Billy Ray Sims Basketmaker

Prepping for Basket Class at Arrowmont

Preparing all the materials for fish creel baskets and others to be made of white oak and black ash for Arrowmont Craft School, TN, March 26-29.

Lots of basket parts underway in the studio — molds, lids, leather, prototype of fish creel basket planned for upcoming three-day class at Arrowmont. Lots of hardwood splint to go!

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.