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History of the Nantucket Lightship Basket

In 1854, after too many years of shipwrecks off the coast of Nantucket, the United States Government ordered a ship with lanterns attached to its mast to be positioned twenty-five miles off the south shoals of Nantucket. The Nantucket South Shoal Lightship was anchored year-round to protect and warn vessels rounding these dangerous shoals. The courageous Nantucket sailors stationed on the lightships endured the harshest of winters and the balmiest of summers working many months at a time on the ship. They fought the isolation and loneliness of life aboard the South Shoal Lightship by weaving wooden-bottomed, wooden-handled baskets from cane. They made the baskets for their families as well as to sell on Nantucket as receptacles for everyday use.

By the turn of the century, more Nantucket Baskets were being made on the island of Nantucket than on the lightships themselves. The craft of basket making was passed from one basket maker to another. After retiring from the New South Shoal Lightship, William Appleton continued to weave baskets on Nantucket, teaching A. D. Williams, who in turn taught Ferdinand Sylvaro. Each of these men established notable reputations as weavers. One of the best-known basket weavers was Mitchell Ray, a third-generation weaver who for many years kept the art of basket weaving alive. It was Mitchell Ray who introduced Jose Reyes to the unique craft of Nantucket Basket making. Mr. Reyes was familiar with basket making having learned general weaving techniques in his homeland of the Philippines. He designed the first basket with a lid to be used as a purse and the first Friendship Basket Purse was created! Mr. Reyes along with many other famous Nantucket basket makers wove hundreds of baskets over the course of their careers. Their creations are now collector's items and treasured family heirlooms.
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