ELBERTA - If you haven’t been to the Baldwin County Heritage Museum recently, you really need to go and check it out. The museum is host to loads of incredible memorabilia pertaining to Baldwin …
ELBERTA - If you haven’t been to the Baldwin County Heritage Museum recently, you really need to go and check it out. The museum is host to loads of incredible memorabilia pertaining to Baldwin County, telling the story of how we started, and how we came to be who we are today.
One exhibit on display allows visitors to get a close up look at artifacts found onboard the S.S. Republic, a Civil War ship that sank on route from New York to New Orleans back in 1865, taking its immense wealth of gold and silver to the bottom of the Atlantic. There it remained, until it was discovered in 2003 by Odyssey Marine Exploration, approximately 1,700 feet below the surface.
But what does this have to do with Baldwin County heritage? Greg Stemm, co-founder of Odyssey Marine Exploration, has ties in the community. His grandparents were from the area, and he visited often as a child and went fishing and boating along the Gulf Coast. Stemm was onboard the Odyssey Exploration when the S.S. Republic was rediscovered, and assisted the crew with the recovery of the immeasurable treasures that remained. And treasures there were, from the gold and silver to bottles, porcelain angels, and the ship’s bell, the first recovery from the site, and the artifact confirming the Republic’s identity.
Rare items recovered from the site remain on permanent display at Odyssey Marine Exploration’s main location in Florida, while the rest of the collection is spread through multiple museums, including Baldwin County Heritage Museum. A new addition to the exhibit comes from local artist Todd Alan, or The Crayon Man, who creates masterpieces using only Crayola Crayons.
“Ten years ago National Geographic aired a show involving Greg Stemm finding the Republic and all of its treasures,” said Alan. “After watching the special, I was intrigued. I wanted to draw what I could only imagine the wreckage would have looked like as the submersible robot Zeus shed light upon the Republic for the first time since 1865, hundreds of miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.”
Alan went into research-mode, studying several books and videos of the discovery, and examining photos taken by the Odyssey Exploration team. Once he was ready, Alan began by placing his signature on the bottom right corner of the page, working from there. The entire process took six and a half months, with Alan working half a day every day, and was done free hand. The project, which is approximately 44 inches by 60 inches, took hundreds of crayons to complete. Alan states he contacted Crayola to request 300 Space Blue crayons, knowing he needed to get the depth of the ocean right. The company sent him special boxes consisting of the exact crayons he needed for the project. Each stroke was done individually so the artwork would not be uneven, and some of the gold and silver coins have actual 24 karat gold and silver leaf overlay for special effect, something Alan had never experimented with before this work.
“Once it was complete, I put the wax drawing in my guest room, and searched online to find someone who was involved with the treasure discovery but couldn’t make any contact,” said Alan. “I dreamed that the Odyssey team could see what I drew.”
For ten years, the artwork remained out of sight, covered by a blanket. Until February, when Alan and his friend visited the Baldwin County Heritage Museum. Then opportunity knocked when Alan spotted a blank wall within the display, the perfect size to fit his artwork.
“To my surprise I saw this massive display of Odyssey and the find of the Republic, and I was blown away,” said Alan. “I knew every inch of this display from all the studies I did ten years ago. I eagerly talked to the manager, Tammy Kinney, and explained my connection to this ship.”
Kinney spoke with the Museum Board, and the request was accepted. Alan hung the drawing, which weights 75 pounds with the double frame, upon the very wall he’d noticed upon his visit. Its title is appropriately “Finders Keepers,” a reference Alan made to a court case in which Stemm was sued for some of the recovered gold and silver. Stemm eventually won.
Alan will be selling notecards of the artwork within the Heritage Museum, with 50 percent of the proceeds donated to the museum. When the original artwork sells, 50 percent will also be donated to the museum.
“I’m honored to be part of such a grand display of the Odyssey at the Baldwin County Heritage Museum,” said Alan. “I hope that when children and students come to visit the museum they’ll see my artwork and know that this is what they can create with nothing but crayons. I hope it will inspire their creativity and show them that anything is possible.”
The Baldwin County Heritage Museum is located at 25521 Highway 98 E, Elberta, and is open Wed. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. Call 251-986-8375 for more information.
You can find Alan on Facebook under The Crayon Man to see his artworks, contests, and news.