Stories from the Blue: The Monitorium

August 2018

Our nation's first national marine sanctuary, Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, protects a Civil War-era shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina. But resting on the seafloor about 240 feet below the surface, Monitor can be difficult to get to. Check out our Story from the Blue to learn how the sanctuary collaborated with artist Wayne White and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art to bring this shipwreck, and its story, to life.


Just give me a good story and let me go to work.

The museum is the only museum in the state of Virginia dedicated to contemporary art and so we don't have a permanent collection here at the museum which is really exciting because it means we get to work with living contemporary artists.

Wayne White was one of the 50 artists that was included in a big exhibition we did in 2016.

The more we researched him and got to know him and the work that he did outside of this painting we knew that we wanted to offer him a more extensive show.

Every city I go to, I pick a local history to base my installation on.

I was immediately drawn to the Monitor and Merrimac.

I've loved that story since I was a kid.

When Wayne decided clearly that this was the direction he wanted to go we were all thrilled but also a little bit nervous because we educate about contemporary art, which can touch all different kinds of subjects, but we're not historians so it's important for us to reach out and collaborate with the experts.

I've been a fan of Wayne White from his days in Pee-Wee's Playhouse.

I actually reached out to him and to MOCA and said what can we do to help you tell your story?

We gave him ship plans, historic images.

He used the plans that we had stored in the NOAA archives to virtually recreate it and build a little model now that everybody could explore the shipwreck.

It's working with these local partners that can really help tell our story to the local populace.

I work with different museums, interpret it different ways, and this is by far probably the coolest way.

So we come through, you feel like you're walking inside the Monitor.

There's Gideon Welles as Neptune pointing the way, the future of the Navy with the ironclads.

And you have Ericsson with a hat and that's the Monitor.

And then you have the caricatures of the different officers and the crew on board.

It was just natural for me to want to do the faces of these guys.

Wayne has draped his art over these features and now it's such a wonderful way to tell their stories that we weren't able to before .

Mr. Keeler. He was the paymaster of the boat.

He's a very upright citizen, always watching out and spying on people, catching them AWOL and stuff like that.

Then there's a sailor holding up the red distress signal lantern that was flashing.

That's sort of the beginning of the end of the story.

Certainly Wayne got such a reputation that a lot of people have traveled from far and wide to come and see it, but also people who've never heard of Wayne before have just found such inspiration in the work and then have gone on to look at NOAA and the work that you all do, and locally The Mariners' Museum and sort of wanted to unearth the history that maybe they didn't realize was right on their doorstep.

These partners we have in the communities, here at MOCA Virginia Beach or The Mariners' Museum in Newport News, and several others, it's so critical that we work with them to tell her story because she is hard to get to. So it's our responsibility working for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to help bring that wreck site and that story to the people.