Growing up on Nantucket year-round, I developed an appreciation for the tradition and history of the island. My father, Tim Parsons, has been making Nantucket Lightship Baskets and teaching classes for over 20 years. From a young age, I saw him perfecting the craft of weaving, woodworking, carving ivory and scrimshaw. His talent always inspired me, but not until moving back to the island in 2013 did I discover the new trend of Nantucket Basket Bracelets. I’ve known how to weave for years so creating bracelets came naturally to me. From there, I learned to hand-carve the ivory end caps and scrimshaw. Once I began experimenting with designs, I was hooked. I love how the bracelets represent the Nantucket Basket tradition using the same materials and techniques while being innovative and modern. I’m very proud to continue the Nantucket Basket-making tradition with my Nantucket Bracelets and hope you love them too!
Each bracelet is hand woven by Caitlin on a brass cuff using the traditional Nantucket Lightship Basket material of rattan. Rattan is also used in wicker furniture and is known to be strong, pliable and durable. Some of the bracelets also feature woods such as walnut, cherry or ebony. Each wooden stave is cut, sanded and individually shaped to the brass cuff. The end caps (and ivory pieces on the bangles) are also hand carved from larger tusks of fossilized walrus ivory and fossilized woolly mammoth ivory. Fossilized walrus ivory and fossilized woolly mammoth ivory are excavated from Alaska and acquired ethically. The fossilized walrus ivory is anywhere from a few hundred years old to 10,000 years old, while the fossilized mammoth ivory is anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 years old. Each piece of fossilized ivory is unique in color and pattern, which makes each bracelet one of a kind. Custom scrimshaw, or engravings, can be done on woolly mammoth ivory or lighter pieces of the fossilized walrus ivory. Nantucket Bracelets are the only basket-style bracelet to be completely handmade by the artist (weaving, carving and scrimshaw) on Nantucket Island.
Click here to watch a video of my bracelet-making process.
Video and photos on this page courtesy of 02554 Local.
History: In 1659, when settlers first arrived to Nantucket, basket making was one of the many skills that that the friendly natives taught the new settlers. These early baskets were made with woods available at the time such as oak, hickory and ash. This style of weaving baskets is the origin of many styles of baskets still produced today.
Because of the success of the whaling industry in the 1830’s, ships sailed further and further from the island as local whale numbers dwindled. When whalers travelled to the Pacific they brought back a material called rattan that natives of that region used to make baskets. Rattan, a species of palm, looks very similar to bamboo but is solid in the middle. From this material, natives would cut the outer bark off in long strips and use this strong yet pliable material for many things including making baskets. The introduction of rattan to the weaving process helped to create the distinctive look of Nantucket baskets.
Lightships were stationed at Nantucket’s south shoal to warn whaling vessels and other ships of the dangerous shoals. To pass the long hours of boredom on the ships, men would weave baskets while aboard, hence the name ‘Lightship Baskets’. Similarly, Lightship Basket scrimshaw started as etchings by sailors on a variety of materials they had aboard. More recently, scrimshaw has been a decorative addition to Lightship Baskets using ivory or bone.