There’s been a changing of the guard at the Hudson River Maritime Museum (HRMM). After serving as chief operating officer for nearly a year as well as on the board, Lisa Cline has replaced Russell Lange as executive director. Lange has headed the Maritime for the past decade, filling in between the tenures of various executive directors who came and went, always on a volunteer basis. He will remain active at the museum in his new title of exhibit director.
The fact that Cline has already been working as COO, a position she described as “training” for the executive director position, plus served as acting director in the past, suggest the transition will be smooth. Cline has deep roots with the museum, going back to the 1980s, when her father, a sailor and Poughkeepsie native, was a founding member of the board; her mother, the daughter of a prominent brickyard owner in Newburgh, was also an early board member.
The family lived in Saugerties, where Cline grew up learning about boats and Hudson River history before leaving the area for a 30-year career in film and theater production in New York City and San Francisco. In the early 1990s, Cline took a three-year hiatus from her career to work at the museum, first as an event coordinator and then as executive director. Last year, when she was offered the job of COO, “I was happily employed in the theater production business but hoped I could come back to the nonprofit world,” she said. “The museum was always close to my heart, so I decided to throw my hat into the ring.”
The hiring of Cline as a full-time, salaried executive director was necessitated by the museum’s dramatic growth, said Lange. The museum has increased its budget nearly tenfold since 2006, when he took the helm. The board has also doubled its membership, with many more active members.
“Not only did we get the new boat-building school, but the programming has increased as has the visiting vessels,” he said. In the past month alone, three historic boats have tied up at the museum’s dock: the Draken Harald Hårfagre, which is the world’s largest Viking-style ship; the Polynesian voyaging canoe Hkle‘a, which is traveling around the world; and the tall ship Mystic Whaler. “These vessels bring in a lot of people,” Cline said. Plus, “the crews love coming here. They love being able to walk to several restaurants and hang out in the yard meeting visitors.”
While in the past the museum engaged in what Cline described as a “closed-door approach — the yard was gated and locked at night,” it has been transformed by the “open-door collaborative partnerships” championed by Lange, a policy that has dramatically increased the amount of activity, made the grounds accessible to the public and brought many more people to the museum, Cline said. The partners include the Clearwater, collaborator on the maintenance barn, which also hosts museum events, that was constructed on the property a few years ago; Scenic Hudson, which constructed the public-access walkway that passes through the museum property along the Rondout Creek waterfront; and the Kingston High School rowing team and Rondout Rowing Club, both of which store their sculls on the property as well as launch from the grounds.
“We have become a real destination on the river,” said Lange, noting the museum lengthened its dock space from under 400 feet to 600 feet, so that it can accommodate more boats. Its Riverport Wooden Boat School, which opened this year and occupies the former Rosita’s restaurant, in particular has “caught people’s attention,” he said.
Following the major rebuilding of the sloop Clearwater last winter, the boat-building crew is now in the process of restoring the Woody Guthrie, a period boat owned and managed by the Beacon Sloop Club, which was an outgrowth of the Clearwater organization.
Cline added that the sloop club “raised money for this restoration for years. It involves a lot of volunteers working along the shipwrights.” The HRMM boat-building crew are also restoring the Commander, an early 20th-century wooden touring boat once based out of Haverstraw, on a dry-dock in Staten Island. “It’s hard to find people who know how to fix wooden boats,” she explained, adding that “we’d rather the restoration would happen here, because we want to interpret it in educational ways, but sometimes the boat is too big.”
Cline noted that “once word got out about the boat-building business here, the phone starting ringing from private owners” looking to have their old wooden boats restored. Many people have also donated boats, including a “beautiful Catboat named Tidbit,” two Lightning sailboats, a Danish-made wooden kayak, and several canoes and rowboats. Some of those boats will be restored in the museum’s apprenticeship program, “and then maybe we’ll sell the vessel or sail it.” The museum plans to use the restored Lightnings for a sailing program, which would begin in the spring.
Local youth will begin working at the Boat School this month in its new Youth Boat program, with 10 BOCES students participating in the morning and plans to recruit five or six underserved high-school students in the afternoon. “We’re seeking kids who would really benefit from the teamwork and opportunity to use their hands,” Cline said. The apprentices will build a rowing gig, which then might be used in competitions, with six to eight kids in the boat. “We’re still working out the details,” she said, noting that her staff has reached out to the Boys and Girls Club and other parties that can help with the recruitment. “We’re also raising money and writing grants and getting scholarships from local businesses so we can pay the teachers and buy materials,” many of which have already been donated, she added.
For the first time in its history, the museum will remain open all year long, rather than closing in mid-October and reopening in May. The hours will be reduced from Thursday through Sunday, and the temporary exhibit, which this year focused on the caves and kilns of Kingston, will remain up through the winter. (Lange is beginning to work on “The Modeler’s Craft — An Artisan’s View of Hudson River Boats,” a show that will debut in the spring. The exhibit will feature a full spectrum of boat models representing the craft that once plied the Hudson, from canoes, tugs and yachts to the enormous steam-powered day liners that once conveyed thousands up to Kingston and other ports.)
Lange said that three candidates had been interviewed for the executive director position and Cline was selected because “she knows the museum and a lot about production and project management.”
“I’m just so excited to be here,” said Cline, who resides with her husband in Newburgh. “The team is wonderful, the staff is wonderful and the board is wonderful. I’m looking forward to doing more great stuff.”