Friday, August 5, 2016


Figurehead of the USCG Barque Eagle.
It was open house of the US Coast Guard Barque Eagle on the last day of this month [July 2016, its sails down and furled, at the Salem Wharf of Salem, Massachusetts. It's figurehead, painted in gold, is an eagle on flight.

In previous visits to Salem, we saw a replica of a real figurehead on the prow of the Salem East Indiaman sailing ship Friendship (also a 171-foot replica built by the the National Park Service), a tourist attraction at the Derby Wharf. We did not see it this year because it is on a scheduled 'haul-out' for repair and maintenance in Gloucester, and will not be back until October.

In maritime history, the sailing ships of the 16th to the 20th centuries had carved wooden decorations at their prows, which were believed to 'fend off bad spirits and to bring good fortune,' 

A popular figurehead was a model of Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera singer in the 1800s carved for the clipper ship Nightingale, which was named after her, the 'Swedish Nightingale.'

Left to right: The Lady wears a captain's cap (John Devine, artist); Lady with Day of the Dead face painting (Cynthia Mikula Smizsek, artist); Lady of color representing Salem as a diverse community (Salem Charter School, artist); and the Lady as mermaid adorned in precious gems ( Jeanne Pare artist).  Photos by the blogger.
Various interpretations of the Jenny Lind, twenty one painted ladies to our count are mounted, except for a few, on lamp posts on the Essex Street Pedestrian Mall. This exhibition called "Lady of Salem" is a project of the Salem Beautification Committee in collaboration with various sponsors and artists. Each "Lady" has a different character in terms of thematic personality/symbolism and color.

Left to right:  Liberty Lady dressed as a pizza shop worker (Nick Papadimitriou, artist); Lady crowned with brilliant jewels in silk clothes (Lady Shalimar, artist);  Quaker Lady (Kenneth Dyke-Glover, artist); and Waitress #2 (Sheila Farren Billings, artist).  Photos by the blogger.

Of course, in local and world history, we have learned about figureheads of a different kind: the titular head, a person who is a leader in name only. Filipino activists call this leader a 'papet' (puppet) or 'tuta' (a puppy, a running dog) as in 'tuta ng Kano' (running dog of the Americans).  Many Philippine presidents have been labelled 'tuta' in street parliaments or mass actions of the past, and they are represented as such in big 3-D papier mache effigies in symbolic costumes.  These political figureheads are set on fire as a highlight of the protest events.   

PS. To know more about the 'Lady of Salem', go to

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