Alice Bailey: For the Love of Mosaics

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by Debbie Stone


Alice Bailey freely admits she’s a “mosaic addict.” The Santa Fe woman first discovered the art when she and her husband tiled their guest bathroom. “I found I really liked gluing stuff to the wall,” she says. “And my fascination just took off from there.”

Mosaics became Bailey’s passion and over the years, she has adorned different walls and spaces at her custom-built New Mexico home, which is appropriately named, “Wonderland.”

Not one to start small, her first piece, titled, “Journey to Santa Fe,” is a large-scale work that takes up a two-story interior stairwell in her house. It’s a narrative detailing her road trip from Washington, D.C. to the Land of Enchantment.

While living in D.C., Bailey visited Santa Fe many times and became enamored with the place. Realizing she needed to heed the siren’s call to move there, she loaded up a truck, attached her jeep to the back, and headed west with her 95-pound dog. Along the way, she had numerous adventures and one particularly harrowing experience involving road construction, a narrow two-lane road, and a gorge somewhere in Oklahoma. She didn’t think her vehicles (and her) would make it. And neither did her dog, who jumped into her lap, as she steered terrified and white-knuckled through the area.

Bailey takes a few artistic liberties with the mosaic, depicting herself and her canine friend traveling by boat down a river. The rapids equate to the maelstrom she encountered in Oklahoma. And a chicken symbolizes her fear. But there are also scenes of New Mexico, including the apple orchards of Dixon, the Pecos Mountains, and even the motorcycles in Española.

After completing the project, Bailey turned her attention to the outside and for the past seventeen years, she’s been covering the exterior walls, courtyards, and benches of her home with brilliantly colored mosaics – seventeen to be exact, with an eighteenth currently in progress. She uses an assortment of materials comprised of found objects, cast-off ceramics from other artists, and a hodgepodge of items that people give her.

I was entranced with Bailey’s work, from “Central Sun Symphony,” an artful display of squiggly, parenthetical shapes, which I am told are violins emitting sound waves, drawn forth from an orb, to “Peace Angel,” with its wings of blue and white porcelain. The latter involves the use of broken mosaic pieces printed with stories about war and peace that come from Santa Fe-based artist, Christy Hengst. “Christy calls them ‘peace doves,’ comments Bailey. “I decided to give the birds some wings and let them fly.”

The front courtyard is a magical space, centered by a fountain and surrounded by multi-hued flowers and fruit trees. Another of Bailey’s passions is gardening, which makes sense, considering her love of color, shape, and texture. Between the plants and the mosaics, it’s a veritable feast for the senses.

A nearby banco invites one to sit amongst a sea of cobalt. Across the way is “Alchemy,” with its amoebic-shaped pieces emanating from an image of the Green Man, a legendary being symbolizing rebirth. As I stand there, I feel the work’s transformative sense, but it’s not just coming from this piece, but also from the almost otherworldly realm Bailey has created.

As we ascend an outside staircase, the feeling intensifies. We are heading up to the Alice in Wonderland deck, where there are eight mosaics based on Lewis Carroll’s famed book. I don’t miss the fact that Bailey’s first name is Alice. “I’ve always loved the story,” she explains. “This young girl enters a fantasy world where she meets all these strange creatures and odd things happen to her.”

I see “Alice Going Down the Rabbit Hole,” a blond-haired doll figure with a blue dress, who’s perched inside a nicho or recessed area. Above her are the words, “curioser and curioser.” There’s also “The White Rabbit” with his clock and “The Hookah-Smoking Caterpillar,” who slithers down a wall, with a real hookah and all.  “The Red Queen,” flames bursting from her shoulders and arms, is positioned on a bench next to a chess set, spouting the words, “off with her head.” The details are incredible, as Bailey points out the tiny hedgehogs underneath the bench.

Posed regally on another bench is the enigmatically-smiling “Cheshire Cat.”  And of course, “The Mad Hatter” is present, along with his array of teacups, including one used for the bottom half of his body. The pink high-heeled pumps are a fun touch. A second nicho contains a goblet-like form with a tag saying, “Drink Me.” If you recall, Alice enters a door in a tree and swallows a potion that makes her shrink in size so she can go into the garden. I remark to Bailey that I think the author himself would be wowed by her creations.

