SARAH BAILEY

Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 9: Biography – Staff/Personnel
Series 22: Students

Sarah Bailey
PMSS Student; Worker 1940s; Community Craftsperson


TAGS: Sarah Bailey ; Sarah Ellen Napier ;  Harlan County, KY ; PMSS Notes ; spinning ; weaving ; cornhusk dolls ; cornhusk flowers ; mountain crafts ; Katherine Pettit ; Alice Cobb ; ginseng ; Mary Rogers ; Milly Mahoney ; crafts fairs ; Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen ; vegetable dyes ; Kentucky Weaver’s Guild ; Community Action ; Save the Children ; Ben F. Napier ; Malissa Curry Napier ; herb doctors ; sheep ; gardening ;


Sarah Napier Bailey. [nace_II_album_009.jpg]

“The stout little woman with her hair tied in a bun on top of her head and who seems always to smile is Sarah Bailey….” This description appeared in the spring 1985 issue of Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. And it is how most people who worked with and learned from Mrs. Bailey remember her. But even more so, they remember her deft fingers as she demonstrated how to shear, card, dye, and spin sheep’s wool or how to make flowers and dolls from corn shucks.

SARAH BAILEY: Her Life as a Craftsperson

Sarah was born and lived all of her life in Harlan County, Kentucky, not far from the Pine Mountain Settlement School. As a child, Sarah often watched her mother at the spinning wheel and loom, all the while learning the process and loving the art of converting wool into yarn, then yarn into clothing. 

When her mother became ill, Sarah had to leave school at an early age to help care for her seven siblings. While still a young girl, she made a cornhusk rug dyed in natural colors and sold it to Katherine Pettit, then PMSS’s co-director, who delighted in it. Seeing the beauty in Sarah’s handiwork, Alice Cobb, a PMSS teacher, encouraged Sarah to create cornhusk dolls. Sarah made 40 dolls and sold them for a dollar each. Such income was a boon at a time when money was scarce. She went on to develop skills in making cornhusk flowers, weaving hickory bark for the backs and bottoms of chairs, constructing brooms, and knitting garments, all self-taught.

Sarah did what she could to help her family, not only by selling her crafts, carrying them to buyers on the back of a mule, but also by earning money from selling ginseng, a medicinal herb, and washing and sewing clothes for others. These early traits of self-reliance and initiative formed her as a person who believed in the value of working with one’s own hands to take care of oneself.

Sarah Bailey was a PMSS student and later a worker in the 1940s, but she was, during all her life, a well-known and beloved teacher in workshops and presentations for PMSS students and visitors. She was a good friend of Mary Rogers and Milly Mahoney, both longtime workers at the School. She also traveled Eastern Kentucky to exhibit her crafts and demonstrate spinning at community crafts shows, fairs, bees, and other venues. She became an honorary member of the prestigious Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen.

Items in Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School describe Sarah’s activities at the School, as in the November 1974 issue:

THE COMMUNITY. Old friends of the School would have especially enjoyed the Spinning Bee held last summer under the direction of Mrs. Sarah Bailey, neighbor and well known craftswoman. She and members of the Kentucky Weaver’s Guild led the 119 attendees through all the old time intricate processes of shearing the sheep, carding and spinning the wool into yarn, dyeing the yarn with vegetable dyes, and finally weaving the patterns. It was three days out of history!

In the April 1976 issue of NotesAlice Cobb, a former PMSS teacher, tells of returning to PMSS for a visit during a seminar in which a group of college students from nine different states came to learn about Appalachian culture. She writes this observation:

Sarah Bailey, who came to tell these college students from outside the area about spinning and weaving, and to demonstrate old mountain crafts, lives five miles from our school. In my time Sarah used to ride in at Christmastime on muleback with wreaths of holly hung on both sides of the mule. Today she teaches people all over Kentucky to spin and weave and work with corn shucks.

Sarah was particularly interested in providing women a means to help support their families by making and selling traditional handmade items. She often did so through programs such as those supported by Community Action and Save the Children. In the long run, she was assuring that mountain crafts would live on for future generations.

SARAH BAILEY: Her Family

Sarah Ellen Bailey was born on May 7, 1914, to Ben F. Napier (b. 1872), a farm laborer, and Malissa Jane (Curry) Napier (b. 1873). Sarah described her mother as a “great herb doctor” who was happiest when she was sitting at her spinning wheel.

According to the 1920 U.S. Census, Sarah, at five years old, was the youngest of eight children. Her brothers were Bradley (24), George (20), Floyd (17), Ada (15), Johney (9), Loyd (7). She had one sister, Lizebeath (12). At the time of the Census, the family was living in Jane, (Harlan County), Kentucky.

On July 13, 1935, Sarah married Frank Bailey. The couple built their own house on a small farm where they raised a variety of farm animals, including sheep which provided the wool for Sarah’s spinning, weaving and knitting. Sarah was known for her excellent cooking skills, using produce grown in her enormous garden. During WWII, Frank served as private first class in the U.S. Army.

