The incomparable Beverly Hall opens up her Madaket home for a private showing.
Nantucket photographer Beverly Hall has spent her life capturing the world around her. Renowned for iconic images of the rustic, weather-beaten Nantucket of the 1960s and 1970s, Hall has created her home on Hither Creek as a reflection of the fascinating life she’s led over the last fifty years on Nantucket. This June, she can add a new piece to her home after she receives the 2017 Merit Award from the Nantucket Arts Council.
The story of how Hall arrived on Nantucket is almost too good to be true. At twenty-four years old, this girl from Queens boarded a ferry she thought was bound for Martha’s Vineyard. Instead, she landed on Nantucket and spent two weeks on the island before shuttling over to the Vineyard. “That was the sixties, when it was just shanties, and there were fishermen in one or two of them, and the rest were working artists,” Hall says. She returned the following year and opened The Children’s Gallery, an art school for children on Old South Wharf.
A shutterbug from a young age, Hall began taking photos of her students. “I realized, very early on that the quality of light, not only on Nantucket, but within the people I was photographing was what really made the portrait special,” she says. When she closed The Children’s Gallery, she hung the portraits along with a new sign: Beverly Hall Photography. She operated a photo studio in another shack at Steps Beach, where she coaxed countless smiles out of children and families. “Kids, of course, will just give you who they are, if you are willing to work with them on their level,” she says.
Like her earlier studio and gallery, her home began its life as a fishing shanty. “The place has been under constant, continuous construction — it’s a work in process,” she says. In 2013, she married husband David Billings, an Asian art collector and expert, and together they have created a world away in their home on Hither Creek.
The red-trimmed windows that peer on to the creek are replicas of the ones found in Greater Light on Howard Street, home of sister artists Hanna and Gertrude Monaghan. Like Hall, the Monaghans lived for the pursuit of art. They would have felt at home on Hither Creek, where a huge crystal chandelier, purchased at an island estate sale, illuminates intricate silk tapestries. There is no hierarchy among objects in Hall’s home. Pieces from a silver service have been repurposed as planters for orchids, which appear to float on platforms that jut out above an indoor koi pond, where the fish have overwintered. A Buddha carved from a solid piece of wood is flanked by two cherubs. Hall’s home may be situated in the westernmost part of the island, but the influence of Eastern cultures is undeniable.
Books line the walls of her theology library and are piled high on the bedside table. Ideas and memories fill the pages of her notebooks, as they have since her days at Johns Hopkins where she received an MFA in creative writing. “The only difference between sacred and scared is how you see it,” she says. Hall’s fascination with religion and spirituality goes back as far as her artistic inclinations. In the 1970s, she was the photographer-in-residence at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City after befriending the family of James Parks Morton, the dean of the Cathedral. “I used my camera in order to explore my faith, in order to see what it was that was bigger than I was,” she says. In 2002, she hit the books again and became a divinity student at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Hall’s vision has allowed her to create a sanctuary that celebrates what it means to really experience the world around you. It is a reminder that living on an island does not have to be an isolating experience. After all, Nantucket whalemen were circling the globe long before anyone else. Hall’s home is reflective of the old Nantucket spirit that’s becoming increasingly rare today. Indeed, it’s a treasure unto itself.
Beverly Hall will be receiving the 2017 Merit Award from the Nantucket Arts Council on Thursday, June 29 at 5:30 P.M. in the Nantucket Hotel Ballroom. Visit www.NantucketArtsCouncil.org to purchase tickets.