Museum History

The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum came about shortly after an exhibit sponsored by the Nantucket Historical Association, curated by David H. Wood, and funded in large part by Nantucket basket makers. Basket makers island wide heralded the need for a permanent museum that would annually change exhibits and provide serious study to the history of baskets and would provide education to adults and children in all aspects of this craft.

The workshop located inside the museum

The Museum also houses a large portion of the workshop of well known basket maker Jose Formoso Reyes (1902—1980) and features a display on “how Nantucket Lightship Baskets are made.”

Our initial organization included a community mix of expertise in very diverse professions including basket makers, collectors, fundraisers and many, many volunteers. The concept was widely accepted and donations were very generous.

The property at 49 Union Street, Nantucket, built in 1821 and the former home of Albert and Rosalina Johnson, was purchased with generous donations. Structural renovations were made with strict sensitivity to the historic nature of the district and the concerns of our neighbors. We even used some flooring salvaged from an old Nantucket building, which had recently suffered a fire and was under reconstruction, thus saving another piece of Nantucket history!

In our fourteenth year that we have been open to the public, we have made great strides. The Museum continues to be dedicated to preserving Nantucket’s rich history of basket making as an art form and to provide a permanent home for an exhibit of Nantucket Lightship Baskets, both historic and contemporary. Our goal is to educate the public for future generations with exhibits, lectures, and demonstrations. Other accomplishments include:

  • hosting over 2,000 visitors annually;
  • a year round youth weaving program that offers beginner and advanced classes;
  • producing a documentary film about the history of lightship baskets;
  • compiling a collection of biographies of significant basket makers;
  • building a permanent collection of lightship baskets that represent important time periods and significant makers.

Annually changing exhibits have included topics such as: teachers/student relationships; special purpose baskets; lightship basket nests and miniatures. The Museum’s permanent collection includes examples from Reyes, Boyer, Kittila, Gibbs, Folger, James and many others, including a nest of baskets made in the International Space Station.

Lightship baskets are unique to the island of Nantucket. We are very proud to be “Weaving Nantucket’s Past into its Future.”