Carroll Harris Simms, TSU professor and sculptor, dies at 85

Carroll Harris Simms, an artist, author, professor and key figure in shaping Texas Southern University’s art department, died Monday after a long illness. He was 85.

Simms joined the TSU faculty in 1950 and taught sculpture and ceramics until retiring in 1987. Along with art department founder John Biggers, who arrived in 1949, Simms “built that department from the ground up,” said Alvia Wardlaw, director and curator of TSU’s University Museum. “It was a challenge, but they also had a great freedom, because they could create exactly the kinds of programs they wanted.”

“Dr. Biggers once said, ‘If you can get through Simms, you can get through anything,’” said Sifuentes, who teaches art at TSU. Still, “(Simms’) laugh could be heard throughout the whole department.”


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Born in 1924 in Bald Knob, Ark., Simms moved with his mother to Toledo, Ohio, during his middle-school years. He attended Hampton Institute in Virginia, now known as Hampton University; the University of Toledo; and the Toledo Museum School of Art. He later earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Mich., where in 1950 he was the first black student to graduate.

Shortly after graduating, Simms heard that TSU’s fledgling art department was hiring. Upon inquiring whether the school needed a sculpture teacher, he learned the position required experience in both sculpture and ceramics. Fortunately, he received a scholarship to a five-week summer ceramics course at Cranbrook.

During his TSU tenure, Simms made four sculptures for the campus and completed commissions from California to Nigeria. Houston art patron Jane Blaffer Owen helped fund a commission for Christ and the Lambs, a relief sculpture for St. Oswald’s Church in Coventry, England, that was unveiled by the late Princess Margaret.

An accomplished scholar, Simms co-wrote Black Art in Houston: The Texas Southern University Experience with Biggers. He was awarded two consecutive Fulbright fellowships to study abroad. His exposure to the British Museum’s collection of Benin and Yoruba art influenced his sculpture and what he taught students. He continued his studies of West African art and culture while in Nigeria on a Southern Fellowship grant in 1968. He returned to West Africa in 1973, lecturing at universities in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria; and in 1977, when he participated in Festac ’77, a historic assembly of Pan-African artists.

Memorial services will be held in the spring at TSU and at the African American Museum in Dallas.

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