by Catherine Macallister
As we sat amongst pictures, posters and ballot boxes in the new exhibition at the Hadwen House, guest curator Dan Elias took time from his busy day to share his experience of putting together this unique exhibit. Elias considers himself a “storyteller with objects,” something that became increasingly apparent as we walked through the Hadwen House, which will feature museum pieces that span the eighteenth to twenty-first centuries on Nantucket. Each room contains dozens of sketches, artwork and museum pieces that tell a story about Nantucket. The new exhibition opens this Friday, June 28 and features Decorative Arts, Nantucket’s Architectural Legacy, Melville on Nantucket, and From Slavery to Suffrage: Two Centuries of Political Education on Nantucket. Elias hopes that the Hadwen House space will “expand capacity to show different aspects of island life and history” in a way that is “engaging and fun.”
The unique and ornate Greek revival-style house at 96 Main Street stands out amongst its neighbors. Now owned by the Nantucket Historical Association, this stately structure was built in 1846 by William Hadwen, a prominent silversmith turned whale oil magnate. The Hadwen House still reflects an opulence that makes it a unique fixture in Nantucket history. Beyond the structure of the house is the rich history of its former inhabitants. William Hadwen and his wife, Eunice, were proponents of abolition and women’s suffrage and significant members in the whaling industry. The second floor, will tell the Hadwen’s stories alongside many important historical figures like Anna Gardner, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, and Paul Cuffee. The wellknown history of whaling will be displayed throughout the Melville exhibit, with fresh takes on race relations aboard the Pequod as well as an in-depth look at Moby-Dick in pop culture. Visitors be able to trace Nantucket history beginning with Nantucket’s Architectural Legacy, a room comprised of sketches that have been collected from places like the Smithsonian collection. The Nantucket Preservation Trust’s Michael May has joined Dan Elias in compiling the architectural designs that will be on display. While each exhibit on the second floor could stand alone, they all have a common thread of being able to “tell a story through personalities,” says Elias.
“The team that is putting this together is remarkable,” says Elias as we walk past members of the NHA team that have come together to clean, construct, and ready the Hadwen House for the newest exhibition. Special lights as well as temperature control have also been added so that more pieces can be showcased in each of the rooms: some have never before been shown in public. The first floor will feature the Decorative Arts components with clocks, furniture, textiles and china pieces. Many items will be displayed in an “open storage” setting so that more pieces can be displayed at once, a sort of “open arms to the collection” says Elias.
Guest curator Dan Elias has spent the last twenty years working with museums, galleries, and contemporary art. Elias also spent the early 2000s as a host on the popular PBS Antiques Road Show. While he has not been a curator for the NHA before, and considers himself the “unorthodox choice,” his ability to find the “space where fine arts meets the real world” is evident. Each exhibit is more than just a photo or object, and instead tells stories in a way that have not been possible before. Visitors will be “pioneers” in the journey to turn the Hadwen House into a place where more of the NHA’s collections can be displayed and enjoyed. “I really like the notion of seeing how people use arts objects to find meaning” says Elias. Visitors will certainly have the chance to interact with many pieces in the exhibition and take away new perspectives on Nantucket history.
As if the Hadwen House wasn’t magnificent enough on its own, the sprawling Victorian gardens that are just beyond, are not to be missed. The Nantucket Garden Club is responsible for the beautifully manicured garden that can be enjoyed from dawn to dusk. Among the lush plants, you will have the chance to delight in the art installation sculptures of Seward Johnson. Visitors will have an extra special opportunity to spend time in the gardens during the Afternoon Teas that will be held there beginning this Tuesday, July 2 on select afternoons at 2 pm. Ashley Santos, associate director of marketing for the NHA says, “We wanted to offer our visitors a chance to enjoy tea in the back garden of a Main Street mansion, like they may have done so many hundreds of years ago on a summer day.” Adults will be able to enjoy a sophisticated atmosphere while kids can use toy tea sets and play in the spacious garden.
The Hadwen House will re-open with featured exhibitions on Friday, June 28 at 6 pm and will be open to the public daily from June 28 to October 14 from 9 am-5 pm. Visitors can enjoy to the Afternoon Teas on July 2 and 16, August 6 and 20, and September 3 and 17, starting at 2 pm. Tickets for the Afternoon Tea can be purchased at nantucketmuseumshop.org/tickets/afternoon- tea-at-hadwen.