19th Anniversary

19th Anniversary 138 www.afamag.com |  www.incollect.com t he island of Nantucket, twenty-five miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is well known for its whaling heritage and, for more than one hundred and fifty years, it has been famous as a summer holiday destination as well. The many threads that make up the island’s history meet in the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA), which celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2019 by providing the loan exhibition to the Winter Show (formerly the Winter Antiques Show) in New York City. The best the association has to offer is reflected at the Winter Show by spectacular examples of sailors’ scrimshaw, journals from sea- captain’s wives, and art inspired by the whale hunt and ocean journeys to the far side of the world. The island’s diverse people, from Native Wampanoag sailors and English settlers to African-American businessmen and colorful mariners, are represented in portraits by Gilbert Stuart, Eastman Johnson, Elizabeth R. Coffin, Spoilum, and William Swain. The association is also pleased, during the 200th birthday year of Herman Melville, to be displaying artifacts related to the 1820 tragedy of the whaleship Essex , whose destruction by an angry whale inspired key aspects of Moby-Dick . The name “Nantucket” or “faraway place,” comes from the island’s first inhabitants — the Wampanoags, one of the Algonquian peoples of southern New England. From the time Nantucket was formed by glacial melting five thousand years ago, the island was already home to the Wampanoags. When the first English settlers arrived in 1659, they adopted the native Wampanoags’ fish and shellfish foodways and introduced sheep herding and cattle grazing to the island in hopes of developing trade. During their first fifty years on island, the English population of Nantucket grew to seven hundred, while the three thousand- person native community dwindled to eight hundred, due to poverty, disease, and alcoholism caused by the English presence. The NHA’s portrait of Mary Gardner Coffin (1670–1767) represents the second generation of English settlers on the island (Fig. 1). It is the earliest known painted portrait of a Nantucketer, but it was not painted on Nantucket. The island during this period was isolated and rural, with an economy too small to nourish its own fine arts traditions. Even as the island’s trade expanded internationally from mid-century on, the increasing cultural dominance of Quakerism and its doctrine of simplicity limited the development of a taste for the arts, and citizens of means who sought finer things had to seek them in mainland cities or in Europe. When agriculture and shepherding produced poor results on sandy Nantucket, the English settlers turned to whaling. Hiring predominantly Wampanoag crews, they started shore whaling in small boats around 1690. Longer trips “over the horizon” began around 1715, growing to two- and three-month cruises as far as Newfoundland waters around 1730 and to four- and five-month cruises to the Azores and West Indies in the 1760s. By 1770, whale products were colonial New England’s second most valuable export, after codfish, and Nantucket provided over half of the region’s production. On the eve of the American Revolution, Nantucket ships were making voyages of up to a year to the Guinean and Brazilian coasts, and in 1791 a Nantucket whaler crossed into the Pacific Ocean for the first time. COLLECTING Connecting the World NANTUCKET by Michael R. Harrison THE WINTER SHOW LOAN EXHIBITION