Radiating History

Life August 2010 “We’ve got a story that’s amazing. It’s a story that people get: the very American theme of how a place needs, periodically, to reinvent itself,” says Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) Executive Director William Tramposch. The seasoned museum executive, who has been at the venerable Nantucket organization for four years, brims with excitement about key projects underway showcasing the history of the island.

The museum was recently accredited by the American Association of Museums as one of the top museums in the country and is a first stop for many island visitors. The restored 1847 candleworks building features a magnificent skeleton of a sperm whale, decorative arts including scrimshaw, and artifacts from NHA’s permanent collection of 30,000 items.

The NHA and the Whaling Museum aren’t just for summer visitors. Brown-bag lunch lectures run weekly during the winter and spring. “We like to say we are the living room of Nantucket in the winter,” Tramposch says about the museum’s year-round vitality. Partnering with schools and offering family events are ways the NHA is reaching out to engage diverse audiences.

In an effort to showcase the under-profiled importance of women in Nantucket’s long history, NHA has created a special 2010 “Year of the Woman” series of programs and exhibits. “Sometimes think of me”: Notable Nantucket Women through the Centuries” is a major exhibition focusing on outstanding women from four centuries of Nantucket history. It is the NHA’s first large-scale exhibition exploring the history of the island’s remarkable women, featuring 32 individuals whose lives are the subjects of “embroidered narratives” by Nantucket needlework artist Susan Boardman. Boardman’s embroidered narratives have grown to encompass a history-in-brief of the women of Nantucket from the earliest Native American period to contemporary times. Other features of the exhibition and related programming include voice-over readings of selected passages from the journals, logs, and letters of the women featured in the exhibition.

“A Passion for People: 40 Years of Nantucket Portrait Photography by Beverly Hall is also on display through the end of December. The exhibit showcases photographer Beverly Hall’s outstanding eye for portraiture through four decades of Nantucket history. The retrospective traces the remarkable changes that have occurred on Nantucket in the last 40 years and the resilience of the individuals and families who have lived through those times. To present the full scope of Hall’s work, the exhibition features several hundred images on multiple presentation screens in addition to traditionally framed images.

NHA’s many historic properties are also integral to telling the island’s story, and Tramposch is looking forward to restoring a Howard Streetcattle barn called Greater Light, which was owned by two iconoclastic Quaker sisters, Hannah and Gertrude Monaghan. The Monaghans ushered in Nantucket’s identity as an art mecca in the early 20th century. “It’s a powerful site—it connects the past with the present, like Nantucket does,” says Tramposch.

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Susan Spencer is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Whitinsville and Brewster, MA. She contributes frequently to Cape Cod Life Publications.

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