By Gina Malone
Marilyn Bailey might have guessed that she would not escape destiny: her mother’s family were all painters and her father was a metallurgical engineer. “My plan was law school,” she says, “until I took my first art class in high school. That was it; I was hooked.”
She grew up in Michigan, focusing on metal sculpture for her undergraduate degree in art education. “As a graduate student at Cranbrook Academy of Art, located in Bloomfield, MI, I honed my skills in hammering techniques and design,” she says. “It was there that I expanded my understanding of the physical and molecular structure of precious metals. The physics of hammering a flat sheet of metal into a three-dimensional form is still magical for me.” She credits her father for daring her to take metallurgy classes in college. “This came to be handy when I was asked to teach a class in metallurgy at Blue Ridge Community College,” Bailey says.
Her MFA thesis focused on the study of traditional reliquaries and she created seven contemporary works. “My reliquaries are raised silver holloware vessels with a meaningful object under a magnifying lens,” she says. “For me, these objects represented a spiritual feeling or emotion.” Several of them are now in private collections.
Her plans to become a university professor of metalsmithing did not pan out, she says, because there were no significant openings in what was then a male-dominated field. “I was offered an opportunity to introduce a gallery of holloware created by graduates of the MFA program at Cranbrook,” she says. “This was to be coupled with an active metalsmithing studio.” It was located on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. “I met my husband Richard Colgan the very first week I was on the island,” she adds. “He continues to be my biggest supporter, and we have been together almost 49 years.”
In 1976, the couple moved to Hendersonville, where Bailey began creating jewelry. “With that unique skillset brought about from years of raising metal sculpture, I have been able to immerse myself in bringing those techniques to my jewelry,” she says. “I work in gold and silver and every piece is created under a hammer on an anvil. The principal technique utilized in the creation of my work is called anticlastic. This means turning the metal in two different directions on the same axis.”
Bailey describes herself as a minimalist, using techniques handed down for thousands of years. “Jewelry with clean, purposeful lines is what I strive to achieve with each piece,” she says. “My pieces are three-dimensional creations that are strong, lightweight, wearable and catch the light in sweeping angles. My work accentuates the natural curves of that part of the anatomy where they are worn.”
The perfect lines of nature—whether in seed pods, unfolding flowers or ocean-worn seashells—offer inspiration. “I see a design first in my mind, then on to paper, leaving me open to what might happen as I proceed,” she says.
Among the regional galleries representing her work is The Lucy Clark Gallery & Studio, in Brevard. “Marilyn’s work is refined, elegant and timeless,” says owner Lucy Clark. “Her pieces are those that find a special place in the lifetime collection of a jewelry lover.”
Through the years, Bailey’s work has been shown in 80 galleries across the US, Canada and Australia. National exhibitions of her holloware designs include the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, now the Museum of Arts and Design, in New York City.
Four entries in the Saul Bell Design Award Competition have earned her first places in silver jewelry design and in the bead division, and spots in the top five in the category of holloware the other two years.
“I have worked at my craft for 50 years,” Bailey says. “I love what I do. I love the adage, ‘If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life.’ That’s me!”
To learn more, find ME Bailey Designs on Facebook and Instagram. Marilyn Bailey’s work may be found regionally at Grovewood Gallery, in Asheville, and at The Lucy Clark Gallery & Studio, in Brevard. On Saturday, December 10, she will be at Grovewood Gallery demonstrating her hammering techniques.