The creation of dioramas, or scenes built inside bottles, can be traced to the mid 1700’s with the appearance of scale models containing two to four scenes depicting work in a mine. The type of S-I-B we are familiar with was first created during the industrial revolution when cheap, clear, machine blown glass bottles became readily available. This craft was a favorite of sailors whose long voyages could take months or, in the case of whalers, years. Confined to a ship, sailors sought long projects to pass the time and S-I-B were one way to fill that need.
Starting with basic models in bottles, artisans soon branched into working within other forms of glass containers including light bulbs. The Ships-In-Bottles Association of America has coined a title for this work. They call it Glass-Encapsulated Miniatures, the acronym being G.E.M.S. Many fewer people are creating G.E.M.S. today, and in another generation or two, the only place to view examples may be in private collections or in museums. Our museum is fortunate to have so many examples of this craft.
Ships in Bottles on Display
- Glass bottle: Clipper ship at sea
- Glass bottle: Diorama entitled, “Heading Out to Sea” depicting two merchant ships, one sailing to sea and the other docked
- Light bulb (automotive tail light): Sailing Ship
- Light bulb (3 bulbs): Complete ship in one bulb, component parts in two others.
- Light bulb (3 bulbs): Humorous depiction of what might have happened if Columbus’ crew had mutinied and turned to head back home. Each ship is encased in its own bulb, and Columbus is in a rowboat chasing his fleet shouting: “Hey guys, wait for me!” Take note of the turtle swimming alongside the ship with a sign on its’ back saying “Spain – this way.”
Shadow Box Models & Dioramas
These unique three-dimensional depictions of scenes, usually of contemporary subjects, came to the height of popularity in the Victorian era of the late 19th century. Produced in large numbers by both amateur and professional craftsmen, they hung on the walls of many homes and businesses. The subject matter ranged widely from rural farm scenes and cityscapes to nautical dioramas. In time, maritime scenes became the most common theme of this highly popular but short lived decorative art.
The shadow box on display here was donated in 2003 by Phillis S. Auman in memory of her father, Walter Lussiter Schofield. It shows a nautical diorama with three ships of various sizes off shore from a headland containing a lighthouse.