Billy Ray Sims Basketmaker

Sweetgrass Rice Fanner


2 1/4″ x 16″ x 16″

Coiled and sewn construction; sweetgrass, bulrush, palmetto

Some 15 years ago, I lived on an old wooden sailboat on the Stono River just south of Charleston, SC. Newly divorced and in need of healing, I sought out ways to connect with interesting people in this quietly beautiful and soulful place. And so I took up surfing, for which I never gained any proficiency, and sweetgrass basket making.

When I first arrived at the community center where basket maker Harriet Brown taught classes, mostly to suburban women, she seemed to hardly notice. Surely she thought I was in the wrong class or wouldn’t have the aptitude, since weaving with sweetgrass takes patience, a good eye, and nimble fingers. My first lopsided basket appeared to prove her right!

But I kept coming back, and coming back, and eventually Harriett took me seriously. She shared not only the rules of good basketry (“You’s got to feed the baby (row) to keep it growing steady”), but also stories of her own amazing life and that of her family, some of whom had woven baskets as slaves at the nearby Boone Hall Plantation¬†in the 19th century.¬†(The basket shown above is a decorative version of those originally used to winnow rice.)

Over the ensuing years, Harriet and I became very close, even after I moved away and began life in a new place. Sewing numerous baskets by her side, with her gentle encouragement and close scrutiny, I believe I mended my frayed heart and dreams, row upon row.cobra

Black Ash Pack Baskets

22″ x 13″ x 9″

Woven, split-work construction; hand-split black ash and white oak, saddle leather straps

Woven from New Hampshire black ash with white oak rim and handle, this basket was a fun take on the traditional New England pack basket. It has a bit of flare from the belly to the rim that you typically don’t see in these baskets, but I wanted to give it a more sculpted shape.

New England black ash is the Lexus of split wood basket materials, as opposed to the Mac truck, contrary nature of Southern white oak with which I typically wrangle.

Special thanks to Jack Leadley for tutoring me on his method of creating and attaching straps to the pack.

Below is a much larger pack basket I made while working with renowned basket maker John McGuire.

Pack basket

Berry Basket