Becoming Hanna -July 2019

An artist’s living tribute to the mistress of Greater Light

by: Beverly Hall

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

In 1964 I arrived on Nantucket from New York City not knowing what to expect. I was searching for the artist’s life: a studio, inspiration and a community of creative people. What I found was a rustic, bare-bones fishing shack on the west end of the island, on Hither Creek, Madaket.

These many years later, I’ve been inspired by the life of a kindred spirit, Hanna Monaghan, who lived on Nantucket for nearly 50 years, from the 1920s until her death in 1972, in a house she named Greater Light, on Howard Street, just steps from upper Main.

Monaghan and her sister Gertrude had been students at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. They spent several summers on the island, renting various cottages, until they found an 18th century livestock barn on a quiet street near the center of town. They purchased the building and painstakingly transformed it into a home filled with art and a workshop, aptly naming it Greater Light.

The name came from their Quaker background. The Monaghan sisters had been members of the Swarthmore Friends Meeting House of Pennsylvania. Once they arrived on-island, they became heavily involved with reviving meetings at the old Quaker Meeting House on Fair Street. By 1938, in many ways, their home had become an expression of their faith, referring to the Quaker idea of “inner light.”

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