Greater Light, located at 8 Howard Street, was the summer home and studio of Gertrude and Hanna Monaghan, two independent, highly educated, unmarried Quaker sisters from Philadelphia. Gertrude (1887–1962), a professional artist, and Hanna (1889–1972), an actress and author, first came to the island in 1923, renting a small studio near the harbor.
In the early twentieth century, Nantucket was a place of quiet beauty and simple living that appealed to a small group of artists who gathered on the island during the summer season. The Monaghan sisters were part of what is now referred to as the Nantucket Art Colony, which thrived on Nantucket in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s.
Originally built around 1790 as a livestock barn, the sisters discovered Greater Light in 1929 when they followed a herd of cattle up Main Street. Enthralled, they purchased the dilapidated building and set about transforming it into their own summer oasis, adorning it with cast-off architectural elements, decorative objects, and eclectic furniture. Their personal aesthetic blended art and whimsy with an appreciation of unique handcrafted works—woven, carved, forged, or painted—that coalesced in an environment that is a monument to their spirit.
The garden, once a barren barnyard, was a key feature of the sisters’ vision for Greater Light. Imagined as an extension of the interior living space, the patio and garden formed a venue for meals and gatherings and connected the house to Lesser Light, the Monaghans’ rental cottage next door.
From a simple but solidly built eighteenth-century barn of beautiful proportions, they created a magical space that lovingly illustrates the era of Nantucket’s history when an art colony thrived in the sleepy island community.