Of all the baskets that William Collins weaved during his lifetime – and there were many – the willow baby basket that he crafted for his infant grandson Harold Collin Gray in 1910 is by far the most important one.
The basket boasts an abundance of history as 50 of Collins’ descendants, who span five generations, have been lulled to sleep in it. Only God knows how much gibberish and how many precious smiles have emanated from it.
Baby No. 50 is 4-1/2-month-old Grayson Mayfield, who was introduced to the willow bassinet at the Southport home of his great-grandparents Ron and Marilyn Mayfield on Friday. Grayson appeared right at home in the basket and offered a continuous series of smiles, waves and foot kicks as he familiarized himself to his temporary resting quarters.
It will be quite some time before Grayson realizes the importance of the trip that he made last week from Cumming, Ga., with his parents, Steven and Emily Mayfield. Steven, Ron and Marilyn’s grandson and Baby No. 26 to try out the basket, said it’s pretty neat that his son is the 50th baby to use the heirloom, which is normally situated in Ron and Marilyn’s front bedroom and has one of her dolls resting in it.
Besides Harold Gray and his brother, Clyde Jr., all of the babies who have slept in the bassinet are alive. Marilyn was the fourth infant to sleep in the basket and did so for the first time in 1940. Her sister Beverly was the third.
The bassinet is going to get more use in the near future as two more babies are on their way.
Collins, who probably never envisioned his legacy would live on for 100-plus years in his craftsmanship, was also known for weaving superior baskets for hot air balloons, as reported in a Nov. 5, 1910, Indianapolis News article. Born in Manchester, England, he worked for years in a small shack on Raymond Street near Bluff Road.
Marilyn Mayfield beams with pride when discussing her family and the joy that the white-enameled basket has brought them. New parents used to take it home with them for several months at a time before the family became scattered throughout the Midwest and the South.
The basket, which is in excellent shape and should hold up indefinitely, has been as far east as Columbus, Ohio, and as far west as Missouri, but it has never been shipped. Sometimes it was delivered by a family member, who could be mistaken for an extremely cautious courier on business.
Made of willow, the 24-by-40-inch white bassinet is virtually maintenance-free, although it has been painted several times and a few parts have been reglued. Collins made the stand and wheels several years after making the basket.
He cultivated his willow, which was rarely grown in Indiana, by the banks of the White River, which was near his shop. He harvested his crop in February and soaked it in water before drying it. He then drug it along the ground to remove the bark.
To make his material even finer, he used a razor blade to peel it.
“It’s so neat that the heritage and talents of my great-grandfather are right here in this basket,” said Mayfield, who added that everyone in her family is so proud of the basket.
If the bassinet had a voice, it would probably sing “Rock-a-bye Baby” in a soft chorus 50 times, soon to be 52.