19th Anniversary

2019 Antiques & Fine Art 141 Fig. 6: J. Fisher (life dates uncertain), Ship Spermo Trying With Boats Among Whales On California, 1821 , ca. 1823. Oil on canvas; 18¾ x 24¾ in. Nantucket Historical Association Collection, gift of the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association (2008.31.1). For about a century and a half, whale hunting drove Nantucket’s economy, bringing the island prosperity from the sale of refined oils and clean-burning, bright spermaceti candles. A spectacular pair of turned candlesticks made of sperm-whale ivory and bone perfectly symbolize the island’s cetacean-fueled economy (Fig. 2). The island’s specialty enterprise also vitally linked its people to the far corners of the globe. This success flowed, too, from the influence of the plain, frugal, and pragmatic philosophy of the Quakers, whose religious doctrines dominated island life from the 1720s to the 1820s. Quaker theology emphasized industry and thrift and accepted material prosperity as a sign of God’s favor. It also encouraged equality of the sexes, education for both men and women, and plainness in dress and living. The island’s reliance on the water forms the theme of Thomas Birch’s View of the Town of Nantucket (Fig. 3), the earliest known painting of the town. Maritime activity fills the scene, with whalers and coastal traders lining the wharfs and passing to and fro. Philadelphian Joseph Sansom visited the island around 1810 and described the lively scene with its wood stores and houses and its two prominent Congregational meeting-house tower. The numerous Quaker meeting houses, being very plain, did not announce themselves on the Nantucket skyline. Numerous artifacts reflect the awful labor that underpinned Nantucket’s whaling wealth. An outstanding decorative engraving on part of the jawbone of a sperm whale depicts a range of whaling activities on the high seas (Fig. 4). While small whaleboats hunt their prey, an enraged whale smashes a boat with its tail, propelling men and equipment into the air. Back aboard one of the motherships, men remove the blubber from a carcass while a stain of red spreads across the water. Similarly, a pair of paintings record the Nantucket ship Spermo in the course of a profitable voyage in 1820– 1823. In Spermo Cutting In Whales On Japan (Fig. 5) , the artist