BGSU acquires Vincent Douglas Nickerson Collection

“The Steamship Germanic,” part of the Nickerson Collection. The wood-hulled, 216-foot-long Germanic was built in 1888 at West Bay City, Mich., by James Davidson.

BOWLING GREEN, O.—The Historical Collections of the Great Lakes (HCGL), part of the Center for Archival Collections at the Bowling Green State University Libraries, has recently received a donation of the Vincent Douglas Nickerson Collection of Great Lakes marine art. The collection includes more than 300 original vessel drawings dating from 1880 to 1910. It is one of the most, if not the most, extensive body of work of a Great Lakes marine artist in a public institution, said HCGL Archivist Robert Graham.

The Nickerson collection was donated to BGSU by Ellen Drouillard Boruff of Bloomington, Ind., who inherited the collection from her grandfather, William R. Rearick, a friend of Nickerson’s and also a marine artist.

Graham consulted with Boruff for several years on the collection before the donation, helping to identify the vessels portrayed in her grandfather’s collection.

“One of our strengths is Great Lakes maritime history, so this is a perfect complement to existing collections. It gives us a depth that wasn’t there before,” he said. “To find a body of work from a late-19th-century marine artist of this magnitude is really special.”

Most of Nickerson’s clients were connected to the maritime industry (vessel owners, agents, captains, etc.) and expected accurate details. The collection consists of original perspective drawings, many in color, prepared to provide the details needed for the paintings Nickerson was commissioned to produce. These works often provide scale drawings as well as color schemes of Great Lakes vessels from the 1840s to 1910. In many cases his drawings are the only known details available for a particular vessel, Graham said.

“This was a transitional period, when ships were going from wood to steel construction,” he said.

Only a small number of Nickerson’s finished paintings survive, adding more significance to this collection. Several of them are at the Great Lakes Historical Society in Vermilion.

The BGSU historical collections staff is compiling a detailed inventory of the collection and identifying items that may require conservation. As soon as the inventory and conservation process is completed, the collection will be available for research.                                               

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(Posted December 19, 2011 )