Friend to the Native americans
Irma Bailey believes in the power of turquoise. Rightfully so, because the 88-year-old woman who collects and adorns herself with Native American jewelry still travels the country in her 38-foot motor home selling and showing off her rare pieces.”The Indians believe that turquoise has a lot of power. It’s a real happy stone, and it’s a good luck stone,” Bailey said. “I’m 88 years old and still able to do a lot of things I want to do and travel and show these beautiful things. Yeah, I think that’s pretty lucky.”Bailey has been collecting and selling Native American jewelry and art for over 50 years. Her reputation for only accepting the best authentic work precedes her. She no longer hunts out the art, but Indians stop by her home in New Mexico at random to offer up their jewelry, baskets or rugs.
“The fact that they can create such wonderful designs with such primitive tools, well, it’s just fascinating,” Bailey said. “Some of the silver smiths I’ve had in the past made such beautiful things that you would swear it was machine made. It would be so perfect.”Bailey has been dealing with the same Native American families for 30 to 40 years. The children grow and continue to bring Bailey their crafts. Through the years, she has learned a lot about the Native American people and their tribes.”They’re very kind, gentle people. They have an appreciation of life and things in it. They make the most of the tools they have, and somehow they’re able to create designs where maybe we don’t see design, but we can appreciate what they have done with it,” Bailey said. “And that has been the thing I am most interested in. I take it to places that really don’t have a chance to see the people at work.”
Vail Symposium has invited Bailey back Thursday and Friday for a show and sale at the home of Kissy Russell in Singletree. Her collection includes award winning Zuni, Hopi and Navajo silver and turquoise jewelry, finely crafted pottery, baskets, beadwork and Navajo rugs. A portion of the sales benefit the Vail Symposium.Each piece carries with it a story. Bailey can tell you how it was made, who made it and how they brought it to her. She can identify where the turquoise was found by the color. “It becomes a very real thing, each piece of it does,” Bailey said.
One of her favorite artists is the late Joe H. Quintana. Bailey will be hosting a Quintana exhibit at a museum in Santa Fe in October. Quintana used to make handcrafted silver champagne goblets. “One day Joe was pounding away at his work bench. And when he was all finished, he brings me a little silver chalice that was about 2 to 3 inches tall. And it was the exact replica of the silver champagne goblets that he’d been making,” Bailey said.The miniature chalice was for Bailey’s Dr. Pepper-drinking Chihuahua. Quintana strung a chain through the chalice, so when Bailey’s small pup wasn’t sipping Dr. Pepper out of it, she could wear the cup around her neck.For more information on the Vail Symposium show, call 476-0954.