Billy Ray Sims Basketmaker

Life (and baskets) come full circle

Wasn’t so long ago. I lived in Alabama, making mostly white oak baskets. But then I met a wonderful woman, and…

Now, I’m a displaced Appalachian basket maker residing next to a lake and the coastline of Maine. (I lived here in the 80s but sailed away for southern climes on an old wooden boat.)

Basket makers here have used black ash since early Native American times. I’ve worked with it several years ago as you can see in the pack baskets below, but it’s a new game to start from the splitting out the tree. Above are coils of split black ash, about half a tree.

I have an old New England bushel basket mold in the process of restoration, and the splits are destined for use on it.



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This site features the work of basket maker Billy Ray Sims, and offers baskets for sale. If you don’t see a traditional splint basket you covet, Billy Ray will be happy to create a one-of-a-kind basket to your specifications. Email for more info.

Anatomy Lesson: White Oak Basket


This basket has three rows of sterling silver woven in each side.

Potato Basket and Mini-Spud


10″W x 4″H
securedownload-1A challenging commission, shown in the foreground, came from a client who wanted a version of the potato basket you can read more about below.

But when I informed her how large the original basket is —23″-wide— she asked for something a little smaller. Hence, the petite outcome.

So-Called Feather Basket

12″w x 22″h

While visiting the Museum of Appalachia, Norris, TN, and admiring John Rice Irwin’s incomparable collection of Appalachian baskets, I was offered the chance to purchase one from his private collection. My eyes were immediately drawn to a large urn-shaped basket with a simple note inside that read, ” Feather basket from Upper E. Tenn. bought at auction by E.L. Martin, Fall 1990.”

DSCF1776 My heart and pocketbook went out the window, and I brought the old basket home with me.

The original is shown at left, and my take on it, which looks more like a ginger jar, is above and details of the top and bottom below.

Thanks to John Rice for his pioneering, inspiring work, and research and preservation of the iconic Appalachian crafts.

Every October, the museum hosts it Tennessee Fall Homecoming. People from around the world attend for the old-time music performances, crafts, and the kind of food upon which I was raised and relish.

I’ve enjoyed demonstrating basket making at the festival and hope to join the fun again soon.



Corn Basket

white oak field basket14″ H x 18″ W

This field basket, modeled after one by Vonnie Miller, was quickly made at an annual  gathering of white oak basket makers at Mary Ann and Bill Smith’s home in McCalla, AL. About 10 enthusiasts came together to sit under the shade trees of the Smith’s for two days last April. We made baskets, shared stories, techniques, tools and tips.

Painted Lady

egg basket

Gizzard Basket

12″ x 12″ x 10 1/2″

Hand-split white oak and reed; milk paint, varnish

It’s good to break out of strict traditions sometimes, and this basket is about as Billy Ray-goes-wild as it gets. The handle, hoop, wrap and initial woven splits are white oak. The ribs and bulk of weaving are reed. A gift for a friend who needed a basket in her collection that sits way up high on a shelf and says, “Come on up and see me sometime.”