The rigor required to create a Nantucket lightship basket puts the lie to any cheap jokes about learning the craft.
“If these baskets are made perfectly,” says Leslie Goldsmith, “they should be able to hold water.”
Consumers today associate the baskets “with the oval purses and a lid,” Goldsmith says. But she and her fellow weavers in the Nantucket Basket Guild are drawn to the historical legacy and precision of the craft.
“These baskets are made the same way sailors made them in the 1800s,” she says. “They were made on lightships in and around Nantucket [using] a mold they would make out of wood.”
On trips to the Massachusetts island, Goldsmith found the baskets elegant and unlike any others she had seen. Back in Baltimore, she jumped at the opportunity in 2007 to take a class Bob Moore taught at Roland Park Country School. Moore is an experienced basket maker who lived on Nantucket. Goldsmith continued with the classes and took over teaching them two years ago with Moore as her backup, making a lot of the materials himself.
The tools of the trade include basket molds, grooved bases and rims, hardwood staving materials, pegs and latches, handles, tops -- even the fabric used for the lining.
The basket bears similarity to a piece of fine needlepoint, Goldsmith says, as the cane-and-reed weave is so intricate, tight and precise. When they are completed, the baskets get treated to three coats of polyurethane (in the sailors’ days, it was probably shellac).
Members of the guild can work on pretty complicated projects. But getting there requires making it through basket weaving 101 and 102.
“Your first basket will not be perfect,” warns Goldsmith, who is the mother of Chesapeake Home + Living sales coordinator Rachel Goldsmith. “People come in with an expectation that baskets [are] simplistic. They are not.”
Nantucket Basket Making Classes
Roland Park Country school
5204 Roland Ave., Baltimore
410-323-5500, ext. 3045