After decades of honing her craft, Michigan resident Kathleen Myers finds her place among the master lightship basket weavers of Nantucket.
A craft that started at sea off the coast of Nantucket over a 150 years ago is carried on today by only a handful of master craftsmen. One of the remaining weavers, Kathleen Myers, has recently given the venerable Nantucket lightship basket tradition a new spin by completing a spectacular 18-piece nesting basket.
A seasonal resident, Myers happened upon the making of baskets in Michigan, far from the shores of Nantucket during the 1960s. Always interested in crafts, she attended a workshop on basket making. Her first baskets were in the Shaker tradition, constructed of black ash, honeysuckle vine, and white oak. For the next 20 years, she continued to take classes, eventually teaching basket making in the Midwest. In 1984, Myers was bit by the Nantucket basket bug when she attended classes taught by Joyce Gardner, Barbara Clough, and Marie Rankin—all Michigan weavers who had learned the craft from Nantucket masters, Nap Plank and Alan S. W. Reed. She knew then that she had found her real passion.
Myers’s mother loved the Nantucket lightship basket design and became her talented daughter’s first customer. Myers approached her brother Russ, a furniture maker, to help make the molds for the baskets, often the most difficult part of the process. Eventually she met a woman from Nantucket who invited Myers to the island for a summer visit in 1994. During her 10-day stay, Myers took classes from two master basket weavers, Tim Parsons and Karol Lindquist.
For the next three years, Myers apprenticed with Parsons five days a week during her six-week visits to the island, also studying with Nap Plank one day a week. To pay for her trips, she ran a bed and breakfast, gave tours of the island, and ran a shuttle service for people attending basket classes. She came back the next summer and again apprenticed under Parsons. Myers’s ultimate dream to become a master Nantucket lightship basket weaver was realized in the summer of 1996 when Plank gave her a “spot on the bench”: her own designated workstation as a full-time basket maker.
The history and lore of the craft was intriguing to the Midwesterner. The craft evolved from wooden “split” baskets made by Native Americans used for fieldwork and storage in the early 1800s. The tradition was carried through the whaling area when coopers—barrel makers on board—made baskets at sea to pass the time.