Historian of art, professor in art education and visual artist. Born in 1916 to Gay Crichton (1855-1966) and Walter Augustus Simon Sr.. Simon Jr. grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Despite the racism prevalent in schools at this time, Simon received an unconventionally thorough education for an African-American, which would serve as a solid foundation for his love of administration in higher education. He attended the School of Fine and Applied Arts at the Pratt Institute, earning a certificate in applied art in 1935 and an additional certificate in commercial design in 1936. One of his professors there was Irene Rice Pereira (1902-1971), an American abstract artist, who played a major role in the development of modernism in the United States and whose artistic subjects made their way into Simon’s own paintings. In 1939, Simon also trained at the National Academy of Design in New York City for a certificate in fine arts. He married Virginia Spottswood on March 20th, 1941 in Washington D.C. immediately before leaving to serve in WWII in the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945.
After the end of the war, from September 1948 to June 1949, Simon began his career teaching at the Black universities open to him, starting in the art department at Georgia State College (today: Savannah State College) organizing the department of art education and serving as chairman of the curriculum committee. Simon entered New York University, completing his BS in art education in 1948, starting as a professor in 1949 in the Art Education Department at Virginia State College (1949-1953) and at Trenton State College (today:The College of New Jersey) (1953-1961). Simon also served as the Chairman of the Art Education Department at Atlanta University, (today: Clark Atlanta University, in Atlanta, Georgia) in the summers between 1949 and 1951, at the recommendation of Hale Woodruff (1900-1980) who was a defining mentor for him at New York University. While teaching there, Simon received his MS in art education (1950) and PhD in education (1961), also from NYU. His doctoral dissertation, entitled, “Henry O. Tanner - A Study of the Development of an American Negro Artist: 1859-1937,” is an extensive analysis of Henry O. Tanner (1859-1937), an American artist and the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim. Tanner had moved to Paris, France, in 1891 to study painting and continued to reside there after his success in French artistic circles, which was something that would heavily influence Simon’s own aims as a visual artist to work on an international scale.
Simon left teaching in 1961 to serve the State Department. His first assignment was Cairo, Egypt where he became an attaché for the American Embassy there. He also served as the director of the Embassy’s special educational program for African-American students in Cairo. In 1966, Simon was appointed attaché for the American Embassy in Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) until 1968 when he was transferred to the American Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. There he was in charge of the Fulbright Program, the United States Information Service libraries, and served as a liaison to Kabul University and chairman of the U.S. educational foundation. In 1971 he returned to teaching as a professor of art history at Bloomsburg State College, Bloomsburg Pennsylvania as well as their Director of the Educational Opportunity Program until 1977. In the fall of 1977, Simon was appointed Charles W. Florence Distinguished professor of art history at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Virginia. Simon joined the NAACP in September of 1978, and wrote for The Crisis, the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, founded in 1910 by W. E. B. Du Bois.
Throughout his teaching career, Simon lectured on Ceylonese art, the arts of Nubia, Islamic art, Picasso and Cubism, and the Harlem Renaissance, speaking to his highly varied range of interests and life experiences. Simon died in August 1979 after complications following a kidney transplant operation earlier that year. He left behind an incomplete autobiography that he worked on over the span of 5 years until his death, describing his life’s trajectory in detail until World War II. This autobiography is now housed in the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives at Emory University.
[dissertation:] Henry O. Tanner - a Study of the Development of an American Negro Artist: 1859-1937. New York University, 1961.