by Jacob Condo, Staff Writer
If you’re an art major, chances are that at some point you’ve been to the Star Store, but have you taken a little time to go explore a bit of New Bedford?
After class last Friday, I decided to do just that, so I took a stroll downtown to check out the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
The closer I got to the historic waterfront, the older the buildings became. I passed from the twentieth century, back into the nineteenth and even eighteenth century, all while the cement turned to slab and cobblestones beneath my feet.
The air was thick with the smell of sea salt and the trilling of gulls, and since I grew up surrounded by the ocean, I was beginning to feel right at home.
I reached my destination late in the afternoon, so the museum was fairly empty except for one or two other patrons. Luckily, they weren’t closing for a couple of hours, so I nearly had the place to myself.
So long as you have your ID with you, UMass Dartmouth students can get free entrance to the museum. Just put your stuff in one of the complimentary lockers and you’re good to go.
Hanging from the ceiling of the Jacobs Family Gallery, the first thing you see when you walk in the museum are the skeletons of three enormous whales. I stood there, mesmerized by the sheer size of these once-living animals suspended from above my head.
As far as first impressions go, it was great.
I then moved on to the decadent galleries, made to look like the rooms of wealthy New Bedford residents from days long past. The wealth that once flowed through this region had funded a great exploration of the arts.
The William Bradford gallery was by far the most breathtaking.
Possessing an eerie inner glow, his paintings feature images of expeditions into the Arctic Circle, filled with majestic steam, sailing ships, distant frozen seas, and translucent icebergs.
From these galleries I ventured further, and walked into the region’s past.
From the time when cedar swamps stretched across the landscape to now, this area has been sustained by the bounty of the sea.
When you speak of New Bedford’s history, you inevitably come to whaling.
In those hours I spent at the museum, I learned about the global economy that grew from the vast wealth of resources that came from the hunting and harvesting of whales.
In a time before fossil fuels, whale oil made the world go ‘round.
The museum even features a gallery devoted entirely to scrimshaw, the craft of carving and engraving bones, teeth, and ivory.
If you continue further, a massive half-scale model of the Lagoda, an old whaling ship, was built into the museum in 1916. To this day, it is the largest model ship in the world at a breathtaking 89 feet, and the museum is celebrating the centennial anniversary of its construction this year.
The ship is surrounded by a collection of clothing, tools, taxidermy, paintings, and other artifacts that bring to life the ways in which the whaling industry shaped the modern world, and how we are taking care of the oceans today.
Before I left the museum for dinner, I took a moment to stand out on the Davis Observation deck, taking in a view of downtown New Bedford’s historic skyline. The air was cool and salty, and I could see straight over the buildings and streets to the water.
Despite the renovations, street art, and the fancy steel and fiberglass boats, nothing was really all that different.
The ships mostly ran on motors and there were no horse-drawn buggies on the cobblestone streets, but the same comings and goings of daily life and commerce were playing out.
New actors, same stage.
After picking up my things, I ventured out past galleries and antique shops to a little restaurant called DnB Burgers. New to the area at just two years old, it’s made quite the splash, appearing twice in The Boston Globe.
What makes this homey little gem shine is the fact that it’s a from scratch burger joint, locally sourced and passionate about their food.
“Quality over quantity!” explains part-owner Amelia Ruvich as we sat down at the bar of their newly opened upstairs dining area.
The meat is ground and prepared in house, and all of the ingredients are grown and produced by local farms.
The quality of the beef alone was evident in that first bite. There’s just something about fresh beef that makes it so deliciously distinct from factory farmed and packaged food. My best compliments to co-owner and head chef Joshua Lemaire.
“Every walk of life comes to this place and that’s what’s great,” Amelia told me, and looking at the people around me, I knew what she said was true.
Sure, there are the hipsters and yogis attracted to the word “organic”, but there were families and old people, too. Even stoners rolled in now and again to sit alongside blue-collar folks and just enjoy the good food and craft drinks.
DnB Burgers may not have come in at the peak of the organic trend, but they’re taking advantage of the lessons learned in other parts of the country, and the fact that our blue-collar working family region is figuratively new ground.
Fresh just isn’t something you get in many cities like New Bedford. What DnB has done is take advantage of this virgin tastebud territory and give the people a taste of how good food can be when you know where it comes from.
As the interview went on and I finished off their New Bedford Poutine, I got to thinking about the history of this city and the region.
Both in the founding and now, there’s a sense of new things to be built from the bounty of the surrounding lands.
We have a bustling port bringing in some of the best quality seafood, and local farms making fresh ingredients for a new market, and it’s all taking place right here in historic New Bedford.