Nantucket Lightship Baskets are one of the most widely recognized regional basketry styles in the world today. These baskets, mold woven, constructed of splint staves, cane weavers and solid wood base plates have their origins on the Island of Nantucket in Massachusetts. They have been made in a wide spectrum of variations since the early 1800's. During those times basketry served an important function as a common container. Basketmaking was a well developed trade which had been a shared technology between European settlers and native inhabitants using the indigenous plant materials of the area.
Nantucket Lightship baskets have their roots entwined with the whaling trade and the seafaring ways of the residents of the island of Nantucket. The whaling trade widened the trade routes of the day and brought materials from the orient, making rattan cane available to the basketmakers of New England. The use of this imported material in combination with solid wooden bottoms and mold woven precision gives this basket type its distinctive appearance. The influence of the coopering trade can be seen in the solid wood bottoms of the baskets and the construction of the molds they are woven over.
Baskets of this type were not originally referred to as Nantucket Lightship baskets. That name became associated with this type of basket because the crew members of the lightships anchored in strategic locations to warn ship of dangerous shoals became known for weaving this type of basket. The men assigned to these ships were often on board for months at a time and they used the time to create mold woven baskets for later sale. These baskets were frequently made in nesting sets in precise graduated sizes and in many cases used molds which had been carved from pieces of ship mast.
As whaling began to wane on the Island of Nantucket a new industry began to build. Tourism not only was, but still is, a major industry on Nantucket. People are drawn to the beaches and quaint villages on the Island in large numbers and they frequently select items that reflect the Island itself to bring home as souvenirs. Nantucket Lightship Baskets and items with that motif became associated with the Island experience. In the late 1940's the Nantucket Lightship Basket first appeared in what is now one of its most recognizable forms. Jose Formoso Reyes added a lid to the open basket making a covered purse called originally a Friendship basket. This form, now typically called a Nantucket Lightship purse, has continued to grow in popularity and will often incorporate carved ivory or scrimshaw as a decoration for the lid, the lid plate itself or accents at the hinge of the handle. The antique baskets that still exist in this style are highly prized as collectibles. The new work of numerous talented craftsmen who offer finished Nantucket Lightship Baskets is also highly collectible.
For those of you with an interest in trying your own hand at making a Nantucket Lightship Basket, classes, kits, bases, tools, books, knobs, quarterboards, pegs, vegetable ivory and supplies are available from a large number of suppliers. You can choose to make a small round, an oval covered purse, or even a cradle all by order over the Internet.
Nantucket Lightship Baskets have developed such a following that you can find many gift items in this motif such as posters, prints, notecards, folkart, coasters, Christmas Ornaments, ivory basket boxes, mirrors, lamps, china, painted glassware and even porcelain dinnerware. Jewelry items are plentiful with a Nantucket Lightship Basket motif. You can find pendants, earrings, charms, Mother's baskets, rings and bracelets.
These sources only begin to reveal the delightful variety of information available on the Internet about the Nantucket Lightship Basket tradition. I will continue to look for and post more references in the link library. If you have a favorite source which wasn't touched on here, please contact me so I can share it with everyone.
many imported knockoffs and reproductions of Nantucket Lightship Baskets. I have done my best to screen
out the worst of them from these auction offerings, but the search results change
dynamically so remember the old adage for collectors...
Come and Join
in the BasketMakers
Forum. Lots of friendly basketweavers are gathered there. Click
to enter and read-only or join if you want to post (it's free).
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