Meredith Hanson is a light that shines through even the foggiest days on Nantucket
A night so dark that the only indication of the impending fog rolling in is the stars overhead disappearing into the cold grasp of nightfall, one by one, blinking away into darkness. That, and the fact that this island is known for an almost ever-present fog cover, a phenomenon that has earned it the moniker, “The Grey Lady.”
By the docks, horse-drawn carriages carry supplies to sea-worn men, dark shadows on their faces but still a distinctive spark in their eyes, preparing for the dawn when they will set out once more to navigate across Nantucket’s treacherous shoals to the waiting Atlantic beyond. Their mission: whale hunting, a perilous tradition that historically led the small island of Nantucket to be heralded as the whaling capital of the world. As Herman Melville’s Ahab describes his own adventures in whaling, “All my means are sane, my motive and my object mad.”
But despite the death-defying feats that men were eagerly undertaking out among the vast and immeasurable depths of the Atlantic, the true heart of the island remained onshore. Often painted as the lonesome spouses of their brave and hearty whale-chasing husbands, the women of Nantucket were responsible for keeping their home and their island in working shape, and what’s more, they prospered, rising to the occasion and becoming stewardesses of commerce. As Melville also once wrote, “two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer’s. For the sea is his; he owns it.” But if the sea is his, then the island is hers. Women were and continue to be, the lifeblood of Nantucket—the part that Melville left out.
No one better embodies the strong female leadership on-island than watercolorist Meredith Hanson. “When men left to go whaling, women ran the island. To this day, island business women have an incredible fiery spirit which is so inspiring,” she says. A New York native, Hanson may not bear the official moniker of “islander,” but her soul certainly belongs to Nantucket.
“I lasted about two months in the big city,” she laughs. “If I was going to pursue an art career, I needed to go to a place that would inspire me.” The decision to move to Nantucket came easily for Hanson, who had spent her childhood summers splashing along the shores and strolling atop the bluffs. “The art community on Nantucket is so special,” she says. “I fell madly in love with the island, and my love has grown every year since.”
Growing up, Hanson was always passionate about creating. Her excellent hand/eye coordination steered her toward the visual arts—an ability that enhanced other aspects of her life, including her younger years as a competitive athlete. “I started riding when I was six and split my time between the stables and the ball field. My younger brother and I were very competitive which is why I ended up playing on the boys’ baseball team,” she laughs.
At Wheaton College, Hanson declared her concentration in studio arts. “I chose my major on my first day of college,” she says with a grin. “Since then, I have experimented with a variety of different mediums and love finding new ways to express myself artistically.”
Over the last few years, Hanson has found herself dealing almost exclusively in small watercolors—a big shift from the larger oil paintings she used to devote herself to—and her iconic, whimsical style has become an intrinsic part of her imaginative life on-island. “I love being involved in all sorts of projects with different businesses, and during the past year, I was able to focus 100 percent of my energy on my design work.”
And Hanson has certainly had a multitude of projects to keep her busy. From grand murals and smaller logos to colorful drink can labels and even inventive designs to be printed on jewelry, her work has brought her all over the island and beyond. “The different surfaces people want my artwork on keeps growing — while wedding invitations remain very popular, several of the coolest projects I’ve worked on this year have been with local businesses,” she explains, citing a recent project with Drink Simple, an innovative beverage company whose Nantucket-exclusive label design shows off Hanson’s incredible talent. “Lots of businesses are finding exciting, creative new ways to incorporate original artwork into their products,” she says.
Hanson’s partnership with 28 Centre Pointe, an upscale home décor and lifestyle boutique, even gave her the opportunity to collaborate on a relief project where all of the proceeds were donated to support hurricane relief in the Bahamas, assisting the many residents who lost so much to hurricane Dorian. “I am passionate about using my artistic talent in a multitude of philanthropic endeavors,” she says.
Through all of the collaborations that Hanson has done, she’s met some incredible people, many of them native islanders. “I think every collaboration is a conversation piece,” she says. Her reach and potential for partnership has grown over the years in large part thanks to the ever-evolving intricacies and importance of social media. “Instagram has changed the whole game for artists and creatives,” explains Hanson about the popular app. “Having an online platform gives artists a bigger voice and essentially, their own gallery. I like to share what inspires me about this magical island with my followers.”
