When Liz Winship met William 'Doc' Magee on a rainy Nantucket day in the early 90's, she could never have imagined the friendship that would blossom from their encounter. "I remember the shop was busy because it was raining that day. At that point we were at 16 Main Street. I was coming back in from lunch and I stopped by the big cherry loom in the front door to fix a blanket. A man was sitting by this old fiberglass sheep we had in the store. All of a sudden, I saw him stand up and he was huge - he was at least 6'5" - a tall, handsome man with shocking white hair, well into his eighties. He was a true southern gentleman, like the kind you read about. That was the first time I met Doc and when he showed me his little baskets, I was just taken by them".
William 'Doc' McGee started coming to Nantucket with his wife, Jane in the 1930's. He had a doctorate in forensics and was the chief chemist for the FBI. When they came to Nantucket each summer, Doc and Jane would stay at the Fish House on the North Wharf. During his time spent on Nantucket, Doc started weaving miniature lightship baskets as a past time. It turned out he was an exceptionally talented basket weaver - somewhat of an incredible feat considering his enormous hands! Although he was staying just down the street from Nantucket Looms, Doc didn't even know where the Looms was when scrimshander, Nancy Chase, suggested he approach Liz about his baskets.
Sadly, Doc lost his wife Jane in his early eighties. "He really started to take on the basket making after that. He didn't do for it for the money, he did it to keep himself sane", Liz explains. Doc's baskets became so popular at Nantucket Looms that he quickly developed a following. "People would come at the beginning of the season to see what we had - sometimes buying two, three, or four at a time. When he brought in his baskets, we would almost joke about who would be in first to buy them. And they were not inexpensive baskets!"
As Doc and Liz' friendship grew, he developed quite the admiration for her. While those who know Liz Winship would never describe her as 'shy', she somewhat bashfully explains their friendship. "Without sounding...odd...he fell in love with me. He always referred to me as 'O2 - which was 'oxygen'". Doc began to weave baskets that he gifted to Liz - individual baskets with special messages just for her. Within the intricate scrimshaw detail, there are messages such as 'You made it real. Thanks, Liz', tiny detailed images of the Nantucket Looms Main Street building and Avogadro's number - a nod to his chemistry background and the numeric value of how much he loved Liz. Inside each of his baskets was another reference to his chemistry background his fingerprint and microscope signature.
Doc lived into his nineties and made quite a few miniature lightship baskets in the short time that he was weaving them. However, he only made a few nesting baskets - one of the first of those, he gifted to Liz. "Doc started out weaving your typical small baskets but he went on to really perfect the nesting baskets. He had the tools from his laboratory work to do the very elaborate work they required. It was interesting - his hands used to shake but when he worked on the baskets, they didn't shake at all!", Liz recalls, admiring her special Doc Magee basket collection which now holds pride of place in her Nantucket home, a tribute to her dear friend Doc.
A set of Doc Magee nesting baskets such as the one gifted to Liz is a rare find today and Liz has been kind enough to part with hers, bringing them back home to Nantucket Looms, where it all began all those years ago. This true piece of Nantucket history is now available from Nantucket Looms at 51 Main Street and also available to purchase online.