in this remarkable maquette, right down to the delicate and sinuous flow of her hair, the August 1931 issue of the Fortune magazine carried a full page advertisement for the Bath Iron Works Corporation under the heading “Bath always builds good ships” featuring two large views of the HI-ESMORO from the bow and stern, indicating its pride in the vessel, the Manville family used HI-ESMORO for several voyages during the 1930’s , mindful of world events at the end of the 30’s the American government purchased her in October 1940, converted for use by the Navy as a coastal minelayer, operating in the Caribbean and Pacific waters she had known well before the War, with this change of owners and role, she was given the name USS Niagara and stationed at Noumea, New Caledonia, within a short time she was again reclassified as a patrol gunboat with the identification PG-52, sadly her service in the Navy was sort lived, on the 23rd May 1943 while en route to New
Guinea she was sunk by a Japanese bomber between Tulugi and New Guinea, despite serous and irrevocable damage not one of her 136 officers and men died or sustained serious injuries, many escaping from the yachts elegant stern, to be rescued by PT-146 and PT-147 coming alongside the stricken vessel, 14 years after being launched as a luxury yacht HI-ESMORO as the USS Niagara would receive a battle star for services during World War II, very little material has survived from the HI-ESMORO this Figurehead maquette is a rare and remarkable survivor offering a glimpse of a bygone art and age, when beauty and aesthetics triumphed over modernity.