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Cruise treasures saved by Peter Knego in new San Diego museum exhibit

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Peter Knego at the entrance to 'Steam and Splendor' with the statue he salvaged from Island Princess — though the rescue was a close call
Holding pride of place at the Maritime Museum of San Diego's new 'Steam and Splendor' exhibit is a statue that should be familiar to fans of 'The Love Boat.'

This work by the great Norwegian sculptor Per Ung graced the pool area of Island Princess and is now in the collection of cruise journalist, ship historian, preservationist and collector Peter Knego.

But, like many other treasures of cruise ships and ocean liners past, it was almost lost forever.

Knego — who braves the breakers in Alang, India to rescue art and artefacts from dying, beloved ships — was overjoyed to spot the statue there in 2014 while aboard the vessel built as Island Venture in 1972 for Flagship Cruises before it went to Princess Cruises and did a star turn on 'The Love Boat.'

Knego's local agent advised he hold off on paying the breaker's price for the brass sculpture, arguing: 'It's too much. Just wait. It'll come down.'

Reluctantly, Knego agreed. After returning home to California, he learned the sculpture had vanished.

'The most important object from that ship'

'I was livid,' he said. 'Culturally speaking, that is the most important object from that ship. It was in all the scenes filmed by the swimming pool. People recognize it for that Hollywood cachet. And it's a beautiful sculpture by a Scandinavian artist who was very, very well known. It was very important, and now it's lost.'

Knego figured the piece was melted down for the metal or decorating a fish restaurant somewhere in India.

A year went by. One day Knego's agent emailed a photo of himself standing beside a shop window with the triumphant message: 'Guess what I found!'

Fast forward to last spring. When Kevin Sheehan (no relation to the cruise executive), curator of the Maritime Museum of San Diego's exhibit, visited Knego's home in nearby Oceanside, California for research, he was drawn to the prized and nearly lost statue — and no wonder.

Cultural icon

'It's a cultural icon,' Knego said, explaining why it's important in 'Love Boat' lore. Pacific Princess, Island's sister, got credit on the show even though many scenes were actually filmed aboard identical twin Island. Pacific's poolside statue was of a boy holding a conch shell.

When the television studio built 'The Love Boat' set, it depicted a girl 'so the designer thought the girl is a much better look for the swimming pool ... It's like a little mermaid,' Knego said, adding: 'But the set piece that was used in Hollywood was a very poor replica of The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen.'

During a Love Boat Reunion Cruise, Knego lectured about how to tell the difference between Island Princess and Pacific Princess. (A video on Peter Knego's MidShip Cinema also compares the two.)

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'Fireball In Space' packs a punch in the living room. The painting by Munich Paul Mariel is from 1969's Hamburg, which ultimately sailed as Maxim Gorkiy, the setting for a 1989 summit in Malta between US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev

About 40 ships at home

Knego's home is a trove of art and artefacts from about 40 ocean liners and cruise ships. Murals, etched glass, wall panels, chairs, dining tables, light fixtures, staircase rails and balusters, a desk, bookshelves, the bar, a bathroom vanity, builders' plates — all were salvaged over two decades of arduous trips to Alang.

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Staircase balusters are from the 1961 Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Canada, which became Carnival Cruise Line's first ship, Mardi Gras

Many of the doors have portholes — they are all from ships. Staircase balusters with the CP logo are from the 1961 Canadian Pacific liner Empress of Canada, which became Carnival Cruise Line's first ship, Mardi Gras, in 1972.

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The house is filled with Luzzatis, including this three-dimensional hammered metal sundial screen

The legendary Italian artist Emanuele Luzzati is represented in ceramics and hammered metal panels with Greek mythology themes from Sun Line ships Stella Maris II, Stella Oceanis and Stella Solaris. Another Italian great, Enrico Paulucci, created the large sail boating scene on melamine for Stella Oceanis.

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Peter Knego's living room has the monumental painting 'Fireball In Space' by Munich Paul Mariel from the Hamburg, a mahogany bar from Aureol, furniture from Italian ocean liners and staircase railings and balusters from the Empress of Canada (later, Mardi Gras) and Ivernia

There are wall-sized paintings by Italy's Giovanni Majoli for Adriatica Lines' Ausonia (1957), British landscape painter William Ware for the Olympia (1953), which last sailed as Regal Empress, and Munich Paul Mariel for the Hamburg (1969), and a carved wood panel by Italian artist Tranquilio Marangoni for Italian Lines' Augustus (1952).

Love Boat patio

Decorative aluminum ceiling disks from the Island Princess show lounge are signed by the 'Love Boat' cast members and by author Jeraldine Saunders, whose book begat the television series. Two chairs attributed to the famed Italian architect and designer Gio Ponti are in the TV room.

There's even a 'Love Boat patio' with teak decking and a curved leather settee from the purser's lobby of the Island Princess with chairs from the theater and the Carousel Lounge.

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Peter Knego's home has a 'Love Boat patio' with several items from Island Princess including chairs and the leather settee, foreground

The patio's enclosed by frosted glass panels etched with musical instruments from the Empress of Britain’s (later Carnivale’s) ballroom. Two Murano glass mosaics by US artist Austin Purves, who did work for William Francis Gibbs on the United States and America, depict pre-Columbian motifs. They were salvaged from Louis Cruises' Emerald, built in 1958 as Santa Rosa for Grace Line.

