Celebrating the Morans’ Life and Legacy

The culmination of almost five years of painstaking restoration of the National Historic Landmark
The master bedroom will be completely restored with period furniture and decorative objects. The two pitchers on the fireplace mantel were brought from Scotland by Mary Nimmo Moran. Durell Godfrey

When the Thomas and Mary Nimmo Moran Studio celebrates its rebirth tomorrow it will represent the culmination of almost five years of painstaking restoration of the National Historic Landmark that was one of the first artist studios on the East End of Long Island. 

Located in East Hampton’s Main Street Historic District, the Queen Anne-style structure, which dates from 1884, was driven to the brink of ruin by Superstorm Sandy in 2013. 

“It shook the house,” said Richard Barons, chief curator for the East Hampton Historical Society. “The sills in the front collapsed, the turret fell five to six inches, the ceiling collapsed. The front of the house was bowing slightly. They put 2x4s there and created buttresses, but within a month the buttresses began to bend.”

When an engineer told the board members of the Thomas Moran Trust that six inches of wet snow would cause the building to collapse, they decided to use the funds in the trust’s treasury to begin a full-scale restoration.

A painter of the Hudson River School, Thomas was known for his dramatic depictions of the Western landscape, which were pivotal to the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Mary, who also specialized in landscapes, was an internationally recognized master of the etching medium. They rented in East Hampton for several summers before buying the land on Main Street in 1882.

What visitors to the studio will discover tomorrow is a multifaceted exhibition that illuminates the life, art, and environment of the Morans. “We didn’t want the studio to be a traditional historic site where you’re just seeing the decorative arts of the period,” said Maria Vann, the executive director of the historical society. “We wanted to bring some modern perspective, some technology, and some different exhibit elements to make this a lively place.”

While the original house consisted of the ground-floor studio and upstairs bedrooms, with a kitchen added a few years after the Morans moved in, it was the high-ceilinged studio that was the center of the family’s life and is today the focal point of the exhibition. 

Three landscape paintings hang on the north wall of the studio, two by Thomas, and one by Mary in which the Hook Windmill is visible in the distance. Two large etchings, one of which, by Mary, features Town Pond, adorn the east wall. 

“It’s a museum, but at the same time we have a sense of place, so you can imagine the Morans being here in this large space, painting, or having visitors. It was very much a salon-style studio where there was art from ceiling to floor and things the Morans collected from all over the world,” Ms. Vann said.

The walls of a mezzanine that overlooks the main studio are hung with etchings, just as they were when the Morans lived there. “Probably 60 percent of the artwork that will be displayed is part of the gifts their daughter Ruth Moran gave the library and Guild Hall,” said Mr. Barons. “So the gifts are coming back to where they started.” Museums, libraries, and private collections will lend other artworks.

The four bedrooms will be open to the public but are a work-in-progress. While the master bedroom and their daughter’s bedroom will gradually be restored with period furnishings, the other two will probably house small changing exhibitions, according to Mr. Barons. The former kitchen, which was added to the rear of the original house, has been repurposed as a modern gallery space. 

Thomas Moran designed the building with a carpenter; there was no architect. “When Moran was building this, that was a time when a whole lot of Greek Revival, Federal, and Italianate row housing in New York City was being torn down to build new, safer brownstones,” said Mr. Barons. Thomas salvaged many of the architectural elements, including windows, doors, pilasters, and newel posts, which could be transported as far as Bridgehampton by rail.

Stacy Myers, the director of education, is developing curriculum-aligned programs that will go into effect when school resumes in the fall. “This hits the curriculum in a lot of different places,” said Ms. Vann, “including local history, art, science, and culture.” 

Tickets to the opening celebration, which will take place from 6 to 8 tomorrow evening, start at $150. All proceeds will support the studio’s educational programs, exhibitions, and museum programming. 

The studio will be open Thursday through Saturday during the summer, with tours led by Mr. Barons daily at 11:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Because of the limited parking area, groups will meet at Clinton Academy on Main Street and get a short walking tour that will orient them by the time they reach the studio.

Admission is $10, $5 for students, and free for historical society members.

“My Mother’s Garden,” a circa 1895 painting by Paul Moran, the Morans’ son, hangs next to the fireplace in the studio.Durell Godfrey
The bronze bust of Thomas Moran was created by Jonathan Scott Hartley, a member of the Hampton Park artists colony, in 1891. Moran’s palette and several brushes are on display in the studio. Durell Godfrey