Out of the Box: Unpacking Nantucket Stories
McCausland Gallery, Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street
Open now through October 29, 2017

Over 80 treasured artifacts—most rarely, if ever, displayed before—take center stage to illuminate the stories of Nantucket’s people over four centuries. Discover life at home and at sea; see the island at work and at play; and encounter rare maps, provocative portraits, and poignant tokens of love. Don’t miss the photo booth, where you become a part of Nantucket history!

The exhibition also features an “object theater,” where video, sound, and lighting will highlight key objects in the exhibition. Objects include Gertrude and Hanna Monaghan’s needlepoint sofa decorated with scenes from their life on Nantucket in the 1930s; Susan Veeder’s 1848 whaling journal, with unique watercolors of the Pacific islands; and a 1928 wedding dress worn by five brides across four generations of a single family.

  • Out of the Box:  Arline Bishop’s Wedding Dress

Featured Videos from the Out of the Box Object Theater

Dear Absent Ones”:
The Seafaring Pinkhams

Nantucket Corner, Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street
Open now through Winter 2017

This exhibition looks at Nantucket seafaring through the eyes of the Pinkhams, a local family whose sons and daughters went to sea over multiple generations. Explore stories of adventure, love, melancholy, and loss through the family’s letters, clothing, toys, furniture, and portraits. The exhibition features a group of Captain Seth Pinkham’s letters to his family and friends, which were acquired at auction for the NHA in 2016 through the generosity of an anonymous donor.

“Dear Absent Ones”: The Seafaring Pinkhams is made possible in part by the generous support of the Charina Endowment Fund.

Hadwen & Barney Oil & Candle Factory and the Nantucket Corner

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

Sperm Whale
Whaling Museum
13 Broad Street

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.


Souvenir Gallery
Whaling Museum
Broad Street

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.

As the reach of Nantucket whaling pressed beyond the Atlantic, Nantucketers rounded the Horn into the Pacific Ocean and passed the Cape of Good Hope into the Indian Ocean.

Nantucket captains and merchants discovered a new market for seal fur and other products in Canton and Hong Kong, China. The men brought home exotic artifacts and keepsakes from the South Seas as curiosities and mementos of their travels.

With the whaling economy devastated by the Revolutionary War, island captains and merchants initiated direct economic ties to Canton. They traded sealskins gathered in the islands off the coast of South America and the South Pacific as well as New England ginseng for Chinese export goods like porcelain, tea, silk, and souvenirs. Nantucket households soon displayed exotic furnishings from the Chinese export market.

Nantucket whalers were among the first sailors to explore the Pacific Ocean and to discover many of the islands and peoples of the South Pacific. Some of the featured items from the South Pacific are a rare model of a Maori war canoe; a warrior's sharkskin body armor; a Hawaiian tribal necklace made of whale tooth and hair; and a New Ireland dancing mask made of moss, seaweed, and grass.

Captain's Portraits
Whaling Museum
13 Broad Street

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 Gallery
Whaling Museum
Broad Street

Scrimshaw is the art of engraving images on ivory - whale teeth and bone and walrus tusks - a folk art practiced by men aboard whaleships during the nineteenth century. During long voyages, whalers would often turn to scrimshanding as a way to pass time and as an outlet for their creative energies. Sailors made scrimshaw in an amazing variety, including decorative objects, utilitarian devices, and jewelry. It is one of the earliest recognized American crafts and remains one of the most highly desired forms of folk art for collectors of Americana.

The 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.

Decorative Arts Gallery
Whaling Museum
Broad Street

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.

Hadwen-Barney Candle Factory
Whaling Museum
Broad Street

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.