"A Momentous Day" Last NISDA Artist Cottages Moved To Wauwinet

Jason Graziadei •

"It's a momentous day," said Kathy Kelm, the founder and director of the Nantucket Island School of Design & The Arts (NISDA), on Thursday as the last of NISDA's artists cottages rolled away from Nantucket Harbor, down Polpis Road, and onto the organization's property in Wauwinet.

The two cottages, which date back to the 1950s, were being moved from their original location at the corner of Washington and Francis streets along the harbor and out to NISDA's primary location, the Seaview Farm, on the east end of the island. And Kelm was ecstatic. The move will allow NISDA to restore its artist residency program and complete a project that she and her organization have been working toward for nearly a decade.

“In 2014 the town came to us and said they needed to widen the road, and it’s taken all these years to get to the point where we could finally get them off the property,” Kelm said on Thursday.

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NISDA had owned the cottages for decades, but the increasing number of coastal flooding events and the interest from the town prompted Kelm to consider selling them. A portion of the property was sold in 2018 to the Land Bank, and the final piece was transferred earlier this year, closing for a total of $4.3 million. Six of the cottages - the ones closest to the water that had sustained the most damage from flooding - were demolished in 2019.

Now NISDA will work to restore the cottages with interior and exterior renovations, and make them a home for artists-in-residence, along with visiting faculty and students that are part of what will be called the Offshore Artists Residency, or OAR, program.

But why try to salvage the old cottages that are in rough shape instead of building new?

“We’ve loved them from the very beginning,” Kelm said of the cottages, which NISDA acquired in 1983. “They’re really Nantucket, and they have a long history.”

The cottages were originally built by Robert and Arlene Christman in the early 1950s, and were operated as “Christman’s Cottages,” according to Mary Bergman, executive director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust. They were rented to visitors through the 50s and 60s, and were once visited by Corky Laing, the drummer of the band Mountain (photo below).

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After trading hands several times during the 1970s, the cottages were sold to NISDA in 1983 by Bill Rich. The organization hosted numerous artists, students, and others in the cottages over the ensuing decades and they were known as the “NISDA Harbor Cottages.” In recent years, they were home to Matt Oates, the eclectic Nantucket artist whose creations made from “unwanted and unloved” items discarded by others have delighted islanders for years. 

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“It is a good outcome that these cottages, which housed many artists over the years, will be moved to property NISDA has in Wauwinet,” Bergman said. “There, they will be able to continue to be used as artists cottages and be out of the way of rising seas.

As for the now-vacant property at the corner of Washington and Francis streets, work immediately began Thursday on the corner of the intersection to widen it and move the fire hydrant which will allow trucks to more easily maneuver through the area.

In the short-term, the Land Bank will loam and seed the property - using no fertilizer - but otherwise leave it undeveloped, according to Land Bank executive director Jesse Bell. As for the long-term plan, the Land Bank will be working with the town, ReMain Nantucket, the Woods Hole Group, and landscape architecture firm SCAPE to develop a conceptual plan for the area, which includes both either properties owned by the town and the Land Bank.
The goal is to come up with an implementable plan that will serve as a demonstration project of how nature-based solutions can address and mitigate coastal resiliency issues along Washington Street,” Bell said. 

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