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Weaving Her Magic

Martha Lawrence has become an expert on the historic Nantucket Lightship Baskets that have fascinated her for decades

A classic cherry Nantucket Lightship Basket “purse” adorned with a mermaid carving by Al Doucette

A classic cherry Nantucket Lightship Basket “purse” adorned with a mermaid carving by Al Doucette

The charm, beauty and history of Nantucket have captivated Martha Lawrence since her childhood spent summering on the tiny, isolated island 30 miles off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. A favorite spot for her, besides its beaches, wharves and museums, was by her grandfather’s side while he carved ship figureheads in his harborside workshop.

As she developed an appreciation for the heritage, traditions and craftsmanship that surrounded her, she was especially drawn to Nantucket’s distinctive, tightly woven cane baskets as one of the best examples of all three. Now, for over 35 years, Lawrence has made it her mission to uphold the artistry and quality of one of the island’s unique treasures: Nantucket Lightship Baskets.  As a writer, lecturer, basketmaker and teacher, she has introduced the challenges and rewards of creating the beautiful, authentic baskets to countless aficionados.

The history of the cherished baskets, including how they got their name, is as fascinating as it is integral to the life of the residents of the former whaling community. Lawrence documented this history in her book “Lightship Baskets of Nantucket.” The well-researched and beautifully photographed book, which was published in 1990 and is now in its second edition, established her as an authority on both the history and contemporary status of the art of making Nantucket Lightship Baskets.

During a visit with Lawrence in her Vero Beach home to discuss her passion and see some of her beautiful creations, she gave an overview of the history. “Utilitarian baskets were found in every Colonial home,” she says. “There was a basket for every task: large baskets to store clothing and household items; small, delicate ones to handle sewing items or to collect berries; and sturdy baskets to haul farm tools.”