It is thought that the Lightship Basket traces its origin back to the splint baskets made by the Native peoples who inhabited Nantucket Island off the coast of Massachusetts in the eighteenth century. Sometime later, the white settlers, many of them Quakers, learned the basketry craft from the natives of the Wampanoag tribe. During the whaling commerce of the 1800’s, ships brought cane (rattan) back from the South Pacific to be used in the weaving of baskets on Nantucket. Several
features of these functional baskets owe their origin to the craft of the coopers who made barrels for whale oil. The basket was further developed by the men who manned the Nantucket Lightship in the mid-1800’s, hence the basket’s historical name. Jose Reyes, a transplant from the Philippines to Nantucket, invented the purse or covered basket in the 1940’s. He refined the basket’s style by using ivory knobs and pins, and by placing carved ivory or scrimshaw on the purse covers. The baskets, traditionally, are woven of rattan/cane with oak staves and wrapped reed for the rims, and they are formed around variously shaped wooden molds. It is from this tradition that Joan Brink’s basketry evolves.