The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is pleased to announce that its new exhibit titled “The Mighty Misty Monster”: Moby-Dick Embroidered Narratives from artist Susan Boardman, opens to the public on Saturday, April 11, 2015, in the Mezzanine Gallery at the Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street.
Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick inspired Boardman’s latest series of embroidered narratives. Drawing on the tradition of illuminated manuscripts, Boardman has adapted the techniques of seventeenth-century raised embroideries to depict richly animated whaleboats; frothy waves, proud ships, and noble, mighty whales. Some of the pieces focus on Melville’s observations of whales in nature, while others portray the process of whale hunting as painstakingly described by the author. Still others capture key moments in Captain Ahab’s doomed quest to kill the great white whale.
“My work has always been inspired by stories,” says artist Susan Boardman. “I have created many embroidered narratives of nineteenth-century whaling voyages, inspired by the words written in the journals of women who sailed the seas with their whaling captain husbands. A few years ago I attended a lecture given by Nathaniel Philbrick about his newly published book Why Read Moby-Dick, and his contagious enthusiasm and passion for Melville’s classic, its connection to Nantucket’s rich whaling history and its importance in American literature, compelled me to read it. The folk-like quality of my work allows me to focus on the brutality of the whale hunt without excessively gruesome images.”
To create this series of seventeen works, Boardman listened to recorded readings of Moby-Dick while sketching drawings of the scenes that she would later create with her raised embroideries.
During her process, after a drawing is complete, a dye pattern is created and traced on muslin, followed by dye painting the fabric for the background of the piece. Boardman then takes her paper drawing, and makes an exact replica of her sketch on the dye-painted muslin using a light box. Once the design is drawn on the fabric, gold leaf is laid for the border and she begins the embroidery, finishing by quilting it with diagonal stitches. The entire process from start to finish for a single piece is approximately 200 to 250 hours.
“Our visitors are always eager to see Susan Boardman’s meticulous embroideries, with their close attention to fine detail and her careful use of color and materials,” says Michael Harrison, NHA Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator. “Her new Moby-Dick series imaginatively realizes key passages from the famous novel.”
“The whole process brings me so much joy—from the drawing, to the dye painting, to the stitching—all of it,” says Boardman. “There are so many techniques involved that you can go from one to the other and never be bored. I hope that visitors will take time to enjoy the intricate details and the stories my Moby-Dick pieces convey, and take away a deep appreciation for the beauty, magnificence, and nobility of the ‘mighty, misty monster.’”
Boardman, the great-granddaughter of a Swiss embroiderer who came to the United States to pursue his trade, learned the craft from her mother when she was five years old. After graduating from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1968, she became serious about needlework as a form of self-expression. She enrolled in a course offered by the late Mary Ann Beinecke’s Nantucket School of Needlery, later going on to Simmons College in Boston to earn a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in textile arts. She later took an Advanced Professional Study certificate course at the American Institute of Textile Arts at Pine Manor College, where she also served on the faculty.
Boardman moved to Nantucket as a year-round resident in 1993 and began making her embroidered narratives while exploring the lives of ordinary and illustrious Nantucket women as preserved in the journals and letters in the archives of the NHA. Her last major exhibit at the NHA in 2010, “Sometimes Think of Me”: Notable Nantucket Women through the Centuries, focused on the colorful lives of thirty-two outstanding women across four centuries of Nantucket history and was the organization’s first large-scale exhibition exploring the history of Nantucket’s remarkable women.
“The Mighty Misty Monster”: Moby-Dick Embroidered Narratives exhibit will be on view in the NHA’s Mezzanine Gallery on the second floor of the Whaling Museum from April through November 2015 during museum hours, and is included with museum admission.