Mystic Seaport – The Thompson Exhibition Building

Mystic, Conn. (September 12, 2016) — On September 24, 2016, Mystic Seaport will celebrate the opening of the Thompson Exhibition Building, an event that ushers in a new era at the Museum and completes a transformation of the north end of the grounds that will enhance and increase the Museum’s capacity to succeed in its mission to inspire an enduring connection to the American maritime experience.

There will be a brief ceremony to commemorate the occasion at 9 a.m. on the Cambridge Plaza, the public space in front of the building, after which visitors will be invited inside to explore the structure for the first time.




“The opening of the Thompson Exhibition Building is the culmination of many years of work and the fulfilment of a vision to focus on the display of our collections in ways we have never been able to do before,” said Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport. “This increase in our exhibition capacity creates a more robust year-round experience for the visitor, which makes this project not just an investment in the future of Mystic Seaport, but also an investment in the future of tourism for the entire region.”

The Thompson Building is the cornerstone and final element of the McGraw Gallery Quadrangle, which integrates existing buildings and grounds with new construction and unifies the components of the north end of the Museum by focusing on their common role as formal exhibition galleries.

Named for the late Wade Thompson, a Mystic Seaport trustee for 27 years who believed passionately in the need for new, state-of-the-art exhibition space and its importance for the future of the Museum, the 14,000 square-foot building will house the Collins Gallery, a 5,000 square-foot hall featuring soaring ceilings and a flexible layout to accommodate objects of varying size and installations of all types. This will be the largest among the Museum’s seven formal galleries and will provide the caliber of conditions required to curate not only exhibits from the Mystic Seaport collections, but also permit the borrowing of outstanding art and artifacts from other museums around the world.  A riverfront meeting space, the Masin Room, graces the west side of the building and can be reconfigured for conferences or lectures, additional gallery space, or educational programs adding to its versatility.

The building incorporates a wraparound deck that will allow visitors to enjoy the riverside setting and serve as a covered overlook to the quadrangle’s common area. Other elements include a prominent Museum entrance, a sweeping reception lobby, ticketing center, retail shop, and visitor amenities.

Designed by the Connecticut firm Centerbrook Architects and Planners, the Thompson Building evokes the “geometry of the sea,” drawing design cues from the interior of a wooden ship, the undulating sea, and a spiraling nautilus shell. Construction was managed by A/Z Corporation of North Stonington, CT.

The Thompson Building and McGraw Quadrangle are the result of a decade of strategic and master planning, and will provide:

  • An iconic point of arrival at the north end of the campus
  • All-weather and all-season operational capabilities
  • Sweeping, unobstructed views of the Mystic River
  • Outdoor celebration areas for both Museum and community use
  • 21st-century upgrades and improved access to existing galleries around the Quadrangle’s perimeter, including those in the Stillman and R. J. Schaefer buildings
  • Environmentally responsible features that respond to the riverfront location, including a storm water treatment system and geothermal heating and cooling
  • Increased wheeled accessibility for the north campus
  • Galleries and venues suitable for schools’ year-round educational visits

The Thompson Building is being funded through private and public sources, including generous support from individual philanthropists and foundations, the Thompson family, and a $2 million grant from the State of Connecticut.

Inaugural Exhibit

The inaugural exhibit in the Collins Gallery, “Sea-Change,” will open on December 10, 2016. The exhibit presents a range of beautiful and unique objects drawn from the vast collections of Mystic Seaport. Each object is a survivor of the past that speaks to a notable transformation – in material, technology, the sea itself, or the broader American culture over the past 200 years. A handful of these intriguing artifacts will be on display for the first time, and all will be presented in a new setting which reveals surprising stories. Together, they give glimpses into people’s lives in different places and times, from scientific surveyors charting the Atlantic coast on the eve of the American Revolution to western merchants trading for silk and tea in 1850s China, from Arctic explorers to laborers harvesting bird guano off Peru for American farmers. The stories of transformation they relate continue to impact a contemporary audience and its experience with the sea.

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