When I met the sculptor Sidney Simon thirty-five years ago, he already had a unique “history.” Sidney seemed to have known everybody, and brought news of them to us, mere contemporaries.
He had been a star at the Pennsylvania Academy (won the Cresson and Abbey prizes), he’d studied at the Barnes Foundation in Merion (and been kicked out for falling asleep during one of Barnes’ long lectures). Sidney had been a genuine war hero (Field Reconnaissance Intelligence—landings in enemy territory…), he covered the Southwest Pacific as combat artist under MacArthur, and painted the surrender of Japan on the Battleship Missouri.
In Europe, after the war, he knew Moore, Giacometti, Braque, and Kokoschka. And when, years later, I visited him in Rockland Country where he was living with his first wife, I saw Cezanne’s “Card Players” on his kitchen wall.
In 1946, with Henry Varnum Poor and Willard Cummings, Sidney founded the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. He taught painting there, as well as at the Cooper Union and the Art Students League.
Simon had been a sculptor for about ten years when I met him, with major commissions and work in numerous museums. He could put up a figure as well as (and speedier than) anyone alive. He was a restless artist—always seeking. He never stayed with one manner. His work was brilliant and often witty; never pedantic.
This, I think, made him a great teacher. I asked Sidney (who had been an advisor in the Yale Art Department) his opinion about a rather formal art school that I headed in the 1980s. His response was an eighteen-page hand-written note. I didn’t read it until the other day. Apropos painting the nude from life—I quote a short comment:
The day I was there the model leaned on a table which held a lighted heater, which gave off a rosy glow. No one painted the heater or the glow.
Sidney was a master of the tradition, but he wasn’t locked into it. He embraced almost all art and all artists. His work is his legacy but I revere, too, the exuberance of his friendship.