This week I’ll be posting found Antarctic objects of a mysterious nature. Their purpose may once have been indicated by labels, connecting parts and context, but their isolated and weathered state now recasts them as curiosities appreciable for shape, color and texture.
If you happen to know what the items are or just want to venture a guess, drop a comment. I like to think of this one as a hybrid of a buckle, can opener, and emergency shoe horn.
This canvas pouch’s grime and wear suggest it saw lots of action on the Ice. It likely
held Jamesway assembly hardware, which was minimal. The hut’s only metal compo-
nents are nails, fasteners, and connecting bars, allowing the entire 16′ x 16′ structure
to weigh in at 1,200 lbs.
Much thanks to James Roemer at the McMurdo carpentry shop for the past three items featured here. James knows Jamesways as well as anyone — he builds them!
Here’s the carp shop crew in front of a Jamesway they constructed on the sea ice
for researchers to hold and study seals this past season. Nice work guys, and hope
you had an awesome time in Tasmania afterwards, James.
Jamesways, you could say, are the hardest working huts in snow business. Keeping a
camp of scientists (and an artist or two) relatively dry and warm throughout a season
on the Ice is a tall order, especially at the South Pole’s Summer Camp.
Summer Camp is the colony of Jamesways (partly pictured above) situated near the
Pole’s elevated station. Most of the huts are living quarters, and at least one serves
as a lounge. They’re put to a real test here because even at midsummer’s warmest,
outside temperatures average around −25 °C (−12 °F).
Jamesways are either centrally heated by oil burning heaters or use passive solar heat
and solar power for space heating. The key of course is heat retention, which is where
our heroes, the roof blankets, come in.
Roof blankets are a wall system typically using a layer of kapok fiber for insulation.
Kapok, derived from the ceiba tree’s seed pod, is ideal for its lightness, resiliency,
resistance to water and of course for its organic nature. Its flammability requires
flameproof encasement though, and these outer layers — typically muslin or
heavier cotton duck — are further treated with vinyl or plastic for extra durability
Given all that, Jamesways still fall short on energy efficiency and tend to heat un-
evenly (the floor remains considerably colder than the rest of the space). Pushed
to its limit by the onset of Pole winter weather, Summer Camp shuts down for the
dark half of the year, to be dug out of snowdrifts and repopulated at sunrise the
following season. And so the cycle goes.
I’m back to posting my Antarctic object collection, with a focus this week on fabric.
First up: A roof blanket cover (or part thereof) for Jamesway huts commonly used
in Antarctic science camps.
Jamesways are Korean War-era Quonset hut-shaped structures. Unlike their metal
cousins however, Jamesways use wooden arches covered by insulated cloth. The image
above (from January 14, for readers experiencing a sense of déjà vu) shows a typical
example of the structure.
Officially called Tent Frame Insulated Sectional M-1948, the Jamesway was created by
the James Manufacturing Company of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin for the Army Air Corps.
It was specifically designed for polar weather conditions which require rapid construc-
tion and adequate protection from wind and cold. The standard size is 16 feet square, further expandable lengthwise by four-foot segments. Most wonderful to me is that its
wooden packing crates were designed for reuse as the hut floor — recalling Shackle-
ton’s own repurposing of packing crates. Talk about déjà vu!
A Jamesway’s interior can be as simple as our post-survival training retreat shown
above. Or it can contain several sections: sleeping quarters, a washing area, a kitchen,
a lab; areas often separated by heavy curtains.
Is there anything these structures aren’t capable of? Well, yes. Jamesways are deemed inadequate for permanent Antarctic housing due to privacy, space, light, and energy efficiency limitations, and were phased out as McMurdo berthing altogether by 1990.
Still, they live on as useful structures in field camps and at South Pole Station, and tomorrow we’ll look at what keeps them warm… to a degree.
I found this misshapen metal ring on a Ross Island hike. I’m guessing it’s a can rim detached from lid and body. Its distressed, weathered, delicate state suggests that
it lay exposed to the elements for decades.
Continuing with the circular theme: a long-discarded Planters Peanuts lid retrieved from Marble Point.
Incidentally, Mr. Peanut was created in 1916, the final year of Ernest Shackleton’s epic Endurance expedition. Judging by his rendered style here, this Planters man has been languishing in Antarctica since around 1940. Another awesome relic from the Dry Valleys collection of Randall “Crunch” Noring. (Crunch… peanuts… but of course..!)
These washers were found by my McMurdo friend Sharona Thompson who has a keen eye and appreciation for wonderfully weathered material.
I’m excited about these for both shape and texture. For shape because circles are central to my imagery, from blowholes to portholes and ice holes to ozone holes. And for the ravaged surfaces as physical evidence of Antarctica’s unforgiving elements. Thanks Sharona!
There are no trees or bushes in Antarctica. But I see an autumn leaf in the shape of this crushed can from Marble Point.
This rusted, folded wad of perforated metal was given to me by Eddie, a McMurdo fireman. The delicate object looks and feels like a light little pillow in the hand, so I’ve resisted the initial impulse to open it up. I’ll be keeping my collected artifacts as intact and unaltered as possible when working them into the artworks.
The items I collected and shipped home from Antarctica have arrived. I’m pretty excited to have this eclectic collection of treasures in hand and am in the process of cataloging them to keep track of what ends up where. I’ll show some of these over the next few days before returning to the sketchbook pages, and will continue alternating between Antarctic items and the sketchbook throughout the project.
I’ll debut the Antarctic collection with a personal favorite: a chain assembly tag from Marble Point, an established field camp in the Dry Valleys. As you’ll see in the posts to come, most of my best stuff came from Marble Point courtesy of Crunch the station manager. Big thanks Crunch for your generosity!