We step through doors, up and downstairs, until I really do feel like Alice. Bailey stops at “Cactus Garden” and I’m smitten with this southwestern Garden of Eden. Spindly succulents and flowers climb out of a real flowerpot and serpentine shapes slither along the ground. All we need now is the forbidden fruit, perhaps a chili pepper instead of an apple.

On the back portal, where we sit for a while, is “Muñequita,” (Spanish for baby doll), a mermaid that Bailey made for her husband, Ricardo Sanchez. She says, “He really likes mermaids.” A larger-than-life sea maiden rises from an outdoor kiva, sporting orange, fish-tailed locks flowing from her head. She swims in an undersea kingdom of unidentified marine matter. It’s a thing of beauty. It’s here that I ask Bailey more in-depth questions, not merely because we are seated, but because I’m able to focus now that I’m not fixated on the wild, glittering splendor of the mosaics. I have to admit they tend to overwhelm and stimulate my senses to an insane degree!

Bailey tells me of her background as a fashion designer. “I started with textiles, which is where my creativity initially emerged,” she explains. “My mom actually taught me to sew when I was eleven and I really took to it. I designed costumes, wedding gowns, wall hangings, and then had a silk scarf business for a while.” She then remarks that while living in D.C., she also did food display. “I put together the food buffets, their aesthetic design, for President Ronald Reagan’s inaugural ball,” she adds.

Eventually, Bailey transitioned to jewelry, which she continues to make today. On display in a showroom in her house are dozens and dozens of eye-popping necklaces, bracelets, and earrings.  She sells them to galleries, as well as online through her website.

Her working space is attached to the showroom. This is also where Bailey crafts her one-of-a-kind 3-D, mosaic sculptures. “I’ve been doing the sculptures for about four years now,” she says. “I turned to sculptures for several pragmatic reasons. I wanted to be able to do mosaics year-round and not have to stop during the winter like I have to do with my outdoor work. Another reason is that I wanted to sell my mosaics. I don’t do commissioned mosaic pieces like what you see outside. Those are just for me.” For Bailey, the sculptures are most importantly a way to share her art, with the hopes they bring joy and inspiration to others.

The sculptures are prominent throughout her home. They rest alluringly on tabletops, desks, kitchen counters, and other surfaces. Many are on turntables so you can examine them from several perspectives and angles. “Frequency,” for example has attributes of an energy wave; whereas, “Crystal Lagoon,” appears as one giant clamshell. A trio of pieces, “Ocean of Dreams,” “Twist of Fate,” and “Seagrass,” sits in the upstairs office, each displaying qualities of their descriptive monikers. One of my favorites is “Carnival of Circumstance,” which reminded me of the crazy hats that court jesters wore. Another, “Rock and Roll,” moves back and forth like a seesaw and begs to be manipulated. And I really liked, “Window to Another World,” which I feel could be a title for Bailey’s total oeuvre.

Bailey told me that the sculptures name themselves. “The names just come to me,” she says. “Just like the work.” She continues, “I am divinely guided. The shapes speak to me and direct me. It’s very hands-on and very intuitive. I liken it to doing open-eyed meditation.” At somewhat of a loss to explain this, Bailey adds, “My whole being is gently flowing energy into my focus. And when it’s really flowing, I’m in a Zenlike state.”

The Santa Fe woman has never taken any art classes in her life. She learned everything she knows through experience, or as she puts it, “by the seat of my pants.”  For Bailey, each phase of the process is rewarding and fulfilling, though she admits there are challenges. The physical pain involved can be intense. With the largescale mosaics, she is often on scaffolds for months. Environmental factors can also be problematic, such as intense temps, too much sun, and annoying bugs.

The artist tries to devote each summer to a new project, though sometimes projects can take several summers to complete. After she finishes “Fire Box Banco,” which is her current work, she would like to mosaic the floor of her back portal to create a “mosaic rug.” Also, she’s interested in putting in giant mosaic circle pavers around the back garden, and a whole entry structure up by the front gate. “This house will always be a work in progress,” she says, “and that’s just fine with me.”

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Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries and to all seven continents.

About the Author:

Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, and regular contributor for Big Blend Radio and Big Blend Magazines

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