"Corrals at Night"

  • Biography

    Agnes C. Sims (1910-1990)

    "Agi" Sims is known for paintings and sculptures inspired by prehistoric rock art of New Mexico.

    Born
    in Devon, Pennsylvania, Sims attended the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine
    Art and the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.  She managed a
    traveling marionette theater before establishing herself as a textile
    and needlework designer in Philadelphia.

    After a visit to New
    Mexico in 1938, Sims returned to Philadelphia, packed her belongings,
    and returned to make Santa Fe her permanent home.  She opened a
    classical record store in an eighteenth-century farmhouse on Canyon
    Road, but the shortage of shellac during the War put her out of
    business.  Sims then became a building contractor (skills taught her by
    her contractor father), purchasing and renovating historic houses around
    Santa Fe.  She later bought a nineteenth-century house with acreage on
    Canyon Road and built a compound including a house for herself and one
    for her long-time partner, Mary Louise Aswell, the fiction editor at Harper's Bazaar who had brought writers such as Eurdora Welty and Truman Capote to the public's attention.

    Shortly
    after her arrival, a friend introduced Sims to the Galisteo Basin south
    of Santa Fe which was dotted with the ruins of prehistoric Indian
    Pueblos, and home to tens of thousands of ancient petroglyphs.  The rock
    art captivated Sims and became her primary inspiration for the rest of
    her career.  Over the next decade she recorded 3000 petroglyphs in
    drawings and thousands more in photographs.  In 1949 she received a
    grant from the American Philosophical Society to further her research,
    and in 1950 she published a portfolio of selected rock at drawings in
    her monograph, San Cristobal Petroglyphs.

    Most of Sims
    paintings and sculptures were inspired by petroglyphs, but unlike her
    documentary drawings they never were literal copies.  Rather she adopted
    and adapted the two-dimensional representations of people and animal
    into an art that fit comfortably into the larger world of mid-century
    modernism.  She used simple, idiosyncratic figures to create her own
    symbolism, the original meanings of the ancient art being mostly lost to
    the past.

    Sims worked in a wide array of media.  Her oil
    paintings on canvas often were mixed with an earthen medium which gave
    them a rough, stone-like texture.  She developed a batik-like resist
    process for painting on cloth, and used it to produce large,
    un-stretched wall hangings.  She used this technique to produce an
    architectural frieze 3.5 feet high and almost 150 feet long which still
    adorns the Century Bank lobby in downtown Santa Fe.  Sims was a prolific
    sculptor, working in wood, stone, bronze, terracotta, fiberglass, and
    polyester.

    Sims was given one-woman shows at the Brooklyn Museum,
    U.S. Embassy in London, Folger Library, Colorado Springs Fine Art
    Center, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, McNay Art Institute in San Antonio,
    Texas, and the Museum of Fine Art in Santa Fe.  She also showed her
    work at the gallery she owned on Canyon Road.  At times, she rented
    studio space in her gallery building to local artisans, hoping to spark a
    revival of early New Mexico arts and crafts.

    Although she did
    not offer formal instruction, Sims was known for her generous
    encouragement of younger artists.  In the large patio of the Canyon Road
    compound, she hosted public performances of original dance, music, and
    theater and readings by local authors.  She also was known for her love
    of good food and scotch and living strictly on her own terms.  She was
    honored with the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence and
    Achievements in the Arts a few months before her death from Alzheimer's
    disease in 1990.