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Donald McKay

Date: 1851
365 x 210 x 25 mm, 1.15 lb. (0.52 kg)
Medium: Cardboard, ink in wood frame
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Purchased with USA Bicentennial Gift funds
Object Name: Silhouette
Object No: 00039744

User Terms

    This full length glazed hollow-cut silhouette depicts the renowned ship builder Donald McKay. It is still in its original black and gold frame and is twice the size of most silhouettes dating to this period. McKay was central to the design and development of the American clipper ship. He constructed a number of record breaking vessels including the GREAT REPUBLIC, SOVEREIGN OF THE SEAS and FLYING CLOUD.
    SignificanceThis silhouette represents the prominent ship builder Donald McKay and his role in the design of the clipper ships during the mid-19th century.
    HistoryHollow cut silhouettes were extremely popular in America during the 19th century and relatively cheap to make. They were produced by tracing a person’s silhouette, cutting out their profile and then placing the cut-out over a different layer of material. The silhouette was then sometimes highlighted with paint to reveal the finer details of the sitter. Silhouettes were a way to capture a person’s likeness before the development of photography.

    Donald McKay was a leading figure in the age of the clipper ships and a key player in commerce, shipping and the city of Boston. In 1842 he established his shipyard at East Boston, Massachusetts and in a period of three years had constructed eight clippers ships; the STAG HOUND, FLYING CLOUD, STAFFORDSHIRE, FLYING FISH, SOVERIEGN OF THE SEAS, STAR OF EMPIRE, CHARIOT OF FAME and GREAT REPUBLIC.

    The era of the clipper ships occurred between 1845 and 1875. The sleek and graceful ships were a symbol of American modernity and fundamental to the expanding global economy. They generated a sense of romance, competition, national pride and innovative technology. Their design concentrated on speed instead of cargo capacity, incorporating a sleek hull with acres of canvas sails that allowed the vessel to reach record speeds of nearly 20 knots per hour. Competition between shipping companies and entrepreneurs hastened their development as merchants eagerly wanted to transport goods quickly to bring in greater profits.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Donald McKay

    Web title: Donald McKay

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