We've been in New England for the past week on a wonderful 'Great Train Escapes' New England. tour conducted by ALKI, and as always, have been on the lookout for unexpected and unusual bead finds. We were rewarded with the sighting pictured here, of an old ship figurehead of a 'woman with beads' -- at Connecticut's Mystic Shipyard. We haven't been able to determine if historians know the intent of the sculptor who carved this marvelous wooden maiden to adorn and protect a sailing ship of old, but I've been busy with my imagination, trying to theorize about the meaning of the maiden's dramatic pose, and the beads she clutches to her heart.
Historians do know that sailors believed that the likeness of a woman had the power to calm raging storms (despite many tragic shipwrecks providing evidence to the contrary). Some figureheads are holding flowers or goblets or making grand gestures (though sculptors eventually began to avoid such arm gestures, opting to fashion the arms close to the body -- as these vulnerable wooden limbs often got broken off in the violence of the high seas). The figure presented here seems unique or at least unusual, in terms of the object held In her left hand. Why beads?
i wonder if they symbolized the precious material goods carried by the ship. That is a possibility, but as I look at the young woman's expression, I feel there's a greater likelihood that the beads may be a symbol for passion and devotion. Beads have been--and are still--used by many religions as an aid to prayer and worship. In fact, 2/3 of the world's population use prayer beads! Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism are major religions that use these in important ritualistic roles. Might the lovely young woman be clutching prayer beads to her breast?
Anglicans used a rosary with 33 beads. I can't tell for sure, but it appears that could be the number of beads here. In any case, there was certainly much to pray for whén sailors embarked on dangerous seas! To me, she appears to be pleading, as women have certainly done throughout the ages, for the safety of her loved one. Who's to say? Any other interpretation or information is welcome!