Sarah and Frank had three children: Glen Bailey, Stella Bailey (Brock) and Esther Bailey (Cooper). 

Sarah Bailey died at age 78 at her home in Bledsoe, Kentucky, on August 18, 1992. She succumbed to a self-inflicted gunshot wound that her family attributed to possible Alzheimer’s disease. She is buried in Huff Cemetery, Pine Mountain, Kentucky. Frank died approximately six months later on February 7, 1993.

Although her life ended on a tragic note, she will always be remembered fondly for the beauty of her mountain crafts, her joy in creating those crafts and in teaching others.


See Also:

ALICE COBB STORIES “About Sarah Bailey” 1940

GUIDE TO VIDEO HOLDINGS – Sarah Bailey


SARAH BAILEY: Gallery


Title

Sarah Bailey

Alt. Title

Sarah Napier Bailey ; Sarah Ellen Napier ; Sarah E. Bailey ; Mrs. Frank Bailey ; Mrs. Bailey ;

Identifier

https://pinemountainsettlement.net/?page_id=15574

Creator

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Sarah Bailey ; Sarah Napier Bailey ; Sarah Ellen Napier ; Sarah E. Bailey ; Mrs. Frank Bailey ; Mrs. Bailey ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; PMSS Notes ; spinning ; weaving ; cornhusk dolls ; cornhusk flowers ; mountain crafts ; Katherine Pettit ; Alice Cobb ; ginseng ; Mary Rogers ; Milly Mahoney ; crafts fairs ; Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen ; vegetable dyes ; Kentucky Weaver’s Guild ; Community Action ; Save the Children ; Ben F. Napier ; Malissa Curry Napier ; herb doctors ; sheep ; gardening ; cooking ; 

Subject LCSH

Bailey, Sarah Napier, — 7 May 1914 – 18 August 1992.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History.
Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.
Folk art — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Women artists — United States — Biography.

Date

2014-11-03 hhw

Publisher

Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Contributor

n/a

Type

Collections ; text ; image ;

Format

Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet

Source

Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel & Students ; Series 19: Students ;

Language

English

Relation

Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Biography – Staff/Personnel & Students ; Series 19: Students.

Coverage Temporal

1914 – 1992

Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ; Bledsoe, KY ; Jane, KY :

Rights

Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Donor

n/a

Description

Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Sarah Bailey ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Sarah Bailey ;

Acquisition

n/d

Citation

“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2014-11-03 hhw ; 2015-08-17 aae ; 2017-06-30 aae ;

Bibliography

Sources

“Find A Grave Index,” database, FamilySearch  (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q23Y-KBLT : 7 June 2016), Sarah E. Bailey, 1992; Burial, Pine Mountain, Harlan, Kentucky, United States of America, Huff Cemetery; citing record ID 157739454, Find a Grave, http://www.findagrave.com.

“I think if you try to work with your hands, the Lord will help you.” The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky. October 26, 1974, p. A9. Archival resource.

“Kentucky Death Records, 1911-1962,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:NSF8-LBC : 20 October 2016), Mallisa Jane Curry in entry for Bradley Napier, 1948; citing Bledsoe, Harlan, Kentucky, United States, Office of Vital Statistics, Frankfort; FHL microfilm 2,117,015.

Obituary: “Mountain crafts artist Sarah Bailey dies at 78.” Lexington Herald-Leader, Lexington, Ky. August 20, 1992, p. B12. Archival resource.

PMSS Staff Directory, 1913-present. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“Sarah Bailey.” Notes from the Pine Mountain Settlement School, November 1974,  April 1976,  Spring 1985, Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Internet resource.

“United States Census, 1920,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MHL2-MD2 : accessed 29 June 2017), Sarah Napier in household of Ben Napier, Jane, Harlan, Kentucky, United States; citing ED 96, sheet 2A, line 34, family 20, NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992), roll 574; FHL microfilm 1,820,574. Internet resource.

Bibliography

Bailey, Sarah, Anne Lewis, Martin Newell, and Debbie Bays. “Sarah Bailey” (DVD Video), Whitesburg, KY: Appalshop, 2011. Archival resource.

Sarah Bailey, a remarkable folk artist from Harlan County, Kentucky, who”invented” dolls and flowers made from corn shucks, shows us her work and demonstrates her craft.

Bibliography Pine Mountain Settlement School. OCLC# 647222453, Berea College Appalachian Museum Oral History Collection. Estill Adkins; Sarah Bailey; Arthur Barker… Archival resource.

Guide to Video Holdings.9.) Sarah Bailey (8-5-87).” Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY. Archival resource.

Sarah Bailey discussed the craft programs at Pine Mountain and her personal interest and instruction of weaving, spinning, and dyeing wool for her textile art. She discussed her early childhood, the students she taught and the Pine Mountain Workers who taught her when she was a student at the School.

Royce, Craig E. Country Miles Are Longer Than City Miles. Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse, 2007. Print.

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