by Catherine Macallister
Visitors of the Nantucket Whaling Museum will have the chance to explore a new exhibit featuring the work of early American artists, some that has been forgotten or not been available to public for decades. The Williams Forsyth gallery opens this Saturday, June 15 and is the newest addition to the Whaling Museum. Their inaugural exhibit, Two Hundred Years of American Art on Nantucket: Pairings from the NHA and Private Collections will display about forty works by 19th and 20th century artists. William Trost Richards’ painting “Nantucket Shore” is one of the many featured paintings that will be on display. Other artists include Wendell Macy, George Inness, Elizabeth Rebecca Coffin, Anne Ramsdell Congdon.
Guest curator for the exhibit, Dr. Anne Classen Knutson is an art historian and summer resident of over 30 years. Dr. Knutson was first approached in February 2018 to curate the exhibition describing her findings and research as a “revelation.”
“So much has not been done,” she remarks, surprised at the amount of early American artists that found their way to Nantucket but whose paintings and histories have been lost. The exhibit will feature some of the best pieces from the NHA as well as pieces from private collections, found by the Friends of NHA and Dr. Knutson herself. The private and public pieces will be paired and configured to tell a story that brings museumgoers through 200 years of local art by exceptional artists. Dr. Knutson hopes that she has revealed “interesting and new stories” within the exhibit. The journey through the gallery will include themes like the ‘Sconset area or “artists retreat,” portraits of Coffin family members that Dr. Knutson has reunited and needlework pieces by two young girls. Additionally, the exhibit draws attention to “the number of remarkable women who painted on Nantucket and who people don’t know about,” something that Dr. Knutson hopes to continue researching.
The biggest take away from this new exhibit? Dr. Knutson hopes that people will be “thinking more art historically and looking more closely” at the paintings and viewers will consider “light, atmosphere and, space.” Previously Dr. Knutson has presented shows at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, The High Museum, and the Guggenheim, and while the Williams Forsyth Gallery will be a smaller venue, guests of the exhibit can expect the same caliber of research and maybe “a little experiment.” Going beyond the traditional biographical information provided for art pieces, Dr. Knutson hopes to inspire viewers to “think outside the box” and make connections between paired paintings as they make their way through the gallery. Through her careful work, Dr. Knutson will be shining a light on pieces of forgotten Nantucket history and creating connections to prestigious American artists who spent time on the Island.
The Williams Forsyth Gallery, named in honor of NHA Board President Kelly Williams and her husband Andrew Forsyth, will complete what will now be known as the Fine Arts Wing of the Museum. The Whaling Museum, located at 13 Broad Street, is open daily 9am-5pm and features unique exhibitions and presentations that capture the history behind Nantucket.