Aletha Macy (b. Nantucket, 1901 – d. Nantucket 1971)

Born on Nantucket, Aletha Macy was a 9th generation, direct descendent of Thomas Macy, one of the island’s original settlers.

A renowned ivory and wood carver, furniture maker and painter, Macy began her studies under master craftsman Lincoln Ceely, when she was just 11 years old.  Ceely’s shop was in the Cooperage, next to the Maria Mitchell library on Vestal Street. There he taught his young apprentice furniture making, woodcarving and reverse painting on glass.  Together they crafted clocks, mirrors and various kinds of furniture.  Ceely died in 1950, well into his 80’s.

In an oral history interview with Herman Riddell circa 1958 – from the collection of the Nantucket Historical Association – Aletha Macy describes with pride several of her greatest works; among them a tambour desk inlaid with ebony and holly, and a woodcarving of Abram Quary,  one of Nantucket’s two last surviving Wampanoags, in a likeness of his seated pose in the portrait by Herminia Borchard Dassel, which hangs in the Nantucket Atheneum.

Ever expanding her skills in woodworking, with her keen interest in ornithology, the artist took great pains in carving a series of ducks and other waterfowl in relief, mounted on wooden plaques, including a sensitively rendered, painted flying merganser, sold at Osona’s in 2013.


Aletha Macy only began carving ivory in 1955 in mid-life, when José Formoso Reyes commissioned her to produce ivory whales for his Friendship Baskets.  Her work for Reyes continued until 1960.  She offered eight types of whales, seagulls in flight, fish – particularly bluefish – various animals, and a map of Nantucket with a small whale set in the inlet.

The majority of Macy’s output as a carver of ivory was crafted in her Madaket Road shop, Ivory of the Sea.  In addition to carvings for Nantucket baskets, the artist is widely collected for her plaques – wall panels, usually mahogany, mounted with as many as eight ivory whale species: blue, sperm, right, gray, killer, finback, humpback and bowhead, or with various fish, or the island of Nantucket.

Aletha Macy’s skill and meticulous eye has earned her justified recognition as one of the great craftswomen and ivory carvers on Nantucket.

Recent Examples at Auction