The Museum Reimagined -July 2019

by: Brian Bushard

photography by: Nicole Harnishfeger

James Russell sat beside a full-sized wooden model of a whaleboat, beneath the skeleton of the 46-foot sperm whale that hangs in the Nantucket Whaling Museum, and considered how best to reimagine the museum.

It was winter. The walls were bare and the rest of the room was empty. He sipped a beer.

Whaling spears now line the walls of Gosnell Hall, next to a sperm whale jaw and a collection of portraits of whaling ships.

Russell is the executive director of the Nantucket Historical Association. Edwin Rudd, the NHA’s director of facilities, was sitting with him in the half-empty museum. They talked about what artifacts should be displayed, what should be moved, and how best to tell the story of this island.

“The notion that an historical museum should change its exhibits with some degree of frequency, should bring out more of its collections and acquire more art and invite more people on-island to loan their artwork for people to see with greater frequency – that’s what’s happening,” Russell said. The NHA board of trustees had voted several months earlier to renovate the facility. Russell and Rudd’s conversation that night came in the middle of a plan to make about $600,000 in renovations to the museum, and $2.5 million in overall improvements to the NHA’s properties across the island.

“There isn’t a place (in the museum) that’s not changing,” Russell said of the renovations, which started in January with the creation of what is now called the Fine Arts Wing, a two-story exhibition space that had been offices less than a year ago.

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