Margaret E. Kilgore
Margaret Ellen Kilgore, 90, surrounded by her loving family, went to be with the Lord on October 8th, 2019. Margaret was born to Harold and Neta Whitten on December 19th, 1928 in Tempe, Arizona. Margaret's grandparents, Levi and Beulah Whitten, who she dearly loved, had arrived in Arizona in the early 1900's to the Chandler area. She loved the desert and spoke with great affection about the history of Arizona, and the stories of her family, as they settled in southern Arizona; ranching, and farming, as copper miners and running businesses. To this day her extended family of the fourth, fifth and sixth generations of Arizonans remain spread throughout the state.
In 1948, her future husband, Leonard Kilgore, rode into town from southern California on his Indian motorcycle to buy a business when he spotted the 19-year-old Margaret and instantly fell in love with the fiery, auburn haired, blue eyed beauty. They were soon married after a whirlwind 3-week romance, and before long had five children, adopted another and ultimately celebrated 67 years of marriage. Their lives were filled with children, church and business ventures that took them all over Arizona, including Sedona, the Navajo Reservation, the Blue River in eastern Arizona, Scottsdale, and finally to Payson, Arizona.
Margaret had already been buying and selling Native Art at whatever venue she could find since buying her first Tohono O'odham basket when she was a child so it was a natural transition for her to open the Vagabond House, a gift shop and gallery, in Sedona in the late 50's. Sedona at the time was part cowboy, part western movie set, part settler, part tourist destination, but most of all an art colony. It was inhabited by painters, writers, photographers, and sculptors that gathered around the Sedona Art Barn. She became acquainted with artists such as Max Ernst, the German surrealist painter, who procured Hopi kachinas from her for his renowned collection of primitive art; and his companion poet and painter, Dorothea Tanning. Max's son, Hans-Ulrich Ernst, known as Jimmy, and his wife, Dallas, were also part of the illustrious art colony residing in Sedona at the time. Hopi Indian painter and jeweler Charles Loloma, (who would remain a live long friend), and Hopi Chief "White Bear" Fredericks, writer and cultural historian were in and out of her Sedona gallery. Early Sedona resident Helen Frye, wife of TWA founder Jack Frye, and an arts patron, became one of her collectors and friend. Sedona introduced her to the international collector of American Indian Art and to masters of the Native art that she had grown to love and appreciate.
When Margaret and Leonard purchased a trading post on the remote Navajo Reservation, and when many Navajos were still coming into town by horse and wagon, Margaret put her talents to best use as she worked creatively with Navajo weavers, Native American jewelers, Hopi carvers, Pueblo potters, and Paiute and Hopi basket makers to provide opportunities for them to market their art. Entering some of the most intricate and finely woven Navajo tapestries into annual competitions at the Northern Arizona Museum, Margaret would proudly display them covered with Blue Ribbons on the Trading Post wall for all to see. She was dedicated to educating travelers from around the world by introducing them to the incredible art of Southwestern Native American artists and promoting the value of their work. Young and upcoming artists such as Ric Charlie and Baje Whitethorne were bringing in their artwork for her to purchase when they were just teenagers, and she encouraged them to pursue their life's passion. Collectors would return year after to year for their annual pilgrimage to see Margaret and whatever new "find" she had just acquired. Many of these same collectors have since conveyed to the family how she was singularly responsible for their lifelong passion for collecting Indian Art.
Margaret and Leonard often flew from Sedona to the Reservation, weather permitting, (often chasing the sheep off the runway before landing), before there were even phone lines, but meeting every day of this fascinating life with humor and hard work. She even learned to fly herself, and soloed, in case she ever needed to land the plane in an emergency.
Ultimately, she opened up the Margaret Kilgore Gallery in Scottsdale with many artists following her there from the Reservation to continue their working relationship. Though a completely different environment, she introduced the seasoned Indian artist, as well as young artists, to an even larger group of collectors and those newly acquainted with American Indian art. Native American artists, such as award-winning Navajo/Hopi jeweler Jesse Monongye, famed Navajo weaver Barbara Jean Teller Ornelas, Navajo jewelers Boyd and Richard Tsosie, Hopi/French jeweler Charles Supplee, Jemez potter Rose Pecos-Sun Rhodes and so many others that graced her gallery with their contemporary and traditional art. She also began procuring large collections of historic and prehistoric Native American Art which broadened her base of knowledge and love of the indigenous culture.
While in Scottsdale, Margaret accepted the invitation to be on the Arizona Governor's Archaeological Advisory Commission to further preserve prehistoric native culture. She spoke frequently at conferences around the valley, sharing her perspective of Indian culture, art, and the history of Native American cultures. For most of those listening this was an entirely new area of interest to them and one they probably would never have been introduced to without Margaret and her engaging way of making the Indian culture become alive to them.
At their Blue River Ranch near Alpine, she loved to cook, can, and freeze their garden vegetables and was a wonderful hostess; having many family gatherings there over the years. Weddings, summer vacations, horseback riding, hiking and target shooting were part of so many childhood memories for the grandchildren that they are impossible to mention here. Her legendary wit, amazing intuition in business, fierce passion for romance, her sense of humor, one-liners and her facial expressions will continue in all of our minds and hearts for generations.
She is preceded in death by her loving husband, Leonard; her brothers, Harold and Richard Whitten, sister, Winifred Henry and grandson, Joshua. She is survived by her six children; Linda Kilgore Bernard (Nick), of Paradise Valley; Ernest Kilgore, Gila Bend; Becky Sopeland (Mark), of Payson; Marquetta MacLean (Doug) of Surprise; Kelly Chilcott (Bruce) of Mancos, Colorado, and Nathan Kilgore (Mary) of Page. Margaret and Leonard had 18 grandchildren, 22 great grandchildren, and one great, great granddaughter. A memorial service will be held on October 19th, 2019, 11 AM, at Expedition Church, 301 S. Colcord, Payson, Arizona. Donations in lieu of flowers would be graciously received at the Living Hope Center, a pregnancy crisis center, 1901 E. Deuce of Clubs, Show Low, AZ, 85901.
The family also wishes to thank Rita Jones, her devoted granddaughter, and Mary Manygoats Maloney, of Tuba City, as well as all the staff at Ordinary Lifestyles in Payson and Dr. Judith Hunt for their loving care of Margaret during the past few years.
Published in The Arizona Republic from Oct. 15 to Oct. 17, 2019.