Diane McDonald Haight Nicholls


Diane McDonald Haight Nicholls of the Mink Meadows community in Tisbury died on July 4, after a three-year struggle with ovarian cancer. She was 72.

Diane was born on July 25, 1940 in Flint Michigan, the daughter of Elbert Edgar and Adele Haight. She was educated at Cranbrook Kingswood School, University of Michigan, and Radcliffe as an art and landscape historian and designer. Previously married to Robert E Nicholls, an engineer at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, Diane spent several years in the early 1970s rearing two children on the Pacific Island of Kwajalein before moving back to Arlington and Cambridge.

Diane’s primary residence until 2008 was in Cambridge, where she was a member of the Cambridge Garden Club and the Mother’s Club of Cambridge. During her time in Cambridge, she was an active member of the Radcliffe College community and a devoted contributor and editor of the Landscape Program’s quarterly newsletter. In addition to her Radcliffe contributions, Diane was also was a critic and drawing instructor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. She first came to Martha’s Vineyard in the 1960s and built her house on the Island in 1979. After summers, fall and spring visits for more than 40 years, Diane moved permanently into her house on the Island in 2008.

Diane had a varied career, but was primarily and most ardently a talented painter. Her oils and watercolors included landscapes, gardens, “table-top-scapes” and whatever amusing artifacts caught her eye. Diane painted outside in most of the Vineyard’s weather, including fog and mist. She was also an early adopter of the iPad, producing an entire show of “iPad Paintings” created with the Brushes application. She had a longstanding fascination with beaches, rocks and other ocean detritus, which she felt, helped her “find and reveal structure in randomness.” Until the last year of her life, Diane taught painting and drawing at the Polly Hill Arboretum and at the Featherstone Center for the Arts. In addition to her art, she was also a literary critic, lucid writer about art and Vineyard life, a naturalist, a guide and supporter of Polly Hill Arboretum, author of the Mink Meadows annual directory, and a tireless member of the Tisbury conservation commission and other organizations devoted to the preservation of Martha’s Vineyard.

She is remembered as a generous and colorful woman and is survived by her daughter Kyle Nicholls Cobb, son-in-law Dr. Nathan Cobb, granddaughter Eliza McDonald Cobb of Washington DC; son Barton Nicholls and daughter-in-law Carol Nicholls of Boston, and a legion of loyal friends who loved her insights and the breadth and scope of her intellect. Her high personal standards were a valued example for all who loved her. Diane challenged us, and we loved her for that. She will be missed terribly.

In lieu of flowers, donations in memory of Diane Nicholls may be made to Polly Hill Arboretum or to Martha’s Vineyard Family Planning.

A memorial service will be held at on Saturday, September 22, in Tisbury. For memorial details, please contact Kyle Nicholls Cobb at kenicholls@gmail.com.