New Bedford Whaling Museum has a new model of the Ernestina — made of popsicle sticks

·3 min read

NEW BEDFORD — The hull constructed of thousands of coffee stirrers and popsicle sticks fashioned into miniature pulleys are unique.

Julio Rebeiro “Rev” Gomes Jr. built more than 50 models of historic ships over 25 years working from his home in Fairhaven, and his version of the schooner Ernestina-Morrissey completed in May 2003 is on display at the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Director of Collections Jordan Berson said it’s a beautiful piece and a fine addition to the museum for its significance as the handiwork of a local Cape Verdean model maker and as a model of the Ernestina that has been described as a unique folk piece.

“We were sorely lacking a representation of the vessel so it’s great to have a model of the Ernestina on display in our Cape Verdean Maritime Gallery,” he said.

Scott Benson, right, takes a closer look at the alignment of the model of the schooner Ernestina made by Julio Gomes using popsicle sticks, after it is placed inside the cabinet he made for it  on the second floor of the Lagoda room inside the Whaling Museum
Scott Benson, right, takes a closer look at the alignment of the model of the schooner Ernestina made by Julio Gomes using popsicle sticks, after it is placed inside the cabinet he made for it on the second floor of the Lagoda room inside the Whaling Museum

The model stands approximately 4-1/2 feet long and 3-1/2 feet high and has full rigging with figures of Cape Verdean sailors working on deck, authentic ship’s colors and miniature anchors, lanterns and lifeboats.

Gomes was born in New Bedford in 1948 and was a student of Cape Verdean boat model maker Joaquim “Pork Chop” Almeida (1889-1998) after witnessing him carving ship models on his back on South Second Street in New Bedford.

Almeida was born in São Vicente, Cape Verde, and assumed a significant folk profile as an artist. His distinctive style incorporated sawing and filing pieces of found lumber producing unique folk-art models.

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Gomes similarly used found materials for his scratch-built model of the Ernestina that took more than three months to construct. Gomes, who died in 2006, ran a secondhand store in New Bedford where he sold boat models that he built at his home in Fairhaven.

Museum staff picked up the model of the Ernestina-Morrissey from the seller at First Church of the Nazarene on Hathaway Road for display at the museum.

Housed in a custom case built by Scott Benson of South Dartmouth, she is on exhibit on the South Balcony of the Bourne Building in the Cape Verde Maritime Gallery.

Jacob Mark, curatorial assistant, wheels a model of the schooner Ernestina made by Julio Gomes using popsicle sticks, to be installed on the second floor of the Lagoda room inside the Whaling Museum.
Jacob Mark, curatorial assistant, wheels a model of the schooner Ernestina made by Julio Gomes using popsicle sticks, to be installed on the second floor of the Lagoda room inside the Whaling Museum.

The Ernestina-Morrissey has a long and varied history as a fishing vessel, Arctic exploring ship and more, according to Curator of Maritime History Michael Dyer. Originally the Effie M. Morrissey, she was built in Essex in 1894.

Under the ownership of Captain Henrique Mendez (1880-1970) of Wareham and New Bedford, the Ernestina, renamed by Mendez after his first daughter, served as a Cape Verde packet ship from 1946-1974. She was the last packet under sail, also serving as an inter-island transport at the islands.

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The government of Cape Verde presented the vessel as a gift to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1982. She was named a National Historic Landmark in 1990 by the U.S. Department of the Interior and designated as the official vessel of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1994.

In July 2020, the stewardship of the Ernestine-Morrissey was transferred to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy after she was restored at the Boothbay Harbor Shipyard in Maine.

Standard-Times staff writer Kathryn Gallerani can be reached at kgallerani@wickedlocal.com. Follow her on Twitter: @kgallreporter. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.

This article originally appeared on Standard-Times: Model boat builder's popsicle stick Ernestina on display in New Bedford