At ninety years old, Maggie Meredith is the oldest working artist on Nantucket. A painter, poet and rug maker, Meredith is the matriarch of a creative island family whose legacy continues to flourish on the island.
Maggie Meredith is best known for her whimsical cat portraits, acrylic paintings of fancifully dressed felines. She has painted hundreds of them. And then she has her whales. “I painted my ‘happy whales’ for years in all kinds of human situations,” she says. “They were fun and they make people laugh, which I like to do.” The paintings beam with color and revelry, reflective of Meredith’s vibrant personality. “You’ll see she always has the word love on everything,” says her son, Chris Meredith. “That’s been a big part of her. She is that type of giving, loving, nurturing person.”
Beyond painting, Meredith is also an industrious rug-maker, hand-hooking her own designs on burlap bases with yarn in an array of colors. “I’ve been hooking for years,” she says with a laugh. “It’s the most wonderful hobby!” About her passion for rug-making, Meredith once wrote that her rugs represent moments in her life: “Every stitch is a thought remembered.” And while she has sold many paintings and prints, she has never sold a single rug. They are too personal.
Considering her family, it is no surprise that Meredith became an artist. Her father, Nathaniel Pousette, was a painter and writer, and her mother, Flora Louise Dart, was a musician and poet. “My dad was a wonderful painter,” Meredith explains. “He never got the acclaim that my brother wound up with, but that wasn’t his interest.” She points to a large painting on the wall across from her desk. The style is fluid and impressionistic with pastel brushstrokes that give the effect of summer sunlight bouncing between leaves, grass, and flowers. Nestled into the middle of the painting, there is a woman asleep on a hammock. “That’s one of his paintings of me,” she says, smiling. Meredith’s brother, Richard Pousette-Dart, became a major figure in the Abstract Expressionist movement alongside names like Jackson Pollack and Mark Rothko. His masterpieces hang in the great museums of America: the Met, Guggenheim, MoMA, Smithsonian, and many others of note.
Though she grew up surrounded by artists of all kinds, Meredith didn’t become a painter until later in life. At sixteen, she preferred to dance and performed regularly in the Rainbow Room at the Waldorf Astoria. She had adventures in Hollywood, and then back to New York City, working for photographers as a stylist and taking headshots for aspiring models. It was in New York that she met a cameraman, Stan Meredith, and fell madly in love. The two quickly married and worked together on the controversial 1954 movie, Salt of the Earth, the only film to ever be officially blacklisted by the U.S. Government. “Working on the film in New Mexico was really an adventure,” Meredith remembers. “I just took to it. I designed the sets they were shooting on, picked out all the clothing, and I loved it. It was a fascinating film and a wonderful, wonderful experience.”
Around that time, the Merediths found Nantucket, not so much by washing ashore, but by landing. “Stan had flown four engine planes during the war, so shortly after we married, he bought a plane of his own,” she writes. “That was how we wound up buying a house in Nantucket.” Living on the island, Meredith came into her own as an artist. In 1962, Reggie Levine encouraged her to have her first show. Recalling it, she laughs and says, “Before I knew it, I was painting my ass off!”
Meredith’s son, Chris, is helping to carry on the family’s creative legacy. Both he and his wife, Linda, are performing artists. Chris is a musician and composer and Linda, a dancer and choreographer who has worked on projects in New York City, now does choreography for the Theater Workshop of Nantucket. “Growing up with everybody in my family being involved in the arts, it was very conducive to people being supportive of whatever you wanted to follow,” says Chris. “If you had something you really loved, there was great support for it. Fortunately, for all of us, it was the arts—music and painting, and all of that.” Chris plays a little bit of everything — drums, bass, keyboards, guitar — and has “done everything from producing records to playing and touring with a lot of really well-known artists.” Meredith has been a lifelong support to her son Chris. The two have a mutual admiration for each other, and Chris has devoted himself to helping his mother continue to pursue her creative path by keeping her painting studio functioning and archiving and publishing her works as she marches toward the century mark.
Fifty years after Meredith started painting on Nantucket, she continues to follow her own muse. Her paints and rug-making materials are ready for when inspiration strikes, but she mostly focuses on writing these days — not for a book, she says, just for herself. “Living to ninety is not easy!” she declares. “But everyone has a few people in their life that make it worth living. Mine are my son, my daughter-in-law, and my good friends.”