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Merton D. Simpson Papers

Thirty items, 1956-1994, inaugurate the South Caroliniana Library's holdings on artist Merton D. Simpson (b. 1928), a native of Charleston who was described in the catalogue of his 1992 exhibit at the Galerie Noir d'Ivoire in Paris as "a master musician, a connoisseur, a philanthropist, a dealer without peer and a serious painter whose restless drive to excellence allows him little time to sleep." A handout from the show "The Inspirational Century: The Black Artist in America," held in 1980 at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Ct., identifies Simpson—along with Romare Bearden, Al Hollingsworth, Benny Andrews, and Felrath Hines—as one of five contemporary African-American artists "seen as leaders in the progressive arts." Education curator Andrew Svedlow goes on to spell out their significance—"They have been influenced by cubism, pop art, constructivism, African art, earlier Black American artists, and by the changing social climate of our world. With this as background they have enlightened and tempted a new generation of artists."

Combining the careers of artist and gallery owner, Simpson has been cited by critic Helen Dudar as "that rarity in the world of art dealers, a black man" (Connoisseur, March 1982). "There is prejudice," he once admitted, "but I don't pay that much attention to it. We live in that kind of society and you deal with it the best way you can" (Jonesborough Sun, 12 September 1992). The Merton Simpson Gallery in New York specializes in African (along with Oceanic and American Indian) art, a field in which he has been recognized as one of the world's foremost authorities. Ms. Dudar writes—"For the curators of most American and European primitive collections, Simpson's is an obligatory stop on hunting expeditions of New York, and they are almost unanimous about his taste." She quotes Warren Robbins, founding director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art—"Merton has an exceptional eye." Simpson's own view of the role of the dealer is summarized as "pointing a finger at something, making it easier to see the beauty. You're opening a door maybe."

Of particular interest to the researcher are the artist's biographical data sheet; a video cassette, 1992, containing Simpson's views on art; a copy of the agreement, 10 December 1984, between Simpson and the City of Charleston for his execution of a portrait of the late Rev. Daniel J. Jenkins; and a letter written from Charleston on 18 March 1978 conveying artist William Halsey's pleasure "that you will participate in the exhibition we're planning for Spoleto."

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