New Life for the 1800 House -August 2008

by: Lindsay Pykosz

Nantucket’s 1800 House, located at 4 Mill St., was just another old building until the Nantucket Historical Association renovated it four years ago into a haven for people to celebrate early American arts and crafts.

The historic two-story building gives its students a feeling of comfort and ease as they work under the guidance of teachers from the island, New England and across the United States.

Since the crafts program began in 2004, it has expanded and seen many returning teachers as well as a few new ones. Now offering more than 40 classes that range from making sailor’s valentines to painting on canvas, many workshops will be running through November.

“The foundation of the program surrounds early American art, but we also go beyond that level,” said Mary Emery Lacoursiere, the 1800 House curriculum coordinator. “We also listen to what people want. We do all of this in a historical setting which is important because you’re basically doing the sorts of things that would have been done in early American history.”

Most classes run for three sessions from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 4-7 p.m., with the coordinators keeping in mind that many people who are interested in taking classes are busy but still want to participate.

“Most, if not all, of our classes require no experience to have success,” said Elizabeth Braun, the 1800 House program coordinator. “We also provide all materials necessary to complete projects. It is much easier for us to stock up on materials at the house for those who may be on vacation and don’t have materials.”

Class size, depending on the topic and instructor, can range from six members to 14, said Braun. It all depends on how much the instructor can handle and the amount of space that is provided.

“Because the class sizes are smaller, it keeps things very intimate,” said Braun. “We also try to keep our classes as inexpensive as we can. If you think about the cost per hour, it really is a bargain for the amount that you will learn. Also, the amount of quality and value that the instructors provide is great.”

Added to this year’s schedule was the “Bring A Friend” program and eight additional one-day workshops.

“These ladies are trying to accommodate those who can’t make other classes,” said NHA public relations and membership manager Peter Greenhalgh, in reference to both coordinators. “These one-day classes make it a lot easier for people to participate and do the things they love.”

The “Bring A Friend” program is geared toward an NHA member who has previously taken a class at the 1800 House. They can sign up for a program with another NHA member who has not yet participated in any classes and both of them will receive a 10 percent discount.

“This program is a way for the NHA to enhance our membership as well as bring people here who have not been here before,” said Greenhalgh.

“One thing that we’re always looking to do is push the program forward and keep it interesting and new,” said Lacoursiere. “People really love being in this place and setting. They love the charm of the old house and the feeling it has as opposed to a sterile environment. It’s like working in a home.”

Lacoursiere and Braun, in addition to coordinating the program, also teach classes together and separately. Together, their classes include a shell mirror and découpage paperweight one-day workshop. Braun teaches a class on how to make sailor’s valentines, among others, and Lacoursiere teaches various classes, including a penwork one-day workshop.

“I have taught quite a bit and there’s always so much to learn about each genre,” said Braun. “We all learn together and teach each other different things. We’re here to be supportive of our students and each other.”

Bee Shay, a theorem painter and instructor at the 1800 House, starting teaching around Christmas last year and will continue through the fall.

“This is my first year teaching here. I moved to the island last year, took a class through the program and fell in love with it all,” she said. “Teaching here is very wonderful because it gives me an opportunity to work with an aesthetic that I really enjoy. The Nantucket Historical Association’s personal archives are so rich and it gives students a more personable experience.”

“People who come here repeatedly come here for the same reasons I do,” Shay continued. “I have so much fun with my students. It’s very personable and it gives you a little insight to what Nantucket was really like.”

With planning already in the works for the 2009 season, Braun and Lacoursiere said that several classes will be based on items from the NHA’s museum as inspiration.

“In addition to keeping things new and interesting, the diversity of classes will also appeal to men and women,” said Greenhalgh. “This is a nice cross-section of things where you try to appeal to everyone.”

Agreeing with him, Lacoursiere said, “This is a great place to meet people and have a new experience. It gives them a connection and a network and people come together to learn from each other. We always come up with something new.”

Although pre-registration and pre-payment are not required, they are strongly recommended, said Braun. Registration and payments can be made in person at the NHA, over the phone or by mail. Call (508) 228-1894, ext. 128 to register.

Lindsay Pykosz is a rising senior at Fairfield University and a summer staff writer for The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.

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