This online gallery facilitates the exploration of objects, artwork, and photographs related to Donald McKay and the history of clipper ships in Boston.
This online lesson features objects and artwork collected by the MFA in relation to Donald McKay and the history of clipper ships in Boston. You will also find original photographs taken in East Boston containing evidence of the legacy McKay left behind.
Donald McKay made East Boston famous in the mid-1800s for his mastery of shipbuilding. At this time, there was a rising demand for clipper ships in order to deliver cargo from China and to make the passage to the California goldfields as quickly as possible. Among his 40+ ships, McKay was responsible for building some of the most successful clipper ships known.
Among other objects, the MFA has acquired a wooden model of McKay's fastest ship, the Flying Cloud, on display in the Art of the Americas wing. Outside of the Museum walls, McKay's roots in the city of Boston are evident and celebrated at many different sites. Donald McKay's house in East Boston is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and there is even a K-8 school in the Boston Public Schools district named after him! All of these traces of Donald McKay illustrate his strong legacy and ongoing connection to Boston.
In exploring this gallery, students will:
• Discover the history of Donald McKay and the objects and artwork that represent his life and work
• Recognize how learning about the clipper ship era can cross multiple disciplines
• Understand the relevance of Donald McKay and the history of shipbuilding to Boston
This discovery will require students to:
• Look closely at objects and observe details
• Use prior knowledge in conjunction with observation
• Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge
• Conduct research to follow up on specific sub-topics
Using this Resource:
• Language Arts teachers and students will be interested in exploring the connection between the history of the Flying Cloud and the contemporaneous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
• Social Studies teachers and students will be interested in what this gallery reveals about the Gold Rush, mid-19th century gender roles, and social and economic changes as portrayed in primary and secondary source material.
• Art teachers and students will be interested in experimenting with the techniques and design of crafting a ship model.
• Mathematics teachers and students will be interested in calculating speed and the difference in scale between the model of the Flying Cloud and the actual ship.
For sample related classroom activities, download the PDFs available under Related Resources.
The objects in this lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to explore the Museum's online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into the history of Donald McKay and the era of clipper shipbuilding.