Carol A. Olsen, M.A., has expertise in 19th and 20th century ship figureheads, an academic interest that began decades ago. Carol’s first published article on ship figureheads appeared in The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology when she was a graduate student at Texas A&M University’s Nautical Archaeology program. Upon graduation she received a Distinguished Graduate Student award that recognized her already substantial work on ship figurehead collections at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut, The Mariners’ Museum in Virginia, and consultation she provided to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts during their research for William Rush, American Sculptor.
Carol’s undergraduate studies in Art History from the University of California at Berkeley were influenced by a summer visit to the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath, where she saw ship figureheads for the first time and wondered why these wonderful sculptures were completely absent from her undergraduate art history curriculum. Such carvings have been inspiration for continued independent investigation and travel ever since.
Carol interspersed ongoing ship figurehead studies, presentations, and writing with a 22-year career in sophisticated satellite communications for ships. Carol now devotes full time to ship carving studies and has contributed new information to private collections in Europe, South America, and the United States.
Carol is currently writing a book about the little-known Pablo Neruda ship figurehead collection in Chile and doing new research about her favorite American shipcarver, Charles A. L. Sampson, who worked in Bath, Maine until his unexpected passing on New Year’s Day in 1881.
In this blog at www.hullartships.com Carol also preserves stories modern boaters share about the meaning of figureheads, graphics, or other embellishments on their boats. Those objects are ephemeral, boat ownership can be brief, and the collected stories are rare. This lens shows some boaters in a very personal way, from stories read to their children, to a town's remembrance of its beloved mascot - a rooster once put on trial for disturbing the peace. For more formal treatment of 19th c. figureheads as art, also see www.figureheads.net.
Carol's experience on Mystic’s Special Demonstration Squad after college enabled her to learn to work aloft on the CHARLES W. MORGAN and JOSEPH CONRAD and later enabled her to crew in OpSail86 onboard ELISSA. She sings sea shanteys, a favorite being “The Old Shipcarver,” and she’s paddled furiously in waterside community dragon boat races.