By Jonah Grinkewitz

A new exhibition at the Barry Art Museum at Old Dominion University will consider the rich maritime history in Hampton Roads through a call and response between past and present artworks.

“Message in a Bottle: Picturing Maritime Culture in Hampton Roads,” opening April 13, 2024, and on display through Jan. 5, 2025, will juxtapose the museum’s extensive collection of 19th century maritime paintings with conceptual pieces by contemporary artists, including ODU faculty. The exhibition will also feature works from local museums such as the Mariner’s Museum and the Chrysler Museum of Art. 

Painting of ships at sea.

Edward Moran (American, b. United Kingdom, 1829-1901) The Winning Yacht: "Countess of Dufferin" and "Madeline," 1877 Oil on Canvas Carolyn K. And Richard F. Barry III Art Purchase Fund. 2018.17 Photo by Patrick Cagney

In the exhibition, traditional oil paintings – carefully collected by museum co-founder Richard Barry – tell a story of life on the sea and show the hard work and play of sailors and soldiers. In turn, Contemporary works created by ODU faculty and other artists reflect on the indelible impact of maritime culture on modern life, from the shipping routes underpinning globalization to the layout of cities.

"The catalyst for this exhibition was to reinterpret the museum's collection of historical maritime paintings alongside more contemporary considerations of maritime culture," said Sara Woodbury, curator of art for the Barry Art Museum. "We wanted to highlight how maritime culture has shaped this region and its global impact across time, whether that encompasses international shipping, military activities or recreation." 

The exhibition also ties into ODU’s annual campus theme, “Blue Connections,” a university-wide effort to explore the crucial role oceans and waterways play in society and the global economy through coursework, research projects, art and other events.