Nantucket's Most Unlikely Art Gallery: The Tom Nevers Guardhouse

JohnCarl McGrady •

Photo Jan 01 12 22 23 AM

It is no secret that the Tom Nevers park is in poor condition. The orange plastic fence that used to run the length of the slowly collapsing cliff is gone. Bottle caps and shards of glass mix with used needles and paper towels in the dusty dirt parking lot. The rusted basketball court is collapsing in on itself, the twisted metal fence leaning ever closer to the crumbling floor. Massive concrete blocks barricade the door to John F. Kennedy’s doomsday bunker, now more rust than door, after a couple of islanders allegedly tied the door to the back of an old pickup truck and ripped it off to find out what was inside.

In the middle of this is a guardhouse. From the outside, it’s not much to look at. The paint is peeling, the window frames are rotting, and the walls are dotted with holes that appear to have been made by bullets. But a series of local artists have transformed this rotting guardhouse that was once manned by Navy sailors into Nantucket's most unlikely art gallery.

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One wall features a rendition of Roy Lichtenstein’s famous painting “The Kiss” by year-round Nantucket resident Michele LeMaitre. LeMaitre is known for her multidisciplinary approach to crafting what she calls “2D interactive sculptural mixed media modern artworks,” though this mural differs from that style significantly, which she says was intentional. LeMaitre is often inspired by water, so it’s no coincidence that this mural can be found mere steps from the ocean.

“I liked the contrast of the hard concrete surface with the softness of the water behind it,” she said.

LeMaitre painted her rendition of the kiss on February 2nd, 2017, inspired by the location and the upcoming Valentine’s Day holiday. “I just thought: how can I spread some love around the island?” She said. She packed her art supplies in her car and drove down to Tom Never’s to paint the mural. The windchill was gusting up to thirty miles an hour, and the temperature was below freezing—and LeMaitre says that with the windchill, it felt even colder. Still, LeMaitre got her supplies out of her car and spent the next three hours painting her version of “The Kiss,” paranoid the whole time that someone would catch her.

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“To my knowledge, there wasn’t any [significant] graffiti on the island on the island at the time,” LeMaitre said. “I thought maybe it would inspire people...for years to come.”

LeMaitre’s mural was the first major piece of graffiti in the guardhouse, and it seems that she got her wish; now, years later, other walls are littered with equally beautiful paintings, including a series of hearts under the question “IS IT A SIN TO LOVE?” and a large rendition of the serpent-entwined caduceus of Greek Mythology.

Some of the artists will probably never be known. Perhaps some prefer it that way. Regardless, the guardhouse remains a popular photography spot for those in the know and a reminder that beauty can be found anywhere.

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