MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – There’s a mermaid in the pond adjacent the Mahaney Center for the Arts at Middlebury College. Golden-haired and luminous, she’s perched above the water—a key piece in the new exhibit “Young America: Roy Lichtenstein and the America’s Cup,” which opens at the Middlebury College Museum of Art on May 26.

More accurately, a depiction of a mermaid—designed by iconic Pop artist Lichtenstein in 1994—adorns the sailing hull Young America mounted above the pond. Manned by skipper Kevin Mahaney ’84 in his bid to compete in the 1995 America’s Cup, the hull represents one of Lichtenstein’s last and largest artworks.

The exhibit opens on the same day that trials begin to select the challenger for the 2017 America’s Cup, and will remain on view through August 13. In addition to the 77-foot hull of Young America, on loan to Middlebury from the Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York, the exhibit also includes Lichtenstein’s original drawing for the project, the maquette for the hull and spinnaker, and two schematic drawings. The exhibit places Young America in the context of the history of the America’s Cup, and will also include film history of Young America and streaming video of this year’s America’s Cup trials and races.

360 video works best with Chrome and Firefox. It does not function with Safari. As you watch the video, scroll around to see all angles.

The America’s Cup is the oldest international sporting trophy, and consists of a race between the defending yacht club and a challenging team; the first race took place in 1851. This year’s challenge, slated for Bermuda, makes the 35th edition of the race.

Mahaney first started dreaming about racing in the America’s Cup in 1992, while competing at the Barcelona Olympics. (He won a silver medal that year in sailing.) The America’s Cup, he said, was “like Everest: It was the only thing I hadn’t done in sailing.”

So together with friends and colleagues, he founded the PACT 95 syndicate and launched a bid for the 1995 America’s Cup. The group decided early on that they’d use the America’s Cup as a vehicle for exciting kids about math, science, engineering—and art. They kicked off a national program they called the Little America’s Cup, inviting children across the country to design and race their own model ships.

As part of that outreach effort, the syndicate thought it only fitting to commission a leading artist to design the hull and spinnaker of their own boat. Mahaney can’t remember now exactly who reached out to Lichtenstein, but what he does know is that the artist—then in his 70s—was immediately enthusiastic about the opportunity to excite young people about art. Lichtenstein donated all of his art and time to the education program, and didn’t accept a fee for the commission.

Young America on the water in 1995.

The project happened quickly; within three months of accepting the commission, Lichtenstein had completed the design. The boat itself was designed by Bruce Nelson, and constructed in Rhode Island by Eric Goetz Custom Sailboats.

Upon first seeing the completed hull, Mahaney was stunned.

“There was nothing else like it,” he said. He recalled watching Young America in the water, and marveling at how the mermaid bobbed and moved through the waves. The art came alive. Upon seeing the hull in the water in San Diego, Lichtenstein, Mahaney recalls, was “giddy.”

“So much of sailing is experiencing the environment around you,” said Mahaney, “whether it’s the wind, the sun, the salt, the smell, the waves.” In this, he sees some similarities to the world of art. In both sailing and art, Mahaney said, “it’s about the beauty of the experience.”

For More Information

Middlebury College Museum of Art