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Warp & Weft Blog

Nantucket Looms 'In the Heart of the Sea'

Nantucket Looms 'In the Heart of the Sea'

Although Nantucket’s whaling heyday ended centuries ago, the island will welcome the renewed attention to its remarkable history when Ron Howard’s long awaited film, In the Heart of the Sea is released on December 11th. Based on island resident Nathaniel Philbrick’s award-winning novel (which draws from the captivating tale of the whaleship Essex that met its end when it was rammed by an enormous Spermaceti whale), all the Hollywood hype has given us a special appreciation for the work of the artists and artisans who are inspired by that history and whose work we carry at Nantucket Looms. We spoke with a couple of them about their enthusiasm for their craft which are reflective of the island’s past. 
We have been in awe of Mark Sutherland’s extraordinary models – his ship replicas, half hulls and dories – since 1981, when Looms’ co-founder Bill Euler recognized the masterful workmanship that went into each piece. Specializing in models of 19th and 20th century ships, Sutherland’s expertise is considerable: he was commissioned by the NHA to build a model of the whaleship Essex for display at The Whaling Museum and Mr. Philbrick contacted him when he when writing his novel, looking for details about early Nantucket whaling ships. 

His exacting models are created from a variety of woods – Apple wood (sourced from his own backyard) and Pine for the body of the ship and Ebony and Rosewood for accents; he uses bone for trim. The detail in his work is remarkable. Interestingly, he looks to paintings from the period for their very accurate depictions.

Scott Marks is a Nantucket native: he grew up walking along the very wharves where the whaleship Essex might once have tied up and past the brick and clapboard buildings that housed the businesses that supported the island’s thriving industry. Marks is excited to see In the Heart of the Sea. "It’s going to be fascinating to see my hometown in the movie," he says. Long fascinated by the story of Moby Dick and the story of the Essex, Marks readily admits to being intrigued by whales. As a young man, Marks started working in the studio of well-known scrimshander Nancy Chase. Over time, he took to carving his own work, crafting exquisite whale figures out of Ebony and Holly. The teeth are carved from minuscule pieces of antique ivory that Marks has collected; the handsome base is mahogany. We have been carrying Marks’ work since 2012: we think they are wonderful accent pieces to the quintessential Looms “Nantucket Cottage Style” design aesthetic.

Mike and Susan Bacle may spend their winters in Southwestern Virginia, but their hearts are always on Nantucket – where from their picturesque ‘Sconset cottage, they can overlook the sea. Mike and Susan are fascinated with the island’s whaling history – and think In the Heart of the Sea will broaden people’s understanding of what Nantucket is really all about. “No one else mastered the art of whaling like Nantucketers did,” said Mike. “And it is really an incredible story.” 

Mike considers himself a bit of an expert on the subject of white whales as he has carved so many of them. He told us that he only started carving whales about 20 years ago when, after a trip to the Whaling Museum, it occurred to him that no one else was. He hasn’t stopped since. Mike carves his elegant whale sculptures out of Cyprus wood and then applies a finish to achieve an authentic, weathered patina. We love the textured, unique nature of each of his pieces and find that they complement both traditional and contemporary interiors.

Susan has spent every summer on the island and looking out to sea for a whale spout was a favorite pastime. She translates this love of the majestic ocean mammals to her work. For her canvas, Susan uses reclaimed boards – from old Nantucket houses if she can find them. “It gives new meaning to those discarded boards,” she said. Susan uses milk paint or oil, depending on the look she wants to achieve. We are drawn to the folksy quality of her work.

Since its founding in 1968, Nantucket Looms has been dedicated to the work of local and regional artists and artisans. Today, the company represents more than 70, recognizing that quality craftsmanship and Nantucket’s history are equally timeless.

Click below to shop our 'In The Heart of the Sea' collection.