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Murano glass mosaics by Austin Purves depict pre-Columbian motifs. They were salvaged from Louis Cruises' Emerald

Finding other homes for items

But Knego would be happy finding other homes for additional items in storage that he has available for sale on www.midshipcentury.com.

'When I am no longer here, I do hope my personal collection can somehow stay together here in this house or continue to exist in a museum dedicated to the lore of the great ocean liners and pioneering cruise ships of yore,' he said.

Early Carnival newbuilds

When San Diego Maritime Museum curator Kevin Sheehan visited the home, Knego had just received a container from Alang with items from the first Carnival Cruise Line newbuilds — the 1980s ships Tropicale, Holiday and Celebration. Carnival hadn't been interested in having those, but a large mermaid panel from US artist Helen Webber caught Sheehan's eye and, together with the Island Princess girl, it forms the centerpiece of the 'Steam and Splendor' exhibit.

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One of Helen Webber's mermaid panels for Carnival's Holiday marks the entrance to the 'Steam and Splendor' exhibit

'It's eye-popping, the colors are fantastic and ... it's a masterpiece,' Knego said.

This is one of the two mermaid panels Webber created for the purser's lobby of the Holiday. They flanked a mermaid fountain, long gone.

Known for her textiles, Webber had woven tapestries for the Festivale and Tropicale. Carnival asked her about ceramics so she bought a kiln and crafted the mermaids, 'a big sense of pride for her,' Knego said. 'These ceramics are works of art.'

When Holiday was passed on to become Grand Holiday for Iberocruceros then sold to Cruise & Maritime Voyages where it operated as Magellan, the interiors were changed but the Webber panels survived.

Knego paid a fortune to get them, and eight other Helen Webber panels, out of Alang. The others depict New York, California and Midtown USA, with smaller panels of the Pacific Northwest, Florida, Cape Cod and a New Orleans steamboat.

Stained glass ocean liner ceiling

Another showpiece, from the original Celebration, is a 16-foot-wide, ocean liner-themed stained glass ceiling from the library, depicting Normandie and Queen Mary — 'the two great three-stacked ocean liners of the 1930s, beautifully rendered, a spectacular panel,' in Knego's words.

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Peter Knego hopes to find a suitable home for this ocean liner stained glass ceiling from Carnival's original Celebration

When he sailed late in the cruise ship's life as Grand Celebration, ferrying between Florida's Port of Palm Beach and Grand Bahama Island, the library was 'pretty much intact.'

It took tremendous effort to safely remove the stained glass in Alang, where workers were tearing the room to shreds. 'It was a real effort,' Knego said. 'It was really disappointing Carnival didn't want it.'

He could imagine the piece hanging in the Long Beach Cruise Terminal, 'where people are in the presence of the real Queen Mary,' permanenty docked perpendicular to the cruise berth.

Carnival Celebration

But when planning the Golden Jubilee bar aboard Carnival Celebration in 2022, the company's 50th anniversary, Carnival was interested in artwork, memorabilia and original pieces from its early ships.

Knego called it a 'dream come true' to have his pieces selected since he considers the line their rightful home.

The Golden Jubilee has chairs recreated from Carnivale’s Riverboat Lounge, inspired by ones in Knego's collection and, he noted, dating back to the ship's 1956 birth as Empress of Britain. He also provided an original engine telegraph from Carnivale that's now permanently set to 'full ahead' to symbolize Carnival’s momentum.

San Diego's 'Steam and Splendor'

As for the Maritime Museum of San Diego's exhibit, Knego is thrilled with the presentation, crediting curator Sheehan for a 'tremendous job.' 'Steam and Splendor' weaves items from his collection with artifacts from the Titanic, Normandie and Queen Mary, among others.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, the museum's repository of cruise ship memorabilia is one of the largest in California and many items in the exhibit have never been shown publicly.

Besides Per Ung's Island Princess statue and Helen Webber's mermaid, Knego's contributions include piano bar panels and a table from Tropicale (1982), Carnival Cruise Line's first newbuild, a door and model from Matson Line's Monterey, a door with exotic wood veneers and a chair from the Aureol (1951) and a door from the first class ballroom and a chair from the Observation Lounge of the United States (1952).

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Peter Knego has an extensive collection from Italian ocean liners includng these chairs attributed to Gio Ponti

Italian dreams

Speaking of the Titanic, 'This is the tip of the iceberg,' Knego told Seatrade Cruise News. There's potential for future exhibits focused on other themes. For example, he envisions the museum tying in his large collection of items from Italian ocean liners with San Diego's Little Italy neighorhood, just blocks away.

'There's a great Italian maritime heritage,' Knego said. 'I have beautiful artworks, furniture, light fixtures and all sorts of things from the Italian liners that I would be thrilled to have properly exhibited.'

Reporter's note: When Anne Kalosh reached the end of 'Steam and Splendor,' her heart skipped a few beats at the final item, a sign for Royal Viking Sea Muster Station 101, quite possibly the station she was assigned to as a crew member on board in the early 1980s. The 1973-built Royal Viking Sea went to the breakers after service for Phoenix Reisen as Albatros, and the sign is part of Peter Knego's collection.