Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Aircraft Carrier with Butterfly Wings

USS Ranger (CV-4) travels down the slipway at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock
Company during her launching on February 25, 1933 (INS Photo via Navsource/ David Buell)  
You might remember from reading a previous post in our blog that our museum proudly displays the brass builders' plaque of USS Ranger (CV-4), the first American ship designed and built specifically as an aircraft carrier, and that her construction began at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company on September 26, 1931.  Aside from photographs, there are a multitude of ways that a ship can be depicted and remembered, many of which are imbued with unique artistic traditions specific to a particular place and time.  In our collection, Ranger is no exception.  Though it is far too delicate to go on public display, a memento of the aircraft carrier, made in part of materials that are today considered rare, resides at a climate-controlled facility the museum maintains. 

During Ranger's first cruise, just a couple of months after her commissioning at the Norfolk Navy Yard in June 1934, a young Sailor named William F. Graham acquired this visual representation of his new ship that was rendered by an enterprising local artist in Brazil.  The carrier, complete with raised funnels aft of the island, is depicted in reverse-painted glass atop a backing composed mostly of the wings of the butterfly Morpho Menelaus.  Even after almost 81 years, the iridescent upper sides of the Morpho wings remain undiminished.  The more camouflaged underside of the same species' wing, along with those of other indigenous butterflies, serve to help frame the carrier,  shown in Guanbara Bay with the iconic Sugarloaf and Mount Corcovado in the background.

According to the Rainforest Alliance, the Morpho butterfly is today severely threatened not only from those who still use its wings to make artwork, but also from the destruction and fragmentation of its natural habitat.  Artwork such as this reminds us of a time before such scarcity, when any Sailor could afford to bring home such an exotic blend of local style and Navy pride.    

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