Master model shipwright Harold M Hahn

Dave Stevens (Lumberyard)

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The artist Harold Hahn part 1

In this article i will explore the work of Harold Hahn and the impact he had on the hobby of model ship building. His ideas molded a generation of model builders and those inspired by his work carried his work forward into the new generation.

All the images you will see are from the Cleveland Museum of art as well from the estate of Harold Hahn. They are shown here with the permission of the museum and the estate. Harold never stopped working, he was a prolific artist every wall in his house hung paintings and sketches, model ships are on display in his house as well as the homes of his children and piles and piles of water colors, drawings, prints, sketches and etchings. Many times i sat and went through his work as he told their story of where and why he created the piece.

My father was a portrait artist and photographer later to become a lithographer i followed in his foot steps and pursued a career as a commercial artist. With my back round in art meeting Harold Hahn a bond was formed as the young artist and the master. Harold was a well educated and refined man his intellect would shine and you could feel his passion of art.

The question of art versus craft. The division between the two is not easy to define without writing a dissertation. Art can be the expression of an idea through craft, and more recently still, art can even just be an idea. Craft on the other hand is often the creation of object through a learned skill. Evidence of this is found in the history of guilds and trades in the renaissance through the journeyman process found even now in trades like carpentry. The museum does not define these things specifically, but collects objects which are examples of both historically. In other words an art museum defines art as a natural talent where as a craft is the result of a learned skill. An artist can pick up a brush or pen and ink or for that matter whatever medium chosen and without prior training will create a work of art. This is not to say an artist can't go through school or training and improve on the raw natural talent. What makes an item a craft is the result of a craftsman going through the process from apprentice to master craftsman or a journeyman learning the craft through a well defined set of rules and instructions.

What is going on when an artist takes a craft and raises it to a level of fine art? As defined above the artist redefines the craft through self expression. In the case of Harold Hahn he was a well established and award winning artist long before he built his first model ship. Self expression comes into play when Harold Hahn took the craft of model ship building which is a learned skill and adds an element of sculpture and expression. We can accomplish the craft of model ship building through learning and training but no matter how hard some of us try we can never accomplish the level of sculpture achieved by the natural talent of Hahn, this is the dividing line between art and craft.

1942.hahn.jpg


Twenty-one (Self-Portrait), 1942. Harold Maxwell Hahn (American, 1920-) Etching;
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Gift of The Print Club of Cleveland 1942.311
 
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Dave Stevens (Lumberyard)

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As an artists medium Harold first learned Linoleum cutting then engraving on end grain blocks of Boxwood. Following he learned the different approaches to working on polished copper plates: drypoint, engraving, line etching, soft ground etching, and other aquatint techniques. All of the methods for producing pictures represented direct application of the artists creative efforts and special skills. At the time i met Harold i was working in a print shop specializing in limited edition art prints and learning how to do etchings. The etchings done by Harold should not be confused with commercially printed reproductions of an artists work. The mechanically produced offset lithographs are "copies" of the original artists work, however they are reproductions of the actual etching and lack the detail of the original prints made direct from the copper plates.

The process of creating and printing a line etching begins with a polished copper plate. This plate is heated and a ball of hard ground wax is touched to the hot plate to deposit enough wax on the surface so it can be rolled out into a smooth coating. Next the plate is passed over a candle flame until the warm wax is impregnated with the smoke to produce a uniformly blackened surface. The design is then traced onto the plate, bearing in mind that when the image is printed, the image will be reversed. The picture is cut on the grounded plate with a sharp point that cuts into the hard wax to expose the copper.

The contrast between the blackened wax and the bright copper color produces a well defined negative image. After drawing all the lines that will be the heaviest in the picture, the plate is submerged in a diluted solution of hydrochloric acid. The time the plate is left to etch in the acid is determined by the skill and experience of the artist. After the first etching the next pronounced lines are scribed in the wax and the plate is once again etched. This process is repeated from the heaviest lines to the finest lines. Some drawings will require as many as six acid etchings ranging from two minutes to two hours. When the final etching is done, the wax is cleaned from the copper plate and a test print is made. In most cases the cycles of etching may have to be done three of more times until the finished result is achieved.

When Harold did a series of prints from the original etching he destroyed the copper plate so no others could be made. This insured the limited edition of each of his prints. The is the only known original master copper etching to survive.

copper etching.jpg
 

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Looking at the bottom of the prints you will see numbers for example 5/20 the top number is the number of the print and the bottom number is the amount of prints made. Lower the numbers the higher the value of the print.

In almost all Hahn prints there will be a building which suggests Harold's interest in structure and architecture. Realizing the path of the starving artist was not for him he went to school at Case Western University school of applied science where he enrolled in the engineering curriculum resulting in a career as an engineer and not as an artist.

1942.312 (1).jpg


Crucible 1942 etching and aquatint
gift of the print club of Cleveland 1942
Cleveland museum of Art collection

1947.134.jpg

watercolor
gift of Harold Hahn 1947
cleveland Art museum collection




Although structures appear in many of his works Harold did dabble in the abstract, however in the back round it looks like steps and some sort of structure.
1948.87.jpg

Impromptu
aquatint
1948
Cleveland Museum of Art collection
 

Dave Stevens (Lumberyard)

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Of all the visits to Harold i never seen any examples of sculpture, this all changed when he directed his attention to model ship building. In this genre he was able to combine all his artistic talent of painting, design and the discovery of sculpture into one endeavor call it artist turned engineer or engineer turned artist.

