Date Of Visit: October 29, 2016
Location: Essex St, Salem MA
Hours: Most are available daily 24 hours a day
Parking: Parking is available at the New Liberty St and Congress St parking garages as well as additional lots in the city
Dog Friendly: Yes
Handicap Accessible: Yes, most Lady Of Salem figureheads are handicap accessible.
Highlights: brilliant works of art displayed mostly along or near Essex St
Web Sites: Lady Of Salem Facebook Page
Although Salem is known for the witch hysteria of 1692 and the commercialism that is largely based on this tragic part of their history, Salem has so much more. It really is a shame that is what people focus on. In fact with such programs as Creative Salem and the Salem Beautification Committee – who created this art program, Salem has seen a resurgence of the arts and entertainment that has always been a part of the city.
One of the exhibits recently in Salem is the Lady Of Salem figureheads located throughout the city. The nautical inspired art is meant to celebrate Salem’s rich maritime history. These figureheads are meant to closely resemble the decorated ornaments that used to be attached the front of ships.
While some artists have created more than one figureheads, they were mostly created by different artists.
Unfortunately, not all of the figureheads are on Essex St (the last in the group of photos below is on Derby St and one is inside the Salem Old Town Hall) and some have been either vandalized or removed for some other reason. Also, many of the figureheads almost seem hidden and very hard to find without the help of the map, and, even then, I still had a hard time finding them all. Add in the massive crowds this weekend and it made it very difficult to find them all. In fact, I only found about half of them. It does seem like a fun activity to do with your family.
The Lady Of Salem art display began in June of 2013 and they are brought out periodically. This past year it was on display frpm Juen until October. The figureheads are beautifully crafted and, if you look at them closely enough, you can imagine seeing them on the front of a ship, bobbing up and down.
Salem is an old city and some of the streets are cobble stone or not in the best condition. While Essex St is pedestrian friendly, some of the sidewalks in the city, such as Derby St where one of the figureheads is located, can be hard to navigaate.
Figureheads on ships have an interesting background. Figureheads on ships were all different in design and name, but they do have many similarities, particularly in their significance. Figureheads were said to embody the spirit of their ship. They were believed to placate the gods of the sea and ensure a safe voyage. Almost every prow had a carved figurehead on them. The figureheads replaced heads of animals and, at times, people that used to be placed at the front of ships in the hopes of looking out ahead for the ship’ss safety. Eventually, eyes were painted on the ships and then figureheads became the standard decorative piece. It was the best choice by far.
The figureheads vary in some respects. While they are all shapely females (it must be lonely off at sea), some are scarier than others while others seem more wholesome. There’s even a KISS-like figurehead (you’ll get this when you see them below). All of the figureheads were either sponsored by or loacted near local businesses which would explain why some figureheads have some unusual artwork on them, such as the phrase “I heart pizza.” I am not sure sea-faring people of that day even knew pizza was a thing.
The figureheads are not scheduled to be on display any longer (although I haven’t been there to confirm this). But, I am sure they will most likely be on display again in the future. They were, for a limited time, on display in the Peabody Essex Museum in Sale, MA (also on Essex St). The link at the top of the post has photos of all of the figureheads.
The figureheads below were all displayed on Essext St. during my visit.
Artist: Nick Papadimitriou.
Artist: Jean Pare
Artist: Alicia Irick Cohen
Artists: Mr. Bleckley’s 5th grade art students (Bates Elementary School, Salem MA)
Artist: Vonne Bittercup
Artist: John Devine
Artist: Kenneth Glover
Artist: Dori Phillips
Artist: Maryellen Halliwell
Artist: YMCA/Girls Today Program
Artist: Cynthia Mikula Smiszek
Artists: Karen Lamesa and Tina Armstrong
Artist: Sheila Billings
Artist: Keri May Killam
Artist: Jill Pabich
Artist: Sheila Farrens Billings
Artist: Mary-Ellen Smiley
Artist: Jeanne Pare-Kapnis