May 12, 2020

PEMcast 017 – Life at sea

by joeyphoenix

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A message from PEM in the EIMH windows, “Hope anchors the soul.”
Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

From the Peabody Essex Museum

While confined to our homes and spring in bloom all around, many of us are trying to find solace in creativity. How many times has this perfectly apt Toni Morrison quote been shared lately?

This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.

In this episode of the PEMcast, we talk with Dan Finamore, curator of our Maritime Collection, about how he’s coping in his Salem home, as he compares stocking his shelves to provisioning aboard ships before long sea journeys from Salem Harbor. These epic journeys that were so frequent in the 19th century sometimes lasted a year or longer and gave rise to distinct forms of creativity among the sailors.

A woman, teenge boy and girl in a kitchen with a cake and a laptop on the counter

The Finamore family during quarantine. Courtesy photo.

Quarantine flag at Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Photo by Paige Besse/PEM

We also talk with the rigger of the Friendship of Salem, about his decision to hoist the ominous quarantine flag in the harbor. And begin to understand our own feelings of being adrift with those of sailors when they had only the stars to guide them.

John Newman from Salem Maritime National Historic Site, takes down the quarantine flag before a storm.
John Newman from Salem Maritime National Historic Site, takes down the quarantine flag before a storm.

Salem and PEM’s history are steeped in maritime tradition. Something Finamore discusses on the PEMcast is the idea of a gam: when two ships join up in the middle of the vast and lonely ocean to connect and celebrate. This strikes us as such an appealing concept right now as we are all isolated by the pandemic, so we are making plans to host a virtual gam with our curator and all of you. Stay tuned on our social channels for more information. In the meantime, check out a virtual tour of PEM’s new maritime gallery and follow Dan Finamore on Instagram @mattersmaritime.

A blue printed banner sign that says "Stay well. Stay inspired" stands in green grass.
Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.

PEM was founded on the idea that life at sea was hard. It was hard on sailors and their families, since the sea promised neither wealth, nor safe passage. And so the museum’s founders offered aid to those who lost their fortunes or who never returned from sea. Today, during these uncertain times, PEM is once again offering its support. For every contribution made to the #WeArePEM campaign, the museum will donate a membership to caregivers at North Shore Medical Center. As of this post, we’ve already donated more than 200 memberships!

If you are interested in learning about PEM’s maritime origins, pick up a copy of Collecting the Globe, written by our own Associate Curator of Exhibitions and Research, George Schwartz. This fascinating book will take you out to sea and back to Salem and is available online in our Shop.

Special thanks to Dan Finamore, PEM’s Russell W. Knight Curator of Maritime Art and History, and to John Newman of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Stay tuned for more episodes of the PEMcast. If you have comments or story ideas or if you want to share what you’re doing through this health crisis, write to us at If you want more information about the museum’s closing, please visit and keep in touch with us through FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

Square A painting of a ship on the ocean with a pink and purple sunset. Rigged Ships Anchored at Sunset, about 1850. Oil on canvas.
Mary Blood Mellen, Square Rigged Ships Anchored at Sunset, about 1850. Oil on canvas. Museum purchase made possible by members of the Maritime Art and History visiting committee in honor of George Lewis. © Peabody Essex Museum.

The PEM staff wishes everyone health, safety and calm during the COVID-19 shutdown. Museums provide light and inspiration during challenging times. We will be creative in maintaining PEM’s relationship with you in this time of crisis. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum when the public health crisis has subsided.

Click here for an up to date listing of Virtual Experiences

Creative North Shore is produced, curated and managed by Creative Collective, we are trying really hard to make sure that we don’t have to put a paywall in place and could really use your support to keep afloat and make us able to keep a few of our staff employed and providing you with content and information. Please consider supporting us with any amount.