Whaleship Pequod diorama

Completed in April 2011.
Primarily paper and clay.
1/35th scale.

For my next diorama I'll be going to the literature, to Melville's 1851 novel Moby Dick. I want to show a small slice of the deck and a couple of figures to illustrate a scene from that book.

First up is the scenery, a part of the spar deck of the Pequod, Captain Ahab's 19th century Nantucket whaling ship. The Pequod is described in the book thusly, "her old hull's complexion was darkened like a French grenadier's, who has alike fought in Egypt and Siberia." Furthermore, her decks are described as, "ancient...worn and wrinkled, like the pilgrim-worshipped flag-stone in Canterbury Cathedral where Beckett bled." So, obviously, I'm going for a very well-worn look to the part of the ship I'll model.

I want this diorama to be small and intimate, so I'll be using a 4x6 photo frame for the base. This is a very small space, half the size of my usual diorama frames, but I think it will be a welcome change. As before, it will be 1/35th scale, with a six-foot person being a two-inch figure.

First step is the decking, which I'll set it off at a bit of an angle, because it looks better that way. Made with popsicle sticks, cut at various lengths, with every other one showing ends. Paints are various shades of brown, diluted with water and washed over the deck so that the darker colors settle in the gaps, a very weathered look for a ship that's been at sea for years and years. I then took a dull pencil and marked the nails for the end pieces. Looks pretty good.

That round hole will be filled with the bottom of the Pequod's main mast. I don't want it too tall, as this is a small diorama, so I'm just using a slanted bottom of a cardboard tube. I see in period photos of sailing ships they wrap rope around the base (for support?), so I have that, plus a wooden peg held down by a paper brace, from which will hang a largish metal bucket made out of paper with a brass wire handle. Paints will be various washes of browns and tans, with brass for the brace and slate gray for the bucket.

Then a wooden box. This is just a half-inch square wooden block, with a square of a popsicle stick for the lid, with paper hinges and bracket. Painted tan with steel metal parts.

Lastly a wooden barrel. Made from a baked formed lump of clay with paper strips for the wooden plank sides and more paper strips for the metal bands. Painted dark oaken brown, with brass for the metal bands, plus a circle for the pour hole on the top.

Put all together, this is what the scenery looks like...

Now for the two people, but first a description of the scene from the book I'm hoping to show. In Chapter 64, we view a man named Stubb eating a hunk of steak cut from a whale they just caught, and berating the poor cook, named Fleece, for the shabby job of boiling up the meat.

First up is Stubb, who is Second Mate of the Pequod. Melville describes as, "Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whaleboat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests." I will make him the usual way, Sculpey clay over a wire skeleton. Clothing will be period for the 1850s whalers in the Southern Seas, light tan pants, a green hat, and faded red shirt. As Stubb is eating, I have to make a fork, a plate, and a hunk of whale steak. I'll also have his boots off and tossed next to him, so he can dry out his bare feet. Moby Dick takes place in the South Pacific and Indian Oceans, hot climates, so I'll try and make his skin tone a bit more tanned than usual.

The other figure will be the put-upon cook Fleece, who Melville describes as a very old Black man with bad knees (and not much more of a description, unfortunately). Being the cook, Fleece will have a stained white apron and be holding a pot. He'll have a bare head, bare feet, short khaki pants, blue shirt, and be hunched over a bit.

And with that, this diorama is done. Time to finish was just about 4 hours total, spaced out over a few lunch hours, and the cost was just 97 cents for the picture frame, everything else came from existing stocks of materials.

Here are the final pictures...

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