A Splash of Color on the Grey Lady
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.”
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