39.jpg

Hahn's colonial period resulted in the diorama, a book the Colonial Schooner and sets of modeling plans. His work so far was well received and well respected. When crossing the line from artist to craftsman it becomes a learned skill and there are rules to follow, and things are done certain ways, this is where self expression of the artist takes a back seat to learned skills and a system of doing things. It was this second phase when the artist turned shipwright that the critics began to creep out of the woodwork and criticize his work from where he placed gun ports, their size, how he framed his models, the use of little people in the models, interpretation of the carved work and anything no matter how trivial was questioned, some was justified some just nit picking. Some comments come down to the arm chair experts those who sit down and read an article or two maybe even a book on a subject and consider themselves experts, then there are those who will quote information and apply it willy-nilly. One example of this is when i read a post i don't remember when or where but the post read Hahn's framing of his models were all wrong because he did not taper the frames. The information is correct, British ship did taper frame futtocks they got smaller as they reached the top timbers, problem is a number Hahn's ship were American built and in North America frames were not tapered, framing was almost a solid wall of timber from keel to caprail.


shipyard2.jpg
 

Dave Stevens (Lumberyard)

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Two major events set Harold's model building into motion on was the Boston museum of art and the other were Robert Bruckshaw and August Crabtree both took Harold Hahn under their wing and taught him the fine art of model ship building.

Taken directly from his Memoirs and in Harold’s own words. “The Boston Museum of fine arts really hit me hard. I found ship models in cases located in the halls of the museum. The thing that bowled me over, and forced me to reassess my intent in ship modeling was a gallery devoted to a collection of British Admiralty models. I had been patting myself on the back for being quite a fine model builder after the few opportunities I had had to see other noted people’s work. Suddenly it was revealed to me that I hadn’t even reached first base. The exquisite workmanship and detailing that I saw in the complicated Admiralty models had me eating humble pie.
 
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Dave, Would like your opion on a question I have asked before, IN TODAYS TECHNOLGY ie CAD PLANS, 3-D MODELING, etc how would these 2 masters use this or would they. Don
 

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Dave, Would like your opinion on a question I have asked before, IN TODAYS TECHNOLGY ie CAD PLANS, 3-D MODELING, etc how would these 2 masters use this or would they. Don
good question

I knew both bob and Harold personally I was bob who taught me how to draw ship plans. bob Bruckshaw was a draftsman by trade and there is no doubt he would embrace computer aided drafting, Harold was an engineer by profession and anything new, anything cutting edge Harold would try it. The goal of Harold was to engineer the process of model ship building so anyone could successfully build a plank on frame model. However, there was a limit. When I approached Harold with the idea of a timbering set and laser cut parts of his models he thought it was a good idea to give a builder who did not have the tools to mill their own wood and the laser cutting was far more accurate than cutting a jig by hand. A concern of Harold was loosing the hands on old school of model building. Harold did not like the idea of pre finished wood he thought just dimensioned wood should be as far as supplying wood should go. A model builder, to improve their skills must hand finish the pieces, feel the tools in hand and know the nature of the materials, you do not get this from gluing a finished piece of wood to another. To Harold the craft and art of model ship building is a process of development of skills and learning. If Harold were around today and saw what kit manufactures did to his models by laser cutting all the frames and parts he would consider that an abomination. As far back as 40 years Harold never like the idea of "kits" of model ships he believed they robbed the builder of developing skills and viewed them as a paint by number toy.
 
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Dave Stevens (Lumberyard)

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creationism implies a craftsman comes up with an idea for a model ship subject, packs up his bags and heads off to an archive to research the subject or hires a researcher. From this first hand research he then develops the subject, plans the project and draws a set of working plans. Once the project is planned out and drawn he starts with a pile of rough lumber and various materials and builds the model ship.

This process is indeed done and that is exactly what I am doing with the Steam ship Mississippi. Step 1 was to hire a researcher and to obtain the original drawings, from these drawings I redraw and develop a set of CAD drawings and from there into a 3D model. I can not say it is 100% original because I rely on many tech books on steam engineering, models built by others and other researches findings.

When it comes to art or industry products are the result of evolution where it is designed and built on what came before it.
Adam will explain

 

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in the filed of commercial model ship kits it is a process of evolution where a subject is taken and reworked based on original work.

lets take a model kit of the Confederacy no kit out there can claim "original" piece of work they all are copies of the first model of the confederacy introduced to the ship modeling community by Bob Bruckshaw.

Back in 1969 it was bob who went to the national archives and researched and traced the original drawings. So Bob is the creator of all the kits of the Confederacy we see today. These drawings were then given to Harold Hahn and he drew his modeling plans based on bob's drawings, then Harold built a model as a result of evolution of the model.

bc1.jpgbc2.jpgbc3.jpg
 
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Wonderfull Dave, GREAT INSIGHT INTO THE MINDS OF THESE 2 PIONEERS IN OUR WONDERFULL HOBBY. THANKS AGAIN Don PS one more question as I understand you the Mississippi will be a kit is it an X SECTION, or a series of X SECTION
 

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as we shall see it is not just the redesigning of a model kit but taking an idea and expanding on it is actually the way engineering, design and development is done.
 

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Wonderfull Dave, GREAT INSIGHT INTO THE MINDS OF THESE 2 PIONEERS IN OUR WONDERFULL HOBBY. THANKS AGAIN Don PS one more question as I understand you the Mississippi will be a kit is it an X SECTION, or a series of X SECTION

yes the Mississippi will indeed be a collection of X sections showing various parts of the ship so a model builder can select from simple to complex building projects.
 
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