The first female steamboat captain in the United States, Philomene Daniels, was vicariously honored with a painting of her boat … on the back of a chair. A theater seat, to be precise — one of the original seats in the Vergennes Opera House, circa 1897. That’s when Vermont artist Ernest Haas, renowned for his maritime scenes, adorned the seat with his painting of the steamboat Little Nellie. Daniels herself may have frequented the opera house when she wasn’t plying the waters of Lake Champlain.
Why did Haas choose such an unusual canvas? Who knows?
What we do know is that the painting is now the prize in a raffle offered by the VOH, the proceeds of which will help pay for the installation of a new sprinkler system required by the state’s fire-safety code. The Friends of the Vergennes Opera House — the nonprofit that restored and now maintains the 300-seat facility — came up with this unique way to fundraise for their beloved venue.
The painting can be viewed in a succession of downtown Vergennes store windows, as well as online. Tickets are a mere $25, and only 150 will be sold, promise the Friends. That makes for pretty good odds to own a one-of-a-kind piece of maritime — and feminist — history. Aptly, the drawing will take place on October 3 during the Vergennes Ladies’ Rally. The timed road rally exclusively for female drivers of old or new cars or motorcycles is the VOH’s biggest fundraiser of the year. Philomene would no doubt be proud.