Since 1968, Nantucket Looms has been proud to represent our local craftspeople. We carry the works of over seventy different artisans, including painters, potters, basket weavers, jewelry makers and wood carvers. To honor those whose unique creations reflect the natural beauty and history of our beloved island, we will highlight an artist on our website every month. This month, meet Dale Rutherford.
For fifteen years, Dale Rutherford’s Nantucket Lightship Baskets and her other hand-crafted woven treasures – have held a special place at Nantucket Looms.
“I was making round Lightship Baskets with turned wooden lids, topped with a piece of ivory or a combination of wood and ivory,” Rutherford says. “Liz said they would be perfect for the store. I really didn’t think they were up to the standards of the Looms, but she told me that they were so unique – that they were right in line with her vision for the store.”
Rutherford moved to Nantucket 21 years ago after her youngest child went off to college. She took a job at Hyline the first year it started fast ferry service to the island – and during the quiet winter season, knew she had to find something to fill the hours. She started taking lessons with basket maker Tim Parsons and spent her downtime on Straight Wharf practicing her craft. “It was very slow, and I did a lot of weaving,” she says. “Everyone who I worked with at Hyline has one of my baskets!”
Today, Rutherford has moved away from weaving the baskets with the turned tops and is, instead, weaving “minis” - ¼” rounds – and precious heart-shaped baskets, both of which are represented at Looms. She also teaches kid’s classes at the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum in a program sponsored by the Nantucket Gulf Club. Every year, she works with about 70 kids, many of whom continue to make baskets after they have finished the class.
“The baskets are a huge part of Nantucket’s history and heritage,” she says. “And I love them. They are such works of art.”
Lightship Baskets were first made by sailors in the mid-1800s (at the height of the whaling industry) who spent their idle hours weaving baskets at sea. They take their name from the Lightship, a floating beacon that first appeared during this period and warned sailors of the dangerous shoals off the southern shores of the island. Lightship Baskets have become a sought after token of Nantucket, with antique baskets fetching high prices by collectors.
In addition to her mini baskets, Rutherford also crafts woven cuff bracelets. We love these dainty, ¼” wide bands with ivory detailing. They are a perfect Nantucket wrist ornament!
In her spare time, Rutherford tends to her large garden, which, she claims, provides ample vegetables for her and her husband, as well as her son, daughter-in-law and their two children, who live next door. She also loves to walk in the moors with her two Border Collies.
Click here to see more of Dale's work in our online store.