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The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum

Aug 29, 2008
If you are a basket enthusiast, you might be interested in taking a trip to Nantucket Island, Massachusetts to visit the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum. This establishment preserves the history and culture of the Nantucket basket weaving heritage.

Although the early Indians of Nantucket Island had long weaved wooden splint baskets for storage and to gather crops from the fields, this style of basket weaving was adopted by sailors aboard the Nantucket lightships (hence, the name). Beginning in 1854, these lightships were sea vessels that served as on-sea lighthouses, anchoring along the shoals and ledges along the Nantucket coastline that could prove to be disastrous for larger vessels. Being stuck on these ships for tours that could last up to eighteen months, the crewmen that manned these stationery vessels took up this form of basket weaving as a way to pass the time as well as using this talent to earn extra money. The last lightship was retired in 1973, although the basket weaving trade that was done by the crews of these ships ended much earlier, in the beginning of the twentieth century.

These Nantucket lighthouse baskets were originally made of a variety of different materials while rattan (split cane), that was imported from the South Pacific, was utilized only to repair these items. The sailors soon began to use this material for most of the basket, using different materials for the bottom boards, the rims, and the handles. There are no known "sets" of these baskets that were designed before 1860.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the Nantucket lighthouse baskets had become a flourishing trade. Some of the best basket makers during this era included Captain Charles Ray, Davis Hall, William Appleton, Captain Andrew J. Sandsbury, Captain James Wyer, and George Washington Ray. These men charged $1.50 for smaller baskets and $50.00 for a set of eight, which was extremely good money at this period of time.

After 1900, the sailors ceased to weave these homemade baskets, although people living on the island soon picked up the trade. Men such as Clinton Ray and A. D. Williams built up successful basket weaving businesses. In the late 1940's, Jose Formoso Reyes designed a cane basket that included a carved ivory whale on top and the "Friendship Basket "was born. Originally sold for $15.00, these baskets are the basis for the Nantucket lightship baskets that are available today.

The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum was formed after a successful exhibit of these historical baskets and was funded by all of the Nantucket basket weavers as a way to preserve and pass on the heritage of their craft. Situated in an older home on the island, the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum has many of the original baskets that were weaved by these hardy men so many years ago. The establishment also has a gift shop where you can purchase baskets designed in the original style. It also offers classes for youngsters between the ages of eleven and sixteen as a way to keep this basket weaving tradition alive. These tutorials are free thanks to funding from the Nantucket Golf Club Foundation, although there is a $50 charge for supplies.

If you are interested in basket weaving that is rich in tradition and history, a visit to the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum may well be worth your while. The building is located at 49 Union Street and you can contact the museum by calling 508-228-1177.
About the Author
We have baby gift baskets that are cute and practical. Perfect for the newborn and new moms. For more information, visit this article on baby gift baskets.
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