by Cara Godlesky
Over the last few decades, Nantucket transformed from a bustling whaling and fishing community into a nucleus of fine arts, food, culture, and tourism. Once a small, sandy patch that few could locate on a map, Nantucket became a destination and home for artists, politicians, and celebrities. As Nantucket’s economy slowly deviated from depending on fishing, the tourism industry steadily took off. The island received attention from a variety of people and artists, such as Elizabeth Saltonstall, who was nationally recognized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. With a rich historical background, untarnished beaches, and hushed hideaways, Nantucket gives artists the opportunity to be inspired and create.
Nantucket’s growing art industry and year-round community sparked the creation of the non-profit Artists Association of Nantucket (AAN) in 1945. Now, the AAN provides the island with its largest collection of local art. The AAN aims to encourage and support artists, promote art education and visual arts on the island through youth and adult programs.
“An artists association serves as the community center for artistic activity,” said Kate Merlini, art teacher of eight years at Nantucket High School. Merlini previously taught at the AAN. “It’s a hub of artistic processes and expression, but also a gathering place where people can congregate in the name of art.”
The AAN offers a wide selection of programs for members and non-members of all ages, including children. Youth programs allow young artists to explore and experiment with new mediums through oil paint classes, pottery wheel sessions and digital painting courses. Young artists can participate in weekly workshops, or sign up for summer art camps.
“I want the youth to have the opportunity to do artwork,” said Nicci Aguiar, who grew up on Nantucket and now teaches youth art at the AAN. “Even if the kids don’t plan on doing it as a career, it’s good mentally to have that creativity in life, no matter what they do.”
Adults can tune their art skills through year-round instructed classes and lectures, or participate in advanced sessions, including printmaking and book or journal binding.
“Participating in art can incorporate beauty into your life. It’s asking your brain to think about something differently,” said Cecil Barron Jensen, AAN executive director. “Sometimes an artist’s point of view is not only a beautiful thing, but a challenging thing, thinking about the community… place you live…what you see on a daily basis to understand a different point of view.”
With more than 250 members, the AAN presents an opportunity for the island’s artists to work on their skills in a social environment. In the quiet winter months, members work on artwork while getting to know other local artists. They get to see how others grow and evolve throughout the years. Some members may come and go, however others have been in the AAN for over 50 years. Art can bring the people of the island community together.
The AAN not only hosts art classes and provides a social setting for artists, but also holds five Open Art Shows throughout the spring and summer months. These art shows accept fine art submissions from all community members to encourage new artists and locals to showcase their work.
“Most of our shows throughout the year are only open to AAN members to show work, but we wanted to preserve an opportunity for islanders who aren’t members to show in art gallery,” said Jensen. “We are in the business of encouraging art, sponsoring artists, and we want people to feel like they can be a part of this organization. We also always look for new members to join.”
One of the AAN’s most popular Open Art Shows is the Artist’s Open and Cellography Show – cell phone photography. The Cellography show is a “show within a show” and will be held during the Artist’s Open. Artist’s Open contains work from various mediums while the Cellography show will only contain photographs.
During the Cellography show, photographers use only their phones to take pictures, then they print them out and hang them for display on an old fashioned clothesline. This will be the seventh consecutive year that the art show will include cellography due to its large participation from artists of all ages.
“Most people have a cell phone on them,” said Jack Parsons, a student in the digital photography III program at Nantucket High School. “Taking photographs with cell phones is pretty easy and doesn’t require a lot of extra processes.”
As the quality of cell phone cameras rapidly develops, more people are able to take excellent photographs without purchasing and lugging around expensive cameras and equipment. Clip-on camera lenses for cell phones, like fish-eyes, macro, and wide-shot lenses, provide cellographers with similar angles that one would get from an SLR, DSLR, or video camera.
“A photographer once said ‘the best photographer is the one who always has their cameras on them,'” said Merrill Mason, photography teacher at Nantucket High School. “I think because we all have our cell phones on us, it’s very simple just to take a photo.”
The diverse art programs and events the AAN offers gives Nantucket’s community a place to join together in an inspiring and creative way. Now, 72 years after its founding, the AAN mission to give artists an a chance to show and sell work, to teach art and to conserve Nantucket’s art history still is upheld today.
The next Open Art Show, Artist Open and Cellography, will be on display from May 26 to June 3, at Cecelia Joyce & Seward Johnson Gallery located at 19 Washington St. in the Nantucket Cultural District. The AAN will host an opening reception on Friday, May 26 from 6 pm to 8:00 pm.
Community artists and AAN members show their work together again during the Plein Air Festival in mid-June. And in September, AAN hosts another Open Art Show called “10×10.” Like its name suggests, everything on the gallery wall is sized 10″ by 10.” The deadline to submit artwork for this show is Tuesday, Sept. 5.
For more details about AAN programs, Open Art Shows, and AAN membership, contact them at NantucketArts.org.