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Nantucket Unitarian Universalist Meeting House

A Five-Year Journey of Architectural Discovery

David Barham at the Unitarian Meeting House

Comparing paint samples at the Nantucket Unitarian Meeting House restoration

This Saturday, May 24, at 4pm, David Barham, architect, will engage lucky listeners with an illustrated account of the five-year journey of discovery that was the Unitarian Meeting House’s recent restoration project.

In the course of its two hundred plus years the Orange Street meeting house has undergone four or five major restorations but arguably none equaled the recent project in its determination to recover precisely what colors, what wall paintings, what hue of upholstery, would have greeted an 1850 church member.

As consulting architect for the project, Mr. Barham was curious to learn how far the various restorations had strayed from the original.  His slides document the scrupulous detective worked involved in discovering these changes. What came  as an unexpected bonus was a glimpse at how radically the 1846 remodeling of the meetinghouse distinguished itself from the first 1809 structure.

The original meetinghouse was plain and barn-like, with its support beams standing forward of the wall and painted a mustard yellow. In 1846 an interior wall was added which concealed the building’s functional structure and became a canvas for the wonderful illusory design, the trompe l’oeil, for which the meetinghouse is now famous. In just 37 years a constitutionally sound building had been fundamentally transformed. In just 37 years the culture of a Nantucket congregation had sufficiently changed for it to decide that the building’s interior no longer represented its religious ideals and tastes. Why? What had happened?

Mr. Barham will share what he and his team learned about the building and what the building suggests about Nantucket culture in the Transcendentalist era.

The presentation will be in Hendrix Hall, 11 Orange Street. Following the presentation there will be a tour of the historic sanctuary and refreshments in the garden.