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Victor Simmons: Leader in the art world, humble servant
Bulloch County Black History Month 2017
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Victor Simmons

For Statesboro High School graduate Victor Simmons, art is more than a vocation. Much like Proverbes 23:7, "For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he," for Simmons it is all about art.

"I started drawing as a child," Simmons said. His mother, Dorothy Simmons, says that when other children were playing, Simmons was drawing, an activity that consumed his life.

An artist herself, Dorothy said his room was filled with drawings, dominating the space.

Education was important to Simmons as well, and he never missed a day of school from first grade through high school. He remembers fondly his time at Statesboro High, as well as Sally Ramsey, who told him he could be anything he wanted to be. He gives credit to his early art teachers, Mary Ann Olson and the late Ruby Dell Brock.
Because of their tutelage and encouragement, in 10th grade he participated in Governor's Honors, and one of his portraits hung in the state Legislature's office.

His track coaches were also a tremendous encouragement to Simmons. Lee Hill, Robert Poole, Bill Schofill and Clark Collins taught him, just like his mother and father, the late Donnie Simmons, that it's OK to fail, but it is how you respond to it that makes the difference.

Because of this, Simmons says he never gets discouraged.
Simmons was an excellent student, matriculating at the University of Georgia and then going on to obtain full scholarships and fellowships. He completed his master's and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

His love of art and history led Simmons to Fisk University, where he became curator of the Carl Van Vechten and Aaron Douglas art galleries for 14 years.
Founded in 1866, Fisk University is Nashville's first institution of higher education, and currently ranks in the top 20 percent of all liberal arts institutions in the nation. It is the fourth highest ranked institution in Tennessee, and Forbes Magazine ranks it ias one of the best Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

While at Fisk, Simmons was also a professor of Art History and a commissioner for the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission. It was during his tenure there that he matured artistically, changing his portraits to massive collages, his new artistic love.

Simmons says his favorite collage is his 2002 S & H Green stamp collage entitled, "Special Gift," which was displayed at the Fragile Species: New Art Nashville exhibition at Nashville's Frist Museum exhibit in 2005.

In recent days, Simmons has become inspired by black history, which ties to his work as a historian. Last year, he completed a work entitled, "Northern Borealis," which relates to the Underground Railroad as black slaves looked to God for freedom.

As the first African-American to hold several prestigious positions in the field of art, Simmons has paved the way for other blacks to pursue their artistic talents. He was the first black director of the St. Louis Art Museum in Missouri. As curator, he would oversee performances, art seminars and classes, and schedule trips.

He was also the first black director and curator at the Chicago Architect Foundation, presiding over exhibits and education. In 1990, the Art Institute of Chicago employed him as the first black staff lecturer in the Department of Museum Education, and he spent four productive years there.

As if all that wasn't enough, Simmons is also a recognized author, having co-authored a book entitled, "Bulding Your Future: Using Architecture in the Classroom." Using his architectural talents, he helped to lay out the Harold Washington Children's Playlot, a park constructed in honor of Harold Washington, Chicago's first black mayor. The park features life-size murals which can be enjoyed by the public.

He is currently in the process of completing a book which will trace the roots of Fisk's Carl Van Vechten Museum, the first fine art museum in the South. He hopes it will publish this year.

Simmons' work in the art world has allowed him to rub elbows with the rich and famous, including historian John Hope Franklin, poet and Fisk graduate Nikki Giovanni, poet Gwendolyn Brooks and Colin Powell.

But his greatest lesson came from his parents, who told him to "dream farther than you think you can go, and then you will go farther, because God will always have someone in place to help you when you get there."

Simmons and his high school sweetheart, Sharon Shipman, have three children, who all possess their father's artistic talents. He plans to return to Bulloch County in the future to be with his aging mother.

Calling himself the "Forest Gump" of art, he humbly offers a bit of advice to his students: "Work hard and wait your turn."

Simmons is truly an example of the verse, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up" (James 4:10).



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