• by Julianne Adams •
Nestled in a small enclave just outside of town at 8 Howard Street is a house called Greater Light. First serving as a livestock barn in the late 1700s, Greater Light transformed into an artistic hub in the 1930s thanks to two industrious sisters, Gertrude and Hanna Monaghan. The sisters, who were part of the burgeoning island art colony since 1923, purchased the barn in 1929 and quickly began heavy renovations, much to the fascination of neighbors.
Gertrude and Hanna eschewed the typical Nantucket house design and retained the open-space, exposed wooden beam structure of the barn. Greater Light became a place for the sisters to display their eclectic style, which extends into the house, where gold columns and a gilded fireplace bounce off the white walls. Gertrude, an artist, and Hanna, an actor and author, extended their sensibility to the garden, which they overhauled into a lush space replete with furnishings and 12-foot wrought-iron gates. During the sisters’ tenure of the property, the garden hosted many gatherings of the artistic community.
In the 1970s, the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) acquired the house and opened it as a museum. After years of visitors, the house underwent extensive renovations that were completed in 2011. Now Greater Light is back to its full glory, displaying the various odds and ends picked up by the inquisitive sisters.
In an effort to continue the generative artistic legacy of the Monaghan sisters, the NHA is working with the Artists Association of Nantucket (AAN) to hold The Plein-Air Art Retreats. Offered individually for $250, the Retreats are daylong workshops led by AAN guest artists at Greater Light. According to Marjan Shirzad, NHA Director of Visitor Experience, the “program follows in the footsteps of the Monaghan sisters, who created an art-filled summer retreat on Howard Street in the 1930s.” Barbara Capizzo (on July 17) and M.J. Levy Dickson (on July 24) will both guide participants in watercolor painting. Joining the artists are NHA interpretive staff members, who will color the event with informative historical background. As Liz Hunt O’Brien, AAN Public Programs Director, said, “Bringing these two Nantucket nonprofits together for this one-day plein-air workshop in the gorgeous garden of Greater Light along with the talent of AAN instructors is a wonderful blend of what each association has to offer.”
The series will take place in the bucolic Greater Light garden, where Nantucket artists of yesteryear came together. “The Monaghan sisters drew creative inspiration from their garden and it’s easy to see why,” said Shirzad. The artistic retreat will step inside the Greater Light home for an insider tour. The events, which run from 10 am to 3 pm, includes a picnic lunch.
The NHA & AAN partnership continues throughout the summer at the Whaling Museum, where Nantucket Cottage Style is currently running. In a news release, William Tramposch, NHA Gosnell Executive Director said, “[W]e are delighted to be working with the Artists Association of Nantucket on this important exhibition, which will shed so much light on the origins of what is known as the Nantucket Cottage Style.”
The exhibit draws from the estates of Andrew Oates and William Euler, two collectors who were heavily involved in the island art scene of the 1960s. In addition to aiding the renovation of the Jared Coffin House and establishing Nantucket Looms, Oates and Euler were avid local art collectors. Their distinctive taste, which could be found in their home, business, and local homes, was later referred to as Nantucket Cottage Style. The exhibit pulls together a wide variety of the pieces the pair amassed, which extends to furniture, paintings, weaving looms, ceramics, and more. Full of antiques, the Nantucket Cottage Style exhibit pays tribute to local history as well as art. As Robert Frazier, AAN Curator of Exhibitions, said on the exhibit, “Nantucket Cottage Style is certainly a celebration of the life and style of a memorable pair of men, but it is also a time machine, a window on an era whose spirit continues to thrive.” Like the Plein-Air Art Retreat, Nantucket Cottage Style lets island-goers step into the lives of Nantucket artists.