Jim Bassler was introduced to textile traditions at an early age through the rug-hooking that his father did in the winter. After high school he settled on studying sociology at UCLA (instead of art, his true passion), however the Korean Conflict interrupted his academic plans. Bassler served in Europe and then worked as a civilian in London.
At 27, Bassler left his job and boarded a cargo ship for Hong Kong. The journey took him through many Eastern and Southeast Asian countries, allowing him to witness how the indigenous people used craft to solve problems and define culture. On these travels he was exposed to spinning, weaving, dyeing, and surface design. In 1960, he returned to UCLA as an Art major, where his early works reflected what he had experienced in his travels. Those experiences and those from other travels continue to inspire him. His complex weaving work also draws inspiration from Navajo, pre-Columbian Andean, and Mexican textile traditions. Bassler moved with his wife, ceramicist Veralee Bassler, and children, to live full-time in Oaxaca, Mexico from 1971 until 1975. This experience provided a direct introduction to the weaving traditions of the indigenous people that greatly influenced his work.
Bassler received his BA and MA from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he taught for 25 years at the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture. He also helped to establish the fiber/textile program at the Appalachian Center for Crafts in Smithville, Tennessee and has taught at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, and the Penland School of Crafts. He has been recognized as a Gold Medalist by the American Craft Council.