Nantucket Basketry

Slowly evolved form wooden splint baskets on Nantucket Island, Nantucket Lightship baskets are traditionally woven with cane weavers and split cane of wooden staves (ribs).

Woven over a mould, they feature hardwood bases often of cherry, oak, maple or other, more exotic woods. The rims are made of sturdy cane or formed from wood bent around a form. These rims are “laced” or lashed to the basket with the same cane used to weave the basket itself. Many baskets feature a bent hardwood handle and Nantucket Baskets can come in many shapes and sizes with round or oval shapes being the more traditional.

During the later 19th Century, Nantucket Island employed “Lightships”, (essentially floating lighthouses) to protect mariners from the treacherous South Shoals of Nantucket. The crewmen stationed aboard the Lightships began crafting these baskets largely to pass the long periods of monotony they faced, moored at the Shoals for long periods of time.

As time passed and the use of the Lightships was discontinued the tradition continued on the island itself. In the late 1940’s, basketmaker Jose Reyes began weaving Nantucket Baskets with a wooden lid, calling them “Friendship Baskets”. Featuring braided straps or wooden swing handles and often adorned with a carved whale of ivory on the lid, these baskets are what is now known as “Nantucket Lightship Handbag Baskets”.

As Nantucket Baskets have evolved from wooden splint baskets, through the baskets of the Lightship era, the Reyes “Friendship Baskets” to the wonderful contemporary creations by today’s top weavers, the heritage of Nantucket Basketry continues as an original American art form.

 

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