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 Gallery of Mina Goddard's c. 1889 Nantucket Watercolors

(The paintings are generally 10 x 14 inches. The detailed inserts are at their original size unless noted. Please click blue-bordered pictures to see larger but still reduced-scale views of the pictures.)

Close up men working

Detail of crew offloading is at original scale. (The fine horizontal "clapboarding" is an artifact from scanning.)

 Three men work aboard the good-looking Mary E. Crosby. With clipper bow and simple, graceful sheer, she was a three-masted East Coast coasting "tern" schooner, a type called "a most appealing and interesting species of vessel." Every stay, guy, and halyard is shown, as is the white detailing on the trailboard at the bow. Black-hulled, she has a fine white stripe. There are no turned stanchions to mar the smooth line of the rail cap. I have long wondered whether she was a Nantucket vessel and when Mina Goddard might have painted her. At the Peabody-Essex Museum, I just discovered that yes, she was homeported in Nantucket from 1884 to 1897. Click here to see a larger image and to find more about the Mary E. Crosby. She and her crew received an award at about the time Mina painted her for saving the lives of three men capsized at sea.

Can you tell what her crew were doing in the detail above at the right? Was she a pleasure yacht or a work horse? The latter. Her foremast boom seems to have been swung part way athwartships (to the right of the figure on deck) to permit her crew to discharge cargo, probably coal. Two dirty-gray men are shown working on an elevated platform. They appear to be about to tip a bailed bucket into a large black barrow or scuttle for delivery via a trestle to the red building in the background. A possible coal pile is visible to the right of the bow. Sail covers protect against the dirty job.

I like my new friends, the tern schooners, so much I have made a small page showing small tern schooners going about their daily lives.

detail of Sankaty Lighthouse

[Detail at original scale.]
Sankaty Light was erected 1849-50 near Siaconset. Though it was a favorite subject of artists, I have found only one other image--a utilitarian photo-- of the open-framed tower. Detective work allows us to date the painting to 1889, when the tower existed for only 8 months during the reconstruction of the lighthouse. Click here for the photo of the mystery tower and for a larger but still reduced view of entire painting.
Maxcy Pond detail of ice houses at Maxcy Pond

[Detail at original scale.] Are these ice houses? And note the puzzling, inconspicuous towers or beacons on the horizon.
One evening in a house at 10 Martins Lane in Nantucket, friends and I bent over old maps to puzzle out the above scene: we think this is a painting of water works at Maxcy Pond. It is an unlikely subject for a summer visitor, but it may have been big news then! Click painting for larger view.
 Cliff Shore, Nantucket? Cliff Shore Beach Club
 "Nantucket." Watercolor sketch.
 "Nantucket." Probably the Cliff Shore Beach Club.
 Unitarian Church

 Detail, Unitarian Church
 The Unitarian Church and the west end of Straight Wharf.

 [Detail at original scale. Click for larger view.]
Fog in harbor

The buildings at the foot of Steamboat Wharf are washed in gray; perhaps it was intended to suggest wisps of fog moving into a sunlit afternoon. North tower, First Congregational Church is minus its steeple. An insert shows a catboat in full summer sun.

The bright sloop at the right, with a flag flying from the mast, was perhaps the Dauntless, which took summer visitors sailing and to the beach.

Sloop in afternoon
Straight Wharf

 Whale weathervane
 Probably the shoreside end of Straight Wharf, with the "ice" houses to the north (right). [Click for original scale and to compare the painting with a photograph of the time.]
 [Detail: this whale weather vane is enlarged from the original painting of Straight Wharf, to the left. Amazing detail.]
 dinghy landing & moors  coal wharf
 "Nantucket." A dinghy landing, a derelict wharf, and moors with scattered houses.
 "Nantucket." Two derelict wharves , and an active coal wharf, with off-loader scuttle. An unlikely subject. Is one of these Peleg's Wharf?
 Gay Head  Steamboat Wharf & Brant Point
 "Gay Head, Mass." Yes, I know this is on Martha's Vineyard, but Mina Goddard must have gone there to paint the bluffs during their more vivid days.
 "Steamboat Wharf, Nantucket, Mass." Painting details suggest the it was made between 1885 and ca. 1890. Click picture for description.
Fair Street

Widow's walk, Fair Street 

[Detail at original scale. Clapboarding is
also in the original.]

Picturesque Fair Street, looking north. Click picture for larger image. The house at the left is probably no. 41, and no. 38 is at the right. I was surprised how colorful this scene was. My mental impression had been formed by tales of the Nantucket as the Gray Lady of the Sea (at bottom of page). Three details from this watercolor appear (at their original scale) at the right and below.

 Woodbox Inn, Fair Street

[Detail at original size. Compare with photo of the time.]


detail, Fair Street

[Detail at original size.] 

On the left above, the double house in the left center was the clue that identified where the picture was painted. That house, now the slightly modified inn called the Woodbox, is carefully represented in its irregularity (see photo). Overall, the features shown are meticulous, accurate, and charming. Notice the small things: the moss on the shingles, the weeds, the shutters half closed, the afternoon sun striking the half-pulled shade, and the windows cracked open for a breeze on a hot summer afternoon by the sea. Wouldn't you like to be there?

Comments welcomed by <sfe-at-post.harvard.edu>. How can these paintings help Nantucket? Copyright 2000 by Stephen F. Ells. These images should not be used for a commercial purpose.

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