Stove by a Whale: 20 Men, 3 Boats, 96 Days
McCausland Gallery, Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street
April 24, 2015 through Spring 2017
It’s November 1820, and the crew of the whaleship Essex take to their boats after an enraged sperm whale destroys their ship. Follow twenty sailors as they attempt to sail thousands of miles across the Pacific to safety with limited food and water. Along the way, learn about Nantucket in its whaling heyday and visit islands in the Pacific. See how the survivors’ tragic tale has been retold time and again in classic sea stories, in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, and in the contemporary film In the Heart of the Sea.
With 20,000 artifacts in the NHA collections, we are proud to say that a full 10% of the museum’s collections were on display in 2011(twice the national average for museums). However, with a goal of having even more of the collections on display, we added an artifact-rich display in the Hadwen & Barney building this year, loading the walls and rafters with fascinating items that, until now, have been in storage in the collections.
These items address major themes of Nantucket history: Boom & Bust, Diverse Peoples, Business & Commerce, Island Characters, Intellectual History, and more. The Hadwen & Barney exhibition features newly commissioned illustrations by the author and illustrator team of Mark and Gerald Foster (of Whale Port fame) showing in vivid style exactly “how it worked” in the refinery. The Fosters have created a large bird’s-eye view of the whole facility and the refining process, along with detailed illustrations of the oil lever press (“beam press”) and the seasonal oil refining and candlemaking process.
The public will learn, in accessible graphic detail, how the building functioned as a working factory, something that has been cloaked in obscurity until now. Visitors will feast their eyes on a rich visual tapestry of artifacts from the collections installed lavishly in the spacious enclosure of the large brick factory, in the tradition of the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and other object-rich displays around the world.
Another highlight is a vignette of a “Nantucket Attic” created in the rafters of the factory, evoking the great tradition of treasures housed in attic spaces and home museums on island.
The former Island Home Gallery has been reborn as the Nantucket Corner. The space offers a relaxing atmosphere for visitors to settle into comfortable couches and corner chairs and delve into the deep historical resources of the Nantucket Historical Association. Visitors are surrounded by precious whaling logs, first editions of Moby-Dick, and other treasures while exploring all the NHA collections through digital databases, enjoying oral histories and videos and reading digitized whaling logs first hand. the Nantucket Corner offers a portal to the NHA’s broader resources, especially the rich holdings of the Research Library as well as the historic properties, the 1800 House arts and crafts classes, and other areas of the organization’s programs and collections.
Permanent Exhibitions at the Whaling Museum
Perhaps the most dramatic installation of a whale skeleton ever displayed. Diving from the ceiling-mouth open, teeth menacing-is the skeleton of a forty-six foot male sperm whale. The beauty and wonder of being this close to the skeleton is breathtaking, and many of our visitors have told us just that.
Nantucket conducted its greatest trade in the eighteenth century with England and Europe; at the end of the century, Nantucketers traveled to China for trade and brought back many outstanding souvenirs.
Oil portraiture carried the day in the period before the invention of the photographic process in the mid-nineteenth century. This period corresponded with the heyday of whaling on Nantucket, as well as with a loosening of Quaker strictures against the vanity of images and portraits. Wealthy whaling captains and merchants were eager to have their portraits painted, often by itinerant portrait artists who visited the island and advertised studio time. Many of these artists, such as William Swain and James Hathaway, spent so much time on the island that they managed to capture a large number of the most notable whaling captains of the era, and occasionally their wives and children. A wall in Gosnell Hall displays a large range of portraits of the men and women who went to sea.
scrimshaw in the collection of the Nantucket Historical Association is the result
of over a century and a half of passionate collecting, and is considered one of
the most important collections in the world. Highlights of the collection include
some of the earliest and rarest sperm whale teeth, engraved by the most famous
of all scrimshaw artists, Nantucketers Frederick Myrick and Edward Burdett; outstanding
examples of teeth by the anonymous scrimshaw hands known as the Ceres Artisan,
the Banknote Engraver, the Naval Battle Captain; and dozens of the finest-quality
teeth, many with direct Nantucket provenances. In
addition to the superb collection of teeth, every aspect of the scrimshander's
art is represented in the collection, including dazzling specimens of swifts,
busks, canes, jagging wheels, coconut-shell dippers, ditty boxes, furniture, tools,
Arctic ivory, and plaques.
Next to the scrimshaw gallery is a display of the some of the finest objects in the NHA's decorative-arts collection. Presented in an airy open space, visitors hardly notice that this is one of the highest quality climate-controlled spaces in the museum. Instead, they enjoy the wonders the NHA's lightship basket collection, framed needlework pieces, and whimsical whirligigs in a room with a meticulously hand-painted floor by island artisan Christina Wiggins.
The Decorative Arts Gallery is also a perfect place to stop and view the wonders of the architectural design. From one corner in the gallery, visitors can look through three windows and catch three unique views encompassing a great expanse of Nantucket history. First, through the fanlight, people can peer out onto South Water Street and contemplate the lively hustle and bustle of our island community. Next they can peek through a round window, reminiscent of a ship's porthole. Through this small pane of glass they can see the Fresnel lens, which once operated on whale oil, and beyond it, the Candle Factory. A larger rectangular window, holding the basket collection, invites viewers to take another look at the Town Clock and past the central stairway to Gosnell Hall and the spine of the sperm-whale skeleton.
An integral component of the museum, the 1847 spermaceti-candle factory has been carefully restored to reveal significant elements of the original factory, including the two-story beam press - the only original beam press still in place in the world - and the foundation of the oil-processing tryworks.