Cottage Style of the Looms -June 2014
by: Leslie Linsley
NANTUCKET LOOMS has been an institution on the island since 1968 when two men – Bill Euler, with a degree in hotel management from Michigan State University and Andy Oates, a weaver and textile designer who had attended the Rhode Island School of Design and later the prestigious Black Mountain College in North Carolina – assumed ownership. Euler and Oates met when each had summer jobs on Nantucket at the Woodbox Inn and restaurant on Fair Street. It was the beginning of a new era on Nantucket, a time of incredible growth in tourism and restoration of the earliest homes in the historic district. These talented young men would play a pivotal role in influencing how these homes would be furnished. The reconstruction of the downtown wharf area, also going on at this time, brought an influx of artists and artisans that rejuvenated an art colony born a half-century earlier. Euler and Oates worked at the core of this transformation.
In 1961 The Nantucket Historical Trust, under the leadership of Walter Beinecke Jr., undertook the restoration of The Ocean House hotel at 29 Broad St., renaming it the Jared Coffin House. The trust formed The Cloth Company of Nantucket that, with its two affiliated divisions The Needlery and Nantucket Looms, directed by Mary Ann Beinecke and managed by Oates, crafted bedspreads, draperies, rugs and placemats exclusively for the Jared Coffin House restoration.
“I was hired by the trust as the foreman of the weaving operation as part of the restoration plans,” the late Oates recalled in an interview with The Inquirer and Mirror in 1993. “Our job would be to weave all the fabrics. It was a wonderful project.”
When the restoration work was completed, the company took on private customers and began the process of training potential island weavers. At that time, the store was located at 16 Main St. between Washington and Union streets, in the space now occupied by Ralph Lauren. One of the unique aspects of the store was that all the fabrics were woven on site. Many of today’s weavers, and later, other craftspeople, got their start by showcasing their work at Nantucket Looms. Some, as well as their offspring, are still represented there at its new location at 51 Main St. Most of the weaving, then as now, was done on the second floor where weavers could work, removed from the everyday business that went on downstairs. The store evolved into the most influential island furnishings business and represented the owners’ vision for a life well-lived.
Their definition of that vision is epitomized by decades of collecting quality crafts and fine art based on the beauty and simplicity of cottage-style living. Drawing inspiration from the Oates-Euler collection, “Nantucket Cottage Style” is the subject of this season’s exhibition at the Nantucket Whaling Museum at 13 Broad St. The exhibit is a remarkable collaboration between The Artists Association of Nantucket and The Nantucket Historical Association.
If you were ever in doubt about the lasting quality of cottage style, this startlingly-timeless collection of objects will make you rethink the way you furnish your Nantucket home – even, perhaps your home away from Nantucket. Quite simply, good-quality, well-designed, functional, handmade home furnishings will never go out of style. Even at a time when modern techniques and taste in home furnishings change with each new influx of homeowners, the classic design elements of cottage style have survived and will always exude the qualities that Euler and Oates embraced. Simplicity, comfort and aesthetically pleasing are exemplified in the carefullyarranged vignettes of their chosen objects, bequeathed to these two Nantucket institutions.
Nantucket cottage style might be defined a bit differently than the more generic American country style, which often has similar qualities, but with slight variations from one region to another. New England early American, for example, is most familiar to us here on Nantucket. Our community, however, is made up of a diversity that has evolved through interaction and amalgamation from all over the world. We have become a sophisticated bunch with an inherent ability to recognize quality goods. Quite simply, we have good taste. We have a broad base of input and a history of appreciation for fine things. This is one of the reasons that the best of the best artisans have been able to survive here.
Because the right circumstances came together at the right time, Oates and Euler were able to begin the journey of creating an environment for talented people to make a living from the arts. The work of these talented islanders both past and present is showcased in the exhibit, along with photographs, a slide show and entertaining and informative written material. Those who have been coming to the island or living here for a long time will have a nostalgic experience and will want to keep coming back. There is something incredibly humbling about this exhibit that makes the world stop for an hour or two to create a space for simple appreciation that goes beyond the items themselves. While it takes you back to a gentler time, it makes you realize it is achievable today. The careful selection and arrangement of the items in the individual vignettes that contribute to the whole is the very thing that is most attractive about the exhibit. Curator Bobby Frazier deserves hearty congratulations for his artistic direction.
In 1993 Oates and Euler retired, leaving the business solely to their longtime employee (and some would say “daughter” as they were like a little family) Liz Winship. Given Nantucket’s history, dating back to the 18th century when women handled the business of the town while the men were off on whaling voyages, this seemed a fitting decision.
“I couldn’t have gotten a better education,” Winship said after 40 years at Nantucket Looms. “Andy and Bill were the best teachers, mentors and friends I could hope for. We were as close as I am to my family.” ///
“Nantucket Cottage Style”
10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Oct. 31
Nantucket Whaling Museum McCausland Gallery 13 Broad St.
Leslie Linsley writes the “Life & Style” column and blog for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.