Thursday, January 12, 2012

The End of an Era ... Irma Bailey

Who would have ever guessed back in 1981 when a humongous motor home with plates from New Mexico squeezed down Divinity Ave. in Cambridge, Massachusetts and somehow, miraculously, found a parking space, that lives would be changed?
At the helm, a mountain of a man, a gigantic personality with an intellect to match, chain smoking cigarettes and deftly summing up all the individuals who crossed his path with precision.
Beside him, in the passenger seat was his sweetly smiling, petite wife of many years.
They appeared out of nowhere, no appointment was on the docket and I, as the new buyer for the Peabody Museum Shop at Harvard, was soon invited by soft spoken Irma Bailey, wearing her weight in precious Native American turquoise and silver jewelry, to come outside and “take a look”. Her blue eyes twinkled as I was encouraged to open drawer after drawer of stunning coral, turquoise, and silver necklaces, belts etc. It was like entering a vault of incredibly beautiful treasure.
Thus began three decades of friendship and mentorship. Wayne Bailey had lived and worked closely with over 30 Native American tribes, respecting each and respected by all in return. He was incredibly knowledgeable about tribal traditions and soon was sharing information with anthropologists at the Peabody. Ten years later Wayne had a heart attack while on the road in Massachusetts ironically enroute to see my partner and I.
Who would have imagined in less than a year Irma would secure a driver and get back out on the road she loved, to create special fund raising events and exhibitions at museums all over the country. She had over two dozen shows at Harvard and was loved dearly by staff and all who met her. She blossomed in her seventies, encouraging everyone she met to do what they loved. Despite failing eyesight and physical problems due to her age, her mind was sharp, her spirit indefatigable and her sense of humor irresistible.
While entertaining friends in Albuquerque on January 5, 2012 Irma had a massive stroke and surrounded by loving friends she left us on January 9th. She wished no fanfare, just a graceful exit.
Her spirit is now free of the shackles of old age and she lives forever in the hearts of legions of admirers and close friends. She has also proven to be an inspiration as she set the bar high...
May we all aspire to be as open-minded and open-hearted as this remarkable woman, who changed the world of all who knew her by simply being herself.
Well done, Irma! Yours was a long life, well-lived…
Thank you for graciously sharing it with all of us! May we follow in your footsteps!

Photo by Jose Falconi

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hats Off to the New Year!

It is a crisp, clear night, here in the hills.
A fresh layer of snow covers the now frozen ground and softly reflects the waxing moon.
The fire cracks and pops in the woodstove from still damp wood, lately gathered in.
The holidays are behind us, a new year has been delivered and it is back to work.
My first project involves documenting a charming assortment of headdresses and hats from tribal peoples around the world.
Before me lay peaked caps with long trains sewn from black cotton and lavishly embroidered in red, gold and green silk floss. Satin stitch and petit-point create the Tree of Life, solar wheels and stylized ram’s horns, all vitality symbols, all charms for the new life that will wear them.
These handsome headdresses are made by mothers in Kohistan, N. Pakistan. The long train protects their newborns from the chill winds and the symbols welcome them to this world with hopes for a strong and vital life-force. Supplementing the embroidered designs are old coins, tiny white seed beads, metal circular charms and shiny buttons to deflect misfortune and attract wealth and prosperity.
I marvel at the creativity and skill of their makers and think of the love that went into each stitch and collected ornament of this traditional tribal culture now living in the 21st Century.
New life, new beginnings, New Year…
May their world and ours be blessed in all the days to come.