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Graduate Education: Connecticut student uses art to discover women’s seafaring history

by Peg Van Patten, Connecticut Sea Grant

Aspiring artist Anastasiia Palamarchuk knows that there is much more to the multi-faceted history and culture of women at sea than the mythical mermaids of literature, and she intends to help tell the larger, real-life story.

While reading through her email one day, this  graduate student in Yale University’s Fine Arts Program saw mention of Connecticut Sea Grant’s 2016 Arts Funding Program. She decided to apply with a description of her project, and a month later, was excited to learn that her proposal had been selected. Every year, Connecticut Sea Grant awards $1,000 in support of the arts through a competitive process. The winner, selected by an external panel of art experts, is an artist whose work will increase ocean and coastal awareness. Palamarchuk is the first graduate student to be selected for this award; past winners have been working professionals.

Palamarchuk’s project, “Seafaring Women” will include researching and creating a video to tell the amazing story of Madeline Blair, a Connecticut native who stowed away on the Battleship Arizona in 1924. The project builds upon her undergraduate collaboration with Rebecca Sittler, a professor at California State University Long Beach, on a larger “Seafaring Women” book project.  The goal of both is to shed light on largely-unnoticed women’s roles at sea.

“It is clear that women have played a larger role in seafaring than history generally gives them credit for,” Palamarchuk said in her application. “…women have historically gone to sea as pirates, disguised sailors, whaling wives, stowaways, and explorers.”

Palamarchuk’s subject, Madeline Blair was an ambitious teenager from Bridgeport, Connecticut, who stowed away on the U.S. Navy Battleship Arizona in 1924, while the fleet was in the Hudson River (NY). Madeline, purported to have been forced into prostitution as a youth, went to movies with sailors and began to dream of being a movie star. In hopes of reaching Los Angeles to become a Hollywood actress, she dis­guised herself as a sailor by cutting her hair and wearing clothes stolen from the crew. The masquerade was largely successful. Blair was discovered in the deception after five weeks, as the ship went through the Panama Canal. She was later delivered to Long Beach, California.

“Having moved to a big city in Connecticut from Long Beach to begin my graduate studies at the Yale School of Art, I feel a coincidental connection to Madeleine Blair’s stowaway journey that began in Connecticut and ended in Long Beach.” Palamarchuk said. “I would like to have an opportunity to retrace Madeleine’s steps, and hopefully fill in some gaps in the story.”

“With the Sea Grant arts support, I can learn from local maritime culture and share the amazing sea stories with others in the greater community.” Palamarchuk said. The award will allow her to rent video and still cameras, purchase museum passes, and buy archival imagery to use in telling Blair’s story.  While Sea Grant funds many graduate students in science, it’s great to know that students in the arts are sometimes supported too.

For more information about Connecticut Sea Grant’s Arts Funding Program, see Past recipients have included sculptors, painters, and videographers. 

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