By Michelle Love
Photos by Blair Ramsey
Tonia Davis-Evans, owner and creator of Bailey Pearl Designs, has a big to-do list coming up. She has several festivals planned for spring 2024, and she is planning on applying to Panoply—one of the largest art festivals in Huntsville.
Tonia is no stranger to art festivals. Art enthusiasts undoubtedly have seen her at local art events, selling her handcrafted stone and gem-based jewelry, always with a smile on her face and offering a friendly “hello.”
Tonia says she has always loved making jewelry ever since she was a child.
“My great-grandmother, she was a Native American jewelry artist,” Tonia says. “I think I was like 6 years old when I made my first necklace. I still have that necklace, and it was so simple. She taught me how to make beads from recycled paper, but just to think that I could create something from nothing and to create something that was, in my eyes, gorgeous, just ignited a fire in my soul.”
Tonia’s love for jewelry continued as she got older, though she put her creativity on the backburner as she pursued what she calls more “grown up” goals. She went to Auburn University and got a degree in biology then got married and had children.
“I’m an anxious person, and I had a lot of anxiety about making money, so that’s why I went into ophthalmology,” she says. “Artists that are really good make a lot of money, but it isn’t always guaranteed, so I went with a career where that was guaranteed.”
While working in ophthalmology, Tonia says she was never truly happy. Her soul missed creating, and she knew she had to make a change.
She started creating art for herself in her spare time from working and being a housewife. That was 17 years ago.
She had no intention of selling her art—it was purely a form of self-care. Over the years, Tonia had accumulated an impressive collection of her own handmade jewelry.
Then came a tragedy no parent is prepared for. The Evans’s daughter, Bailey Pearl, passed away from a brain tumor.
After losing her child, Tonia says she felt a calling to help other parents of medically fragile children. It was then that she realized she could sell her collection of handmade jewelry to help make a difference in people’s lives; thus, Bailey Pearl Designs was born.
“I wanted everyone to know Bailey Pearl’s name,” Tonia says. “She brought joy to everyone on the planet and everyone who saw her. I just wanted to honor her and spread a little bit of the joy she brought to others by helping other families.”
Tonia received her LLC for her business in 2017, but it was a rocky road getting Bailey Pearl officially launched. She was planning on launching Bailey Pearl Designs in January 2020, but then Tonia suffered a debilitating car accident followed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was seeing a friend experiencing a similar pain to her own that made Tonia take the first lunge in August 2020.
“A former classmate of mine had a son, who was born at 26 weeks, and he spent over 900 days in the hospital,” Tonia says. “She was also furloughed during the pandemic, and with all of her son’s medical issues, she desperately needed money. I just launched [the business] on Facebook. We weren’t totally ready yet, but it just felt right to do it then.”
While Tonia started a website, it was showing her work at local art festivals that started getting the word out about Bailey Pearl Designs. The festivals, she says, can be physically taxing, but it’s worth it to raise awareness about her mission.
“I’m a Christian, so any bright ideas or inspiration I have I credit to God,” Tonia says. “All of my talent is a blessing from God. I totally believe that God guided me to start doing these festivals. It’s so out of my comfort zone, but I started doing the festivals because I felt I could reach more people and tell [my daughter’s] story.”
Tonia’s jewelry style ranges from boho chic to stylish elegance all the way to homages of the Native American jewelry her great-grandmother taught her to make. Her necklaces and bracelets highlight the natural colors of various beads and stones, some muted and some more vibrant.
“I create what I like to wear, so I really never thought anyone would be interested in it when I got started, but to have such a great reception has been so great,” Tonia says.
Various things inspire Tonia’s work, from her dreams to natural stones she finds in nature. To her, there is beauty in even the most unlikely places.
Tonia uses Bailey Pearl’s birthstone, an aquamarine, frequently in her work, and she also loves using mother of pearl stones for obvious reasons. One of her more popular pieces is jewelry made from buffalo horns—such that she only uses to honor the buffalo and because the horns are ethically and humanely sourced.
“Sometimes, I dream about shapes, and I’ll see it in my dream and want to recreate that,” Tonia says. “When I see a raw stone and the different color variations, all of that will inspire me, and I’ll work about that. I can see one gemstone, and I’ll see a full necklace.”
As a Christian, Tonia says she feels God through everything she creates, and spirituality is always present in her work.
“There is absolutely spirituality connected to all of my pieces,” she says. “I give glory to God. Everything I make, all of my talent all comes from Him. Everything is spiritually based because I don’t think I, alone, am capable of doing this by myself. Everything I do is spiritually based because He has guided me to do this.”
To view Bailey Pearl Designs jewelry or to see where Tonia will be showing next, visit her Instagram page @baileypearldesigns.
A Little Prayer
Before every festival or art show, Tonia says a prayer. It’s not a prayer to sell a lot of jewelry or make a lot of money, it’s a special prayer she feels happy to share.
“This is my prayer before I have an event: I want to be a light for God,” she says. “Every show I have, there’s somebody who just needs somebody to talk to or to pray for them. I know it’s not random—it’s God. I think that’s what God is doing through my jewelry and my art.”