Why Murals?

Murals as Collective Remembering

The Cal Maritime summer training cruise is a significant experience for license-track students, one of the most salient aspects of their education. The Training Ship Golden Bear murals painted by student cadets while on cruise commemorate this unique experience.

As you browse this digital exhibit, note that the cruise murals often represent specific events or milestones, either inspirational - winning the Sinbad Games - or disruptive - flying pigs memorializing the year cruise was hit with the swine flu. In other cases, a mural will recognize a respected crew member. A single cruise will produce multiple murals, but only one per division, and each division provides their own paint and other supplies for the project. While one cadet would typically paint a mural, it’s customary for all members to sign their names to it, contributing to a sense of divisional pride found on and off ship. 

The practice of creating art on ship bulkheads began long before the T.S. Golden Bear III. Ship murals are not seen on modern commercial ships, but in the United States, the practice may have originated on the early steamships of the U.S. Navy. More broadly, the maritime world has a long tradition of visual folk arts, including macrame and scrimshaw. The T.S.G.B. cruise murals are part of this tradition. As such, the murals contribute to the collective memory of the campus, telling stories and helping to form our cultural identity. 

For years it has been common practice on our ship to paint over a small proportion of older cruise murals to make room for the murals of the next cruise. The Cal Maritime Library has long wanted to create a photographic archive of the murals, to preserve their history, but this project presented many technical challenges related to lighting, location, and materials. In 2019, a difficult campus conversation began regarding the depiction of women in some of the murals. This conversation inspired the Library and the Communications team to commit to photographing and archiving every extant mural to the best of our ability, so that this conversation can continue. 

The Cal Maritime Library is committed to collecting and sharing the rich history of Cal Maritime. If you have details or first-hand knowledge of a story behind a particular mural included in this exhibit, please share it with us. We are also interested in collecting images of murals from the Academy’s previous training ship, the T.S. Golden Bear II.

We thank the following campus members, who shared with us their reflections and insights on the cultural and educational significance of the T.S.G.B. cruise murals: Captain Sam Pecota; faculty members Captain Tamara Burback, Dr. Elizabeth McNie, Lecturer Lauren Hartman; and cadets Lukas Oswald and Harriet Lawler. Thanks also to librarian Benjamin Bolin, who first conceived of a digital archive of Cal Maritime cruise murals more than a decade ago. 

Finally, this exhibit would not exist without the skill and perseverance of campus photographer Allen Birnbach and Cadet 3C Sophie Scopazzi, Marine Transportation, who created these photographs under very challenging constraints. Allen directed multiple shoots on the ship and spent many hours editing photo files. We are deeply grateful that his work has allowed us to share this part of our campus culture.


Archivist Patricia Thibodeau and Library Dean Michele Van Hoeck