Strong Breezes and Passing Clouds

Look in the vestibule and entry-level restroom on the first floor for the permanent exhibit Strong Breezes & Passing Clouds that contains text and images from the 1838 ship’s log of Capt. Edward Babson and the diary of his wife, Amanda Babson. For more on Captain Edward and Amanda Stanwood Babson, see here

Edward and Amanda Babson

The installation by contemporary ceramic artist, Diane KW, is made up of approximately 200 shipwreck shards and six Chinese Export plates. The shards date from circa 1625 to 1865 and the Chinese Export plates from circa 1735 to 1750.  The excerpts from the log and the diary have been applied to the shards and plates; interspersed amidst the diary and log entries are family photos and excerpts from the Gloucester Marine Journal reporting ships lost or missing at sea as well as excerpts from the brig Cadet accounts book.

An 1840’s painting of the brig Cadet by Fitz Henry Lane donated by Isabel Babson Lane  is found in the Fitz Henry Lane Gallery on the entry level floor of the Museum.

Strong Breezes

Fresnel Lighthouse Lens

Come up to the second floor and see the Fresnel lighthouse lens and listen to its remarkable story in a series of audio segments narrated by Thomas W. Babson, a Gloucester resident and an actor retired from his days on the televised series, Cheers. The sound engineer on the project was Tom’s nephew, Warren Babson, a Gloucester native.

Truly a piece of industrial art, the Fresnel lighthouse lens was a breakthrough in its time. The technology behind the lens was developed in the 1820s by French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel. The First Order Fresnel lens on exhibit stands an astonishing 10 feet tall not counting the base and weighs tons. Over 275 crystal glass prisms reflect and refract the light from a single source into a powerful horizontal beam.

Fresnel Lens

S. Sautter & Co., Paris, Fresnel Lens (First Order) From Thacher Island Light South Tower, c.1860, glass, steel, brass, on long-term deposit at the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA, from the U.S. Coast Guard

On long-term loan from the US Coast Guard, the museum lens was housed in the south tower of the twin lighthouses on Thacher Island, off Rockport. The current granite light towers were completed in 1861, replacing shorter, inadequate twin towers. First Order Fresnel lenses, the largest commercially made, were then installed. Suddenly in good weather, the loom of Thacher’s lights, 165 feet above sea level, could be seen 22 miles at sea.

Lighthouse Tower

Photo of South Tower, former home of the Fresnel Lens, and the Keeper’s House.  Credit to Gail E. Anderson

The north tower was extinguished in 1932. In 1980, the Fresnel lens now in the Museum was removed from the south tower and replaced by a powerful aerobeacon that still operates today. Thanks to cooperative efforts by the museum, the Thacher Island Association, and many donors, the lens was brought to Gloucester from Coast Guard storage, and a beautiful gallery on the second floor was completed in 2014 to house it. A skylight window in the gallery allows light to play over the prisms, creating rainbows on the walls. A screen displays videos that visitors operate via an iPad.

The Thacher Island Association has run seasonal trips to the island where visitors have been able to climb to the North Tower.  For more information, see

Material in this posting was contributed by Cape Ann Museum docent Gail E. Anderson, a former marine journalist.

Fitz Henry Lane Gallery

Stop by at the Fitz Henry Lane Gallery on the entry level of the Museum.  The Museum owns the largest collection of work by native son, Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865), the premier marine artist of the mid-19th century. Three of his most extraordinary paintings involve Babson subject matter and were donated to the Museum by Babson family members.

You will see Babson and Ellery Houses, Gloucester, 1863, oil on canvas, a painting of the two houses located at the gateway to Cape Ann.  Now owned by the Museum, they consist of part of the newly-developed Cape Ann Museum Green.  This painting was donated to the Museum by Roger W. Babson in 1937.

Babson Ellery Houses

Babson and Ellery Houses, Gloucester

Another painting, The Babson Meadows at Riverdale, 1863, oil on canvas, also donated by Roger W. Babson in 1937, depicts the Riverdale section of Gloucester where Babson family members have lived for generations.

Babson Meadows

The Babson Meadows at Riverdale

The third painting you will want to find in the Gallery is the Brig “Cadet” In Gloucester Harbor, late 1840s, oil on canvas.  The Cadet, a 207 ton, two decks, two masts, square stern brig, was owned by brothers Captain Edward (1811-1879), the Honorable John James (1809-1886) and William, Jr. ((1817-1885) Babson. The Master of the Cadet at the time of the painting was Captain Edward Babson. His ship log, along with the diary of his wife, Amanda, form the basis of the permanent exhibit “Strong Breezes & Passing Clouds”, found nearby in the Museum.   The painting was donated by Captain Edward’s granddaughter, Isabel Babson Lane, in 1946.  Her father was a distant cousin of Fitz Henry Lane.

Brig “Cadet” In Gloucester Harbor

For more on Fitz Henry Lane, visit the online resource at the Museum.

Nathalie Duley Clough Portrait

Look for the  charming Portrait of Nathalie Duley Clough, an oil on canvas painted in 1868 by Alfred J. Wiggin.  To read Anne Babson Carter’s story about Nathalie’s Babsons connection, see My Cape Ann Story and to read Anne’s published account in Cape Ann Museum News and Views, see here.

Nathalie Duley Clough Portrait

Alfred J. Wiggin (1823–1883). Portrait of Nathalie D. Clough (1863-1946), 1868.