Date of this Version
Published in Hidden Stories/Human Lives: Proceedings of the Textile Society of America 17th Biennial Symposium, October 15-17, 2020. https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/
Social and political upheavals of the 1960s spurred many reactions in the arts, from optimistic modernism to nostalgic historicism, that resulted in a widespread revival of handcraft. On Nantucket, the 1960s craft revival coincided with a renaissance of the island itself, as it looked towards the past to shape its future. The wharf transformed and historical tourism was promoted, the island a time capsule of its nineteenth-century glory days as a whaling port. In 1961, the Nantucket Historical Trust renovated the Jared Coffin House, a historic whaling merchant’s mansion turned hotel, decorating it with custom reproduction interior textiles. A weaving workshop was established, and the Nantucket Looms was born. While historicism is Nantucket’s trademark, a study of the Nantucket Looms in the 1960s reveals that modernism is equally apparent in Nantucket’s craft history.
The Nantucket Looms expanded into commercial ventures guided by key players with a deep knowledge of historic textiles and an affinity for modernist design and practices. Mary Ann Beinecke managed the Looms’ hand weaving production workshop, while Andy Oates trained weavers in a style clearly influenced by his teacher, famed modernist weaver Anni Albers. Later in the 1960s, New York design duo Leslie and Doris “D. D.” Tillett expanded the reach and scope of the Looms with printed textiles exhibiting their legacy of modernist design and knowledge of traditional techniques. Oates and subsequent owners have continued to honor craft tradition while staying modern.
Through original research, including contemporary press, interviews, and extant textiles, this paper tells the story of the Nantucket Looms, a case study of the 1960s craft revival on an island thirty miles out to sea, and the role of historicism and modernism in the cultural identity of an island that is often stereotyped, but rarely examined theoretically and historically.