Today our dear friend Irma Bailey passed away. She would have been 95 in March. According to her wishes, there will be no funeral and no memorial service. That is a hard one. Her friends around the USA and among the Pueblo and Navajo communities will miss the opportunity to gather one last time and celebrate. Her favorite song was “On the Road Again,” and now her spirit is traveling free.
Irma was born and raised on a homestead/ranch near Clovis, NM. She met her husband, Wayne, while they were both students at New Mexico Highlands in Las Vegas, NM, where Irma went on a music scholarship. They worked together as traders of Indian arts – pottery, weaving, silver, kachinas – and she knew more about these beautiful things, and the artists who made them, than anyone. Irma and Wayne would load up their motor home and bring their wares to museums and collectors around the country. I was fortunate to meet Irma when she was 77 years old and starting a new chapter in her life. After Wayne passed on, she tried “retiring,” but sitting home and taking it easy was not her way. After two months of that, she got herself a new rig, a new driver, and went into business for herself, dealing only in “the best of the best.”
She became incredibly successful. The phone rang constantly at her house, and people came from Dayton, Boston, Atlanta, El Paso, Minneapolis, everywhere, really, to do business and to sit in her magic circle of warmth and generosity. If there was such a thing as a sexy 85 year-old, that was her – bright red hair, sparkling blue eyes, unstoppable sense of humor. And she still shopped at Victoria’s Secret. A yellow T-Bird with the license plate “IMATOY” sat in her driveway.
I shared dozens of cups of coffee with her at her kitchen table, where you never knew who would turn up; and went on the road with her and saw how an “old time” trader worked. When we visited a Potowotome village across the Canadian border, she purchased all the baskets, with the result that the villagers would make more. I attended a couple of the shows she did at Harvard, and I assisted her with presentations at University of New Mexico. We went to Chimayo to buy chile and eat at El Rancho de Chimayo. Christmas Eve at her Albuquerque home, with red chile, tamales from Santo Domingo, beans and posole was the highlight of the year, and people flew in from everywhere to experience it. On any day, you could meet a medicine man and a museum curator in her living room.
Irma serves up a breakfast with her red-eye gravy.
Here is just a bit of Irma’s wisdom:
*”Wear it all”
*You can’t do it part-time”
“I can still get up earlier, stay up later, and work anyone under the table”
“You can’t keep a good woman down.”
Irma Bailey and Kokopelli
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