Billy Ray Sims Basketmaker

Oak & Ash Packbasket

Cane Fish Creel

Woven with cane on reed; cherry wood lid

Paul’s Black Ash Pack Basket

Black ash weaving, white oak handle, rim and lashing

Virginia White Oak Market Basket

White oak spoke construction 14” x 20” x 14”

Based on a late 1800s Shenandoah, Virginia market basket and made for the Reynolds Homestead, Critz, VA, while enjoying a wonderful Artist in Residence at the historic landmark in May.

White Oak Bushel Basket

Just completed. White oak from Tennessee (thanks, Eric) and Kentucky (thanks, Scott).

17″ W x 13″ H

Bulrush & White Oak

Completed for the Contemporary Greenwood exhibit, Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, Rockport, Maine , January 2020

11″ W x 3″ H
Bulrush coils bound with white oak splint. Lid is cross section of white oak tree.

Essex Museum Clam Basket

13 1/2” x  20″ x 16 3/4”

White oak on galvanized wire

The Essex Shipbuilding Museum (MA) has created a project to replicate a vintage clamming skiff and clam harvest basket. The basket part of the project calls for reproducing one of the original baskets from the area and teaching several classes for the community.

The new basket (shown above) is made with #12 gauge galvanized wire woven with white oak from near the museum.

Here’s an article, Reviving a Clamming Tradition, regarding the project in the Gloucester Daily Times. 


Original white oak clam basket from Essex

Appalachian Egg Basket

11″ x 14″ x 10″

Carved, whittled, woven, rib work construction; hand-split white oak

This basket is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum as a gift from Martha G. Ware and Steven R. Cole.

It’s based on an Appalachian style known as a Gizzard basket that allows you to carry eggs and other fragile goods safely over the back of a horse to market, or riding snugly against your hip when walking. The round-ribbed and lobed shape was challenging and a process that involved many hours of splitting, scraping, carving, and weaving splits.

Potato Basket & Mini-Spud

White oak potato baskets carved and whittled rims and ribs, weavers are white oak splits
10″W x 4″H

A 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.

Tennessee Feather Basket

12″w x 22″h

While visiting the Museum of Appalachia, Norris, TN, and admiring John Rice Irwin’s incomparable collection of handmade 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.



Alabama 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.

White Oak Market Basket

market basket

6 1/2″ x 10″ x 7 1/2″

I’ve enjoyed the privilege of working before with Leona Waddell, a wonderful master basketmaker in Cecilia, KY, but this one was something special. It’s a small market basket, similar to larger versions Leona made some 50 years ago. Most of the white oak for it came from my property, but Leona pulled a few heartwood splits from her stash to add contrast to the weaving, and the result is what she judged to be “a cute little basket.”

Leona Waddell with market basket

I split out the uprights and whittled the handle before we started. Then we worked for the better part of two days to weave the basket.

As always, I learned more of the finer points of basketry from Leona. Mostly, we just enjoyed being together to catch up on what life has woven of us since we last visited.

white oak market basketBest of all, Leona sent me home with a tin full of homemade fudge. On the long drive back to Alabama, I savored the treats and thought about how deeply I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with such a great artisan.

It’s All in the De “tails”

10″ x 10″ x 48″

Here’s a white oak fish trap that was a boatload of fun to make. It’s a replica, with exception of carved heads and tails, of a trap made by old-time South Carolina basket weaver Elbert Brown that is part of the McKissick collection.

Elbert Brown Elbert Brown

Thanks to the great staff at the McKissick in Columbia, SC for letting me closely study their assortment of fish traps.

(Click on any photo to enlarge image.)

Lessons from the Past

potato basket
Potato Basket

21″ x 21″ x 9″

Rib-work construction; hand-split white oak

There are few basket makers who work with white oak.  It’s labor intensive—this basket required hand splitting the good part of two small oak trees—and most of those with the know-how are getting on in years.

Although I’ve been blessed to learn from several master basket makers, the teacher for this basket died long ago.  It’s an interpretation of a Pennsylvania field basket likely made in the late 19th century.  As I learned by trial and error how to carve, whittle and bend the big ribs of the basket you see here, I marveled at evidence of how the original was created by sure and confident hands.  And I felt perhaps some old boy was looking down on me from above, and smiling as I carried forward lessons from his work.

White Oak Fish Creel

White Oak Creel


Split-work construction; white oak weaving and quarter-sawn oak lid; saddle leather strap

The basket shown is in the Smithsonian American Art Museum, a gift of Martha G. Ware and Steven R. Cole.

It’s made on a mold to maintain a perfect shape and will make a great complement to a fine bamboo fly rod. Or, as my cycling friends were keen to suggest, it makes a primo handlebar basket (without the lid).This is a popular basket that will make a wonderful and durable heirloom.