Irma Bailey

Wife of F M Bailey and Collector of Himalayan material

The Honourable Mrs I Bailey (1896-1988), was a no nonsense colonial officer's wife, who found herself in the 1921 monsoon season, travelling in her best dress and bonnet on a wooden hay-paddle up the side of a Sikkimese hill to her new home, the Residency at Gangtok. She arrived understanding neither Hindi nor Tibetan, and with only a Swiss maid for company, but this did not deter her from completely refurbishing the Residency or from developing a network of contacts, which included their highnesses the Maharaja Uygen and Maharaja Jigme Wangchuk, the first and second kings of Bhutan respectively, and several women from important Lhasa and Bhutanese families.

Colonel Bailey had already acquired a substantial collection of objects during the Younghusband expedition, but while there were several interesting textile pieces in that earlier collection, it is the arrival of Irma Bailey in Sikkim that brings about a clear change in the couple's collecting focus, reflected in the strong emphasis on textiles and design in the Liverpool collection. Her initial interest possibly stemmed from the refurbishment of the Residency, which she described at the time of her arrival as 'this miserable all looked bedraggled and frightful so I had to set to as soon as I possibly could'. Several paintings that are now in the Liverpool collection have been glazed and framed and appear to have been displayed in a domestic setting.

Irma Bailey also took a great interest in the patterns and designs used by Himalayan craftsmen. She spent time with weavers and painters, explicitly asking for details of how pieces were made and designed, she made her tracings and requested designs and colour swatches, which today constitute a rare archive. How she went about obtaining and collating this information is as yet unclear. One small note attached to a card in the archives is all we have to tell us that she collected the material in this way; but she was obviously thorough in her collecting, and recording everything from border patterns for thangkas to designs for carpets. Written by Emma Martin.
  • Gender
  • Relationship
    Artist/maker, Collector, Relative
  • Nationality
  • Born
  • Place of birth
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Died
  • Place of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
  • Cause of death
    Unknown or unrecorded
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