Milt Simons (1923-1973)

Milt Simons, Seattle, 1952
Courtesy Simons Family, Fair use image

Milton Simons was a major Seattle African American multi-faceted artist from the 1940s until his death in 1973. In addition to his skills as a painter, Simons was an educator, poet, dancer, and noted musician/composer.

Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Simons’ work reflected his varied cultural backgrounds. His maternal preacher grandfather, Andrew Marshall, who was of Choctaw/African American ancestry, was born a slave in 1851 in Jackson, Tennessee and made his way to Seattle in 1909. His father’s family members were African American farm workers who lived for many years near Yakima, Washington.

Simons was raised with varied forms of music at home including gospel, jazz, Native-American, and classical. He became a well-known jazz musician in the Seattle area, developing multi-ethnic modes of music, playing vibes in the Jasis, the quartet he founded. Jasis was internationally recognized following its debut LP album in 1972. He also designed, built, and played a “Sito,” literally a cross between an Indian sitar and Japanese koto.

Simons also drew and painted as a child, encouraged by his family. As a young adult he won a national scholarship competition which was unfortunately withdrawn when it was learned he was black. After serving in the Army during World War II, he attended and later taught at the Burnley School of Art in Seattle. He studied under nationally known artists at the Art Students League and performed with the Katherine Dunham Dance Troupe in New York City. In Seattle he studied music at the Cornish School of Art.

His art has been exhibited regionally including the Seattle Art Museum, Frye Art Museum, Henry Art Gallery, and the Little Gallery (all in Seattle).  His work has won the National Negro Women’s Association (Grand Prize), and Boeing Company Annual Art Show (Grand Prize). His work is currently represented by Martin Zambito Fine Arts, Seattle.

Along with his wife, painter Marianne Hanson, and son Serge, Simons developed studios and galleries in Seattle and San Francisco. In Seattle 1968, he pioneered CASPA (Central Area School of Performing Arts) with colleague Paul Dusenbury. They arranged numerous regional performances incorporating dance, poetry, music, theatrical pieces, and visual art.

Simons’ work is in the collection of the Henry Art Gallery, the Walter O. Evans Collection, the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, and the San Francisco Public Library.