by Eleni Sinnis
This Saturday, July 16, the Nantucket Historical Association will host its annual summer fundraiser, Baskets & Bubbly, to support the island’s iconic craft of Nantucket lightship baskets with a Celebration Under the Whale at the Whaling Museum.
From 5 to 7 pm, ticketholders can enjoy hors d’oeuvers and cocktails as they view some of the many beautiful baskets from the auction that will be on display. Co-chairs Karen Butler and Jackie Kupper both describe this unique art of the Nantucket Lightship Basket by saying, “No two are exactly alike, each reflects the creativity and ingenuity of the person who made it.” They encourage everyone to bring their own unique Nantucket lightship basket to the 2023 Baskets & Bubbly celebration and to join the informal basket parade around the museum. “Lightship baskets as a genre have a wonderful history and even more marvelous is the fact that every individual basket has a history of its own as well, which any lightship basket lover is quick to enthusiastically share. Often describing how each embellishment occurred has a profound significance for its owner. These are baskets of which legends are made; at least to those who adorn them,” they added.
The Baskets & Bubbly fundraising online auction continues through July 17. The online auction provides bidders with the exclusive opportunity to bid on more than 60 baskets and basket-related products. The items include gorgeous Nantucket lightship baskets, some with carving and some with rare wood bases, a print by island artist Maggie Meredith and other artwork, lightship basket cuff and other jewelry, a frame woven by Ritch Leone, and some “priceless” island experiences. The Baskets & Bubbly Raise a Stave portion will give guests an opportunity to pledge monetary donations specifically benefitting efforts to teach adults and children this iconic craft; to enrich museum exhibits and enhance the basket collection; and to research and produce a coffee table style book about the history of lightship baskets including modern, creative innovations.
The Nantucket lightship basket has a long history on the island. During the early 1800s, they were robust and practical for storage and used as carrying baskets. They were in wide use in the island’s stores, workshops, and homes. As the island transitioned from a whaling economy to a tourist economy in the 1860s, the work baskets became a popular keepsake of an island visit.
Prior to 2021, the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum was the central place for viewing this island craft and for learning how to weave. In 2021, an affiliation was made between the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum (NLBM) and the Nantucket Historical Association (NHA), and from this came a superb display of Nantucket lightship baskets and their history on the second floor of the NHA’s Hadwen House on upper Main Street. According to Karen Butler and Jackie Kupper, this affiliation has been very beneficial: “our increased outreach into the culture is significant, the end result is tripling the number of visitors to the museum of tourists, summer visitors, and year round residents. The extensive use of social media and all media done jointly with the NHA in a very professional way is beyond the resources we had as a stand alone museum. Collectively it has been amazingly effective.”
The NHA is committed to preserving the Nantucket lightship basket craft by enhancing the permanent lightship basket collection, displaying exhibitions, and teaching children and adults the art form. Baskets & Bubbly supports the Nantucket Lightship Basket Fund at the NHA, which is used solely to carry out its mission and share the history of Nantucket lightship baskets. Niles Parker, the Gosnell Executive Director, says, “We look forward to this summer fundraiser that celebrates the unique history of Nantucket lightship baskets and directly supports the NHA’s efforts to continue to teach, exhibit, and collect this important island craft.”
The 2023 Nantucket Lightship Basket exhibit in the Hadwen House at 96 Main Street traces the development of Nantucket Lightship Baskets from their 19thcentury origins to the diverse traditional and experimental forms created by the island’s weavers today. The exhibit holds a special case displaying the many basket purse designs invented by José Reyes, a maker who moved to the island after WWII and revolutionized the form and meaning of Nantucket baskets by experimenting with different shapes, lids, and the addition of ornamental carvings, which soon developed into the “Friendship basket” purse prized by collectors today. Visitors of all ages to the exhibit can even try their hands at weaving a lightship basket.
NLBM is an affiliate of the NHA and retains all funds donated, which can be used to carry out its mission. The NHA and the NLBM have worked together to emphasize teaching the craft and sharing the history of making Nantucket Lightship Baskets. The NHA’s mission is to preserve the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties.