Curator’s Corner- Treasures from the Seabee Art Collection

Yugoslavian art reliefs of man and woman

Yugoslavian art reliefs of man and woman in traditional clothing donated to the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

The U.S. Navy Seabee Museum is proud to collect and exhibit treasures from around the world that Seabees have accumulated during their time in service. Many of these objects are souvenirs or gifts handcrafted by locals all around the world, some extremely unique.

Two of these artifacts in the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum collection come with the story of the Seabees working abroad with the U.S. Department of State. The Seabees from the Naval Support Unit provide support to the Department of State security program on a continuing basis.

Seabees perform construction, renovation, maintenance, and repair work in the secure spaces at U.S. embassies around the world. Most of these tours of duty are 3-4 year assignments.

In the late 1960’s Senior Chief Builder (BUCS) Theodore R. Roff, Jr. was a Seabee assigned to work with the State Department in the city of Belgrade, Serbia, formally part of the Yugoslavia. During his time in Belgrade he purchased two magnificently handcrafted copper reliefs, malleable metal shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a raised design. These reliefs are solid copper and were crafted by an art teacher who taught at a local school in Belgrade. The artist’s name has been long since forgotten by its original owner.

These copper reliefs portray a man and a woman, both in traditional dress of Yugoslavia. It was not uncommon to see rural women in traditional working clothing all the way up to the end of the first President of Yugoslavia, Josip Tito, term in office in 1980. Today, these traditional clothes are mostly worn by elders in rural areas, on national holidays, and as part of celebrations, tourist attractions, and displayed in museums.

The woman in the relief is depicted collecting grapes. This may speak to Yugoslavia’s rich history of viticulture and production of wine, dating back to before Ancient Roman times. The former country of Yugoslavia was among the top wine producing countries before it was dissolved into 6 countries in the early 1990’s.

The man is shown playing a traditional Serbian flute known as a frula. The frula is a small wooden flute with six holes and was played by shepherds while tending their flocks. It was also used for leisure times, traditional, or to accompany the kolo (circle dance).

Seabees don’t only bring home unique collectibles from their time abroad; they bring home stories of different cultures and traditions to be shared.

Visit the U.S. Navy Seabee Museum to see the many other pieces of art and gifts Seabees have donated.

Robyn King, curator

Robyn King, curator

Meet the Curator: Robyn King earned her Bachelors in History and Anthropology from the State University of New York at Oneonta. She has experience working at State Museums, Historic Sites, the National Parks Service, and most recently the Navy. She’s an expert in collection management, and has worked closely with both natural and cultural collections. Robyn loves all museums and sharing her love of history. When’s she not working, she’s volunteering her time with the National Peace Corps Association, as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from West Africa.

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