Art Gallery Owner
I’m a 12th-generation Nickerson. My family goes back to William Nickerson, who founded Chatham. He came over from England in the 1600s and made his way to Chatham, settled here and bought land from the Indians. He lived side by side with the sachem. I come from that line.
My grandfather was born in 1870. He left Chatham at 13 years old on the back of a stage coach and he went to sea. He was a cabin boy on a ship called the Comet. Then he headed west—he was a prospector, and he and his partner were ambushed by Indians. His partner was killed and my grandfather ended up living with the Hopi Indians for a year. He lived out in Arizona, he had a ranch in Montana—he was all over the place. My great great great grandfather was a ship insurer in New York. My aunt went to Radcliffe and then Duke University. My sister lived in New York City. We’ve all traveled all over the world, and yet we come back.
I grew up in Chatham and I didn’t like it (laughs). I was born in 1950 and we were a resort town, but we were on that edge. We had a movie theatre that opened only in the summer. You had two months of fun and lots of different people here, then everything closed and the streets rolled up.
My parents started The Children’s Shop, a children’s clothing store, in 1955. My father started the Chatham Liquor Store. They were side-by-side, old family businesses on Main Street. Even though we lived in North Chatham, I was growing up downtown on Main Street.
The Children’s Shop was basically our other home. We would come down with my mom in the morning during the summer, then we’d walk barefoot down to the Oyster Pond for swimming lessons. We’d go there after school sometimes and do our homework. We were always in and out of there growing up. We were with our mom and dad almost all the time except when we were in school. It was really my mom’s passion. She wanted that shop more than anything. I ended up owning the shop for 22 of the 50 years that it was in business.
We had wonderful art teachers in high school. Harry Holl was one of our teachers growing up. We had real artists, which made all the difference in the world. After my first two years of college, my parents sent me on a tour of Europe. I had just studied art history in college and I got to see everything I had studied for a full year.
Nickerson Art Gallery opened in 2009. In mid-May, we were given the opportunity to open, and in two weeks we had a business. The gallery supports local artists. A lot of us are related to William Nickerson one way or the other, whether its through marriage or by being a Nickerson or part of the Nickerson family. If they’re not a Nickerson, they’re from Chatham or they’re from the Cape. At least 10 of the artists represented here work on the water. My business partner, Shareen Davis, her husband and his brother are two on the last weir fishermen on the East Coast. Then there’s Willard Nickerson—his family started Nickerson Fish and Lobster down on the fish pier, which has been sold. He’s a third-generation fishermen—he fishes and shellfishes and makes these beautiful scallop-shell art pieces.