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Model ships gallery reopens at San Mateo County History Museum

By Simone Garcia, communications manager, San Mateo County Historical Association.

The San Mateo County History Museum has reopened its exhibit gallery, "Charles Parsons' Ships of the World."

The gallery is undergoing an upgrade that includes new murals, interactive activities, video presentations and graphics, a project funded by a grant from the Christensen Family Foundation.

The museum is located at 2200 Broadway in Redwood City.

The gallery will still feature the 24 beautiful model ships crafted by expert model maker Charles Parsons (1917-2004), who lived in San Carlos.

New murals

Burlingame artist Fred Sinclair is creating the new murals, which will include scenes of shipwrecks on the San Mateo County Coast and shipbuilding at South San Francisco during World War II.

Sinclair is best known for luminous light-filled landscapes. His last showing at the San Mateo County History Museum featured his oil paintings depicting the Southern Pacific Railroad on the Peninsula between the 1930s and 1970s.

He won the Burlingame "Artist of the Year" award in 2001, 2004 and 2006. He began painting oil landscapes in 1959. He has exhibited in many Peninsula galleries and has won numerous awards from national critics.

His two murals capturing dramatic shipwreck scenes show the Rydal Hall smashing into rocks at Pillar Point on October 17, 1876, and the New York beached at Half Moon Bay in March, 1898. The San Mateo County Coast has historically been a graveyard for ocean-going vessels. Between 1851 and 1938, there were 81 wrecks.

Sinclair's third mural will show shipbuilding at South San Francisco during World War II. Dozens of supply ships plus cement barges and escort aircraft carriers were built there during the War.

Charles Parsons' Collection

Charles Parsons grew up on Long Island, New York, and developed a life-long interest in sailing and model shipbuilding. During World War II, he served in the Navy. Following the war he and his wife Suzanne moved to the San Francisco Peninsula.

He worked as an engineer for Standard Oil while pursuing a passion for sailing as a member of the San Francisco Yacht Club. After retiring, he focused his efforts on model shipbuilding.

In January, 2000, Mr. Parsons donated the vast majority of his models (24 of them) to the San Mateo County History Museum, where they have been on permanent display in the Charles Parsons' Ships of the World Gallery ever since. Each model took about 18 months to create. Among the ships on display will be:

● The San Carlos: In 1775, she became the first ship to sail through the Golden Gate. Her crew was first to map the Peninsula's bayline.

● The Golden Hind: Sir Francis Drake's ship visited the Northern California Coast in 1579.

● The Regina "S": The scow schooner frequented the Port of Redwood City in the 1890s.

● The USS Sullivans: Built in San Francisco, the World War II, Fletcher Class destroyer was named for the five brothers who lost their lives during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

In tribute

The renovations to the Charles Parsons Gallery are being done thanks to a grant from the Christensen Family Foundation. Herm Christensen, a member of the Museum's Advisory Council and former member of its board of directors, was a dedicated supporter who made this project possible. He passed away unexpectedly on December 9, 2013.

Contact information

The San Mateo County History Museum is located at 2200 Broadway in Redwood City. For more information about the March 16 festivities, go to www.historysmc.org or call 650-299-0104.

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