Hanson’s Instagram feed—her gallery, as she sees it—is coastal, trendy and fun. Vivacious, cheerful colors and consistent cameos by her lively dog, Willis, lend themselves well to Hanson’s effervescent style—one that fans can’t help but smile at. “It’s been really interesting over the years to figure out what colors truly speak to me and how people recognize my work because of the colors I choose. When I first came to the island and painted exclusively in oil and acrylic, I thought it was best to use every paint color imaginable. I would use dozens of colors without asking, ‘what colors really resonate with me and speak to the island?’ Painting in watercolor allows me to use a more minimal palette.”
Hanson’s process starts very simply, with a sketch. Drawing (literally) from her extensive background in fine arts, this is the part of the painting where she can truly show off her technical skill. From there, it’s a process of intricate layering. “I like to see a balance between transparent tones and really thick layering to get the specific details just right. It’s like an onion—just layer after layer,” says Hanson who often uses digital tools such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to perfect the finer details of her work once it’s complete.
“I think the combination of my early training plus the natural magic of this island helps me create the perfect mix for my watercolor design business,” says Hanson who explains that her greatest measure of success is a happy client. “That’s the ultimate day maker!” she effuses.
It’s common to see one of Nantucket’s famed lighthouses featured in Hanson’s work. The wake of a passing ferry crashing onto the shores around Brant Point is a particular favorite—a serene, iconic spot that Hanson has a clear affinity for. “I like to tell a story,” she says. “A favorite collaboration was working with Handlebar Café to figure out a theme for Daffodil Weekend. When visitors arrive on the island by ferry, one of the first things they see is the Brant Point lighthouse adorned with the daffodil wreath. From there, they head to the Handlebar Café to get their coffee before heading out to ’Sconset for the tailgate party and parade. I created the quintessential Daffodil Weekend vibe and Jason and Courtney Bridges, the owners of the café, printed it on hundreds of cups. It was exciting to run into people all over the island holding their coffee cups!”
“I’ll never leave ‘Sconset,” gushes Hanson about her home. “I think this part of the island speaks to me the most because I have a very quiet lifestyle which I enjoy with my dog Willis. ‘Sconset is also one of Hanson’s favorite places to paint and teach, mostly she says, because of the beauty of the bluff walk. “I feel like I live in the country and when I go to town, it’s like going into the city,” she laughs.
In Hanson’s quaint cottage home, she’s turned one of the bedrooms into a studio space, with a few favorite projects hanging on the wall and well-used paint tubes scattered across the table. Still her dining room table—clad in a charming, blue gingham tablecloth and, in true Nantucket fashion, boasting an arrangement of fresh picked hydrangeas—seems to be where she spends most of her time. “Anywhere that I have a flat surface and good light, I will paint,” she says. Her walls are decorated with pieces by other local artists—women with whom she’s been lucky enough to build an artistic family with like friend and photographer, Lauren Marttila. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘don’t forget who took you to the dance.’ I wouldn’t have enjoyed the same degree of success without all of the incredible people who support my work,” she says, citing specifically her good friend Holly Finigan, owner of the Nantucket BlACKbook, who is a champion of women in business on the island. “She and my mom are my two biggest supporters,” she says with a smile. “I am forever grateful.”
Hanson has found herself a home on Nantucket—in every sense of the word. From days spent sprinting into the frigid waves off of Steps Beach with Willis to idle time shopping the picturesque streets of downtown, she embodies the spirit of the island community—in her art, in her life, and truly, in her soul. “Finding your own unique relationship with Nantucket is the most important part of living here,” she says. It’s something she’s excelled at, her art and her spirit a light against the characteristic Nantucket fog.
Allyson Plessner is the digital editor
for Cape Cod Life Publications.
Find out more about Meredith Hanson online and keep up with her colorful world on instagram by following @merhanson and online at meredithhansonart.com
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To celebrate Cape Cod Life’s 40th Anniversary, Meredith Hanson featured members of the Cape Cod Life family on the cover (pets obviously included)!
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