pleasing shapes and sturdiness of constuction are some of the
reasons why Nantucket
Lightship Baskets are highly prized as collectibles. S
& S Lightship Baskets uses traditional methods and materials,
with locally kiln-dried figured cherry, birdseye maple, tiger
maple, black walnut and mahogany, and other woods. The finest
finishes elevate these baskets to elegant pieces of art.
bowls, Spencer Peterman seeks out wood from fallen
trees replete with character. Hidden in the moss and dirt
covered trees are special features that Spencer will bring
to life with the lathe in his wood shop. In particular,
the fungus behind the wood's transformation leaves behind
a marbled appearance and bold, black lines that form graphic
patterns for the spaulted bowls. The trick is to work the
wood at just the right time, before decomposition has gone
spaulted wood must be dried at high temperature to ensure
the fungus invading it is completely killed. Peterman uses
the kiln of a nearby lumber company where his wife works.
The wooden bowls are finished with shellac that is fully
FDA approved and may also be applied to food items such
as fruit and candy. This shellac has the effect of making
the wood look older.
bowls are made from a variety of wood. The natural edges
on the oval spaulted bowls are difficult to make but are
especially popular. Each bowl is one of a kind.
of the Nantucket Basket
The Nantucket lightship basket is the result of a long history
of basket making on Nantucket island off the coast of Massachusetts.
The Nantucketers learned to make baskets from the Indians. Indian
baskets were for the most part fragile, used for berry picking
and lightweight activities. These baskets had bottoms woven in
a spider web effect and were made of thin strips of ash, hickory
and oak. They were actually woven with long strips of wood pounded
thin. Farming needs required baskets for heavier duties. A wooden
bottom was added to the basket and wooden ribs were nailed to
this bottom. The nails would act as an abrasive and over the years
this would weaken the wood. To solve this problem the wooden bottom
was grooved. The ribs of the basket were pounded into the groove
for the most secure fit. The ribs were bent in shape by pouring
boiling water over them and tying them into an upward position.
The whaling industry sent Nantucketers traveling to the Phillipines,
China and India. There they were introduced to rattan or cane.
It is very probable that they saw baskets being woven using cane.
They brought the cane home for Nantucket basket makers to use.
distinctive process in the making of the Nantucket basket was
the use of molds on which to weave the basket. This allowed the
basket to remain steady and produced accuracy in sizes so nests
of baskets could be made. Molds were usually made from wood and
sometimes ship masts. Later, round molds were turned on a lathe
for increased accuracy. It is widely accepted that if it is not
made on a mold, it is not a Nantucket basket.
baskets are also the product of an isolated community where everyones
work was highly visible. Each basket maker, striving to make a
better basket, added to the perfection, preciseness and quality
The original baskets were called "farm baskets" and
with the introduction of rattan as the weaver, "rattan baskets."
In 1856, the No. 1 Nantucket Lightship was anchored 24 miles south
of Sankaty Light. According to Nantucket history, the men who
manned the ship had little to do but clean the lamps and stand
watch. These men made some of the best baskets ever seen and sold
them through the shops on the island. This period produced the
name "Nantucket Lightship Basket." The last Nantucketer
to work on the lightship was Charlie Sylvia in the year 1905.
Although basket making aboard ship had ceased, the name of the
1945, Jose Formosa Reyes came to Nantucket from the Phillipines.
By 1948, he was making baskets. It was his idea to use a woven
lid attached to the basket with leather in the back and leather
front closures to form the handbag. This was the beginning of
the bag as it appears today. Instead of oak, hickory or ash ribs,
Reyes used wider rattan in his baskets. Other basketmakers began
to make the handbag but continued to use wooden ribs. Today on
Nantucket, some basket makers use wood and some rattan ribs, but
all weave with rattan weavers. The handbag of today is best described
as exquisite. Some baskets are made with 1/8 inch wooden ribs
and the finest rattan to achieve the best detail. Most baskets
are adorned with some type of ivory decoration such as a carved
whale, seagull or seashell. Many have solid ivory tops with scrimshawed
The Nantucket Lightship basket is not simply a basket or handbag.
It is an emblem that says "Nantucket." It is a useable
collector's item that increases in value as it takes on a golden-mahogany
hue that comes with age. It is the only handbag a woman can own
and use for 10 or 20 years that actually increases in value. It
is a family heirloom and a piece of Massachusetts craftsmanship
that can be passed down from generation to generation.
Ray's (an early basket maker) label used to read: "I was made
on Nantucket, I'm strong and I'm stout, Don't lose me or burn me,
And I'll never wear out."