Nantucket Events Nantucket History & People

Painters Who Changed Nantucket

We live in a society that tends to peg businesspersons as the most influential in our world, often forgetting the impact that artists can plant among us. On Friday, June 29, the Artists Association of Nantucket (AAN) presents its 2012 exhibition, The Waterfront Artists: Painters Who Changed Nantucket. A compilation from the AAN’s Permanent Collection, The Waterfront Artists features the work of many artists who filled the studios of Nantucket’s Art Colony, which was most vibrant during the early-to-mid 20th century.  The exhibition is located at the Maria Mitchell Association’s property at 33 Washington Street, and will be open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through mid-August.

Painting in plein air on Washington Street, circa 1950.

The exhibition will look at the history of the waterfront as a popular destination for associates of the Nantucket Art Colony.  Visitors will learn about the draw that the beaches and maritime scenery had on artists during a busy and productive era for Nantucket art.  AAN curator of exhibitions Bobby Frazier says, “While it looks at the artists, studios, and galleries of the Art Colony, it is meant to illuminate a particular time and location, not the origins of the Art Colony.  The Waterfront Artists made up the core group of art colonists from 1920 to 1950, so an exploration of their narrative tends to sharpen the focus on that golden era of Nantucket art.  It is a comprehensive survey of the individual roles these painters played in developing Nantucket into a bona fide East Coast hub for the arts.  The area along South Beach and Washington Street, from Commercial Wharf to the boatyard by Monomoy Creek, looked barren in the 1920s.  Within thirty years, artists had arrived to populate the buildings and shacks, turning them into studios and galleries.”  The area included the Kerr School of Art, which is now the 33 Washington Street property where the exhibition is located; the Red Anchor Studio, Louise Emerson’s home and studio, and the studio of Isabelle Hollister Tuttle.  The Candle House Studio, the first group gallery, opened on the corner of Washington Street and Commercial Wharf in 1923.  At the center of the areas was a cluster of studios owned by Florence Lang and subsequently by Ruth Haviland Sutton.

In conjunction with the summer exhibition, on Saturday and Sunday, June 30 and July 1, the AAN will host the first annual Plein Air Nantucket, a two-day painting festival open to all artists who wish to paint in the fresh air and pristine scenery of the harbor and enjoy the camaraderie of painting with their peers.  “Evocative of the 1920s, the two-day event is a perfect tie-in to the history presented in our summer exhibition,” said AAN executive director Cecil Barron Jensen.  “While many early artists on the island worked out of their studios, this changed when artists streamed around the point to savor the island’s charms and advantages during the 1920s.”  Artists will paint within the area from Steamboat Wharf to the Creeks at the end of Washington Street.  Artists must not violate private property restrictions without permission.  The majority of the work must be painted on location.  All artists are asked to sign up for Plein Air Nantucket at 9 a.m. at The Waterfront Artists exhibition at 33 Washington Street.  There is a small entry fee of $15; or $25, including a canvas or board.  All artists’ canvases are limited to 9″x 12″ or 11″x14″ and must be stamped by the AAN at the time of registration.  The festival will conclude with an exhibition of the art and the presentation of the Frank Swift Chase Awards.  Chase was a huge proponent of plein air painting, and taught outdoor classes from the 1920s to the 1950s.  The core of his regular students became the founders of the AAN.  The Frank Swift Chase awards presentation and a reception will be held on July 1, 6–7:30 p.m., at 33 Washington. All are welcome to attend for free.

AAN curator of exhibitions Bobby Frazier expresses excitement about the festival and the exhibition: “It’s a chance for today’s painters to explore the same wharves and harbor beaches that intrigued the Waterfront Artists, the painters who dominated that golden era of Nantucket art and changed the island’s economy.”  For details about AAN 2012 programs and events, please visit the website at or call 508-228-0722.

Articles by Date from 2012