Gallery: Adrienne Ottenberg Hartman ’77

Photo of artwork, The Nantucket Map

Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. ... Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself?
Herman Melville from Moby-Dick

When Adrienne Ottenberg Hartman ’77 first read Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick in Nicolaus Mills’ 19th-century literature class, she felt a strong connection to Nantucket. The tiny island off Cape Cod innately resonated with Ottenberg, a descendent of Plymouth Colony settlers who arrived on the Mayflower and the Fortune. “The book got me thinking about the adventurous spirit that could lead you out on a small boat to parts unknown,” she says.

Ottenberg visited the dune-banked beaches of Nantucket during college and again decades later. Each time, she recalled Moby-Dick, specifically the passage about the subtleness of the sea. This inspiration is memorialized in The Nantucket Map, a scarf Ottenberg created for Our Poetry of Place, a company she owns with her sister, Elise.

“There is a long tradition of maps on fabric— from the exquisite Srinagar map embroidered on an 1870 Indian shawl to the maps on silk scarves carried by the pilots of WWII,” she explains, noting that we are all “on the map” these days with satellites, Google Earth, and easy internet GPS technology. “This is a large relevant cultural change in the world,” she observes. “Everything connects, and maps make these connections obvious.”

Not surprisingly, Ottenberg’s work itself lies at an intersection. After college, she became an illustrator, studying at Parsons School of Design and the Art Students League, and she earned master’s degrees in art education from New York University and in geography and cartography from Hunter College. When designing scarves, she says she also draws on her experiences at Sarah Lawrence. “Jean Valentine’s poetry classes taught me to see the beauty in the world,” Ottenberg says, “and Robert Beck (biology) started me on this path with nature.”

Written by Patti Harmon