A visit from Lucy Simpson always starts with a phone call from her daughter, Isabel. If someone else answers the phone at the gallery, she always asks for me and says that it is "Isabel, calling for Lucy Simpson." When I pick up the phone she always says, "This is Isabel, Lucy Simpson's daughter and she wants to know if you are buying rugs."
After about ten years of these calls, I know who Isabel is, so I usually respond with some smart comment like, "Isabel who?" or "You're not really Lucy Simpson's daughter," or some equally inane remark. Then we both have a good laugh and talk about her mom's rug.
Lucy Simpson is in her late 70's and has been weaving since she was 14. She was born in the Burnham Chapter area, across Route 491 (formerly Hwy 666) from the Two Grey Hills area. She now lives in Fruitland, New Mexico, west of Farmington.
This last trip we were able to spend some time talking about her background. Lucy doesn't speak English at all, so Isabel, who works at an office job in Farmington, has to translate. I asked how Lucy ended up living in Fruitland and she said that her mother married a man from there. Usually, the man will move to the woman's home area, so I asked how come she was the one that moved. "It was one of those arranged marriages," Isabel said. "That was part of the deal."
At this time on the reservation, arranged marriages were common. She had never met her husband-to-be before the deal was made.I asked if Lucy had gone to boarding school and Isabel translated that her grandmother felt school was a waste of time and that Lucy should spend the time learning to weave so that she could support herself.
Isabel, not surprisingly, does not weave and was an excellent student.
Lucy normally weaves nice Two Grey Hills style weavings of hand spun, natural colored wool. She is an excellent weaver and the natural texture of her wool adds a special dimension to her work. It is not at all like the smooth, commercial yarn weavings so often seen today. About ten years ago, she made a really nice large piece, about 4 feet by 6 feet. It took her a long time and was the last large weaving she made. At the time I asked Isabel if Lucy had ever had a rug entered at the Gallup Ceremonial. Lucy said she had not. At that time traders or dealers entered most of the pieces because a weaver couldn't finish a rug and keep it until Ceremonial, in order to enter it. They needed, and still do need, the cash flow.
I decided to take the weaving to Gallup as it was so unique. The night the show opened, I went to Gallup and was pleased to see the First Place Blue Ribbon on Lucy's rug. When we got the rug back after the show, I waited for Isabel's next call. She, or course, wanted to know if we were buying rugs and I told her to bring Lucy up. Then we took the First Place weaving and put it on wall facing the gallery entrance along with the ribbon. When Lucy walked in the next morning, she didn't notice it at first. I stayed up in my office, which overlooks the gallery, and watched Isabel and her mom wander around the gallery, looking at different things. When she was right in front of the weaving, Lucy stopped and looked at the rug, then pointed at the ribbon hanging from it and looked at her daughter with tears in her eyes. Isabel had a few too! This was one of those days I'll always remember!
Lucy Simpson is a quiet and unassuming person, but the pride that she had in winning that Blue Ribbon, especially when she didn't even know it was entered, was impossible to hide. So, Lucy got the check for winning First Place and a duplicate ribbon. The weaving was later sold to a collector who loves it as much as Lucy loved making it. It was a perfect storm. I'd never seen Lucy weave anything but a Two Grey Hills style piece. This week, she brought up a beautiful Ganado/Klagatoh style weaving. When I asked Isabel why she had decided to make something so different, she said, "Mom was just bored and wanted to try something else."