"Messing About in Boats"

A Model of Ratty's Boat from The Wind in the Willows

Original content by: Mimi Houston

zoomable artifact image here

About This Artifact

This charming wooden model of Ratty's boat, as featured in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, was made by the professional artist, painter, and illustrator, Lois Darling.  The scene is handcrafted in basswood.  Ratty and Mole are off on another river adventure, and Ms. Darling magically captures the whimsy of the beloved, oft-illustrated tale of animals "messing around in boats," living in every sort of abode from mansions (Toad Hall) to underground lairs (Badger's house), and generally having all the adventures a fully-lived life can offer.

The model was made in the late 1980s and was designed in reference to professional boat-building blueprints of a Thames River Single skiff, reminiscent of the rowboat Grahame probably "messed around in" himself as a young boy. The Wind in the Willows is set in a pastoral countryside along an inviting river; a scene that mirrors Grahame's own boyhood home in Cookham Dean, England.  As part of her research, Ms. Darling made an extensive tour of the village and saw firsthand the boats that were used along the river.

Ratty's boat is the last model Ms. Darling every made.  She created the model for pure pleasure, perhaps in honor of the eminent naval architect Starling Burgess, whom she held in great esteem and ultimately introduced her to the novel.

Ms. Darling has several references in her notes about the exact size of Ratty, the slightly smaller Mole, and their proper proportion to the vessel.  "Ratty and Mole have larger heads than man . . . and are more portly," Ms. Darling writes in her model notes. "Thus, are larger in bulk in proportion to man. Therefore, [the] boat cannot be longer than 20.  Boat and animals must not look either large or dinky."

In fact, the finished model measures a full 18" long.  Ratty and Mole are proportionately figured, seated in their English clothing, out for an adventure on Ratty's beloved river.  Their picnic lunch, the last piece of the model Ms. Darling managed to finish, is tucked into the stern of the boat, and the animals' exquisite expressions suggest yet another peaceful day spent amongst the best of friends.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. What feelings do you get from looking at this model?
  2. Have you ever read or listened to something that moved you to create a piece of art or write something of your own in response? If not, what do you think would compel someone to do so?
  3. Does this model tell you anything about Lois Darling?