University of Iowa Museum of Art

Iowa City, IA



Eleanor Simmons


An exhibition of more than 40 paintings, drawings and other works by the late Iowa City artist Eleanor Simmons was on display from April 22 through August 6, 2000 at the University of Iowa Museum of Art.

Simmons died at the age of 74 on October 22, 1999. A prominent and cherished member of the Iowa City community, she was an accomplished artist whose paintings decorate collections and public places both locally and around the country.

James Alan McPherson, a friend of Simmons' and professor at the UT Writers' Workshop, observed that "a great number of her paintings are scattered in the homes of people in all parts of this country and abroad. But most of them are still here in Iowa City, in the UI and Mercy hospitals, in the public library, in banks and in private homes."

"Her style has been called 'magical expressionism' because of its strict attention to magical details." McPherson said. "She employed animal imagery, mythical allusions, puns, and religious symbols. She could spend as much as 10 years on a painting, adding more and more allusive details." (left: Self Portrait in an Ice Bucket, n.d., scratch board, 12 x 20 inches, Collection of Dr. Webster and Gloria Gelman)

Born in Des Moines, Simmons moved to Iowa City as a child, and was educated at the University Elementary School. As a fine arts major at the UI, she studied painting with Philip Guston and James Lechay. She took further graduate study at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and at the UI after she and her family returned to Iowa City in 1961, when her husband, John Simmons, became director of the UI Press.

Eleanor Simmons' work has been shown at the Philadelphia Print Club; the Philadelphia Art Alliance; the White Art Museum of Ithaca, New York; Munson, Williams Proctor Museum of Utica, New York; the Davenport Art Gallery; the Des Moines Art Center; the Iowa City/Johnson County Art Center; the UI Theatre Building; and Pillsbury, Inc., Minneapolis.

Susan Boyd, an Iowa City resident and longtime friend of Simmons, commented: "Her talent expanded throughout her life. Ellie saw things differently from most of us. Everything was material for Ellie. The newspaper, faces, her own possessions, postcards from her friends.

"She loved her work; she actually glowed after spending a whole day in the studio. Often the canvas did not appear to change much from week to week, but things were happening. She flattered us by seeming to think we could understand. We could only stand by and appreciate. Only through repeated viewings of a painting did we see it all. Her whole life was such a piece of art that it is difficult to mark the divider between the intricate illustrations of her children's books and her oil paintings."

Recalling the last few months of Simmons' life, McPherson comments, "In September I believed that she would soon be able to go upstairs to her studio and paint again. When Ellie was transferred to St, Luke's Hospital in Cedar Rapids, it seemed that all of Iowa City went there to see her. She was genuinely beloved. I recognized her importance not only as a painter but as an essential member of this community. "

In the fall of 1999, invited by the Leeway Foundation of Philadelphia to nominate "an inspirational woman artist who has made contributions to the arts and the community," McPherson selected Simmons.

Read more about the University of Iowa Museum of Art in Resource Library Magazine

Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 3/23/11

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