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From The Chambers: Honoring John Sims

Written by on Friday, June 30, 2023

Local artist John Sims, whose work tackled racism and redefining Confederate symbols, passed away in December at 54 years old. The Ringling Museum of Art now holds an exhibition of some of the last pieces of art that Sims produced.

By Bonnie Silvestri

Original Air Date: June 16, 2023


Official Transcript

Johannes Werner: In December, local artist John Sims passed away surprisingly, at the young age of 54. An African American who grew up in Detroit and a mathematician by training, Sims made ripples with his reinterpretation of flags. Unforgotten is his “Proper Way to Hang the Confederate Flag”: from a gallows. As is his old “Dixie Remix.” That was a concert staged at the Confederate Chapel in Richmond, the capital of the Old South, with musicians turning the old Dixie southern hynm into gospel, jazz, blues and other African American tunes. The Ringling Museum of Art now hosts an exhibition of some of the last art Sims produced. Bonnie Silvestri interviewed Ringling Executive Director Steven High and others to produce this report.

John Sims: [Reading the poem “Lost Chambers” by himself] “From the chambers / of creation / comes forth / the meaning / the beauty / the loss / the memory / of being. / From the chambers / of art and vision / you can hear / the walls talking / the ground whispering / tales of twisted metal / and late night follies. / You can see / the sparks and glow / from metal binding.”

Host: John Sims walked the streets of Sarasota, soaking up the culture and becoming part of the fabric of the Sarasota scene. Sims, whose voice you just heard, passed away last December at age 54, just as his work with its focus on racial justice had become ever more prominent in our country.

The exhibition “From the Chambers: Honoring John Sims” is on display at the Ringling Museum through August 6. The exhibition includes a recording of John reading a poem he wrote to correspond with his work, “Honoring John Chamberlain,” an American sculptor whose studio was a few blocks from Sims’ own on 10th Street. When he learned that Chamberlain Studio was being torn down, he lamented that he had not visited with the artist, and he decided to document the demolition and extract remaining scraps of metal, with permission, which he took to his own studio and formed into what Steven High, Ringling Museum’s Director, referred to as “an eternity symbol.”

Gale Fulton Ross, internationally recognized artist and close friend of Sims, who Sims referred to as his art mama, had this to say about her dear friend.

Gale Fulton Ross: I loved him, he had a heart full of love that people recognized.

Host: High wanted to purchase Sims’ piece for the Ringling collection.

Steven High: So, yeah, we settled on the terms and all that kind of stuff, and I was leaving for Europe and he came by to pick up his check, and so he walked off and then by the time I got back, he passed away.

Host: High also wants to ensure that the collection is inclusive.

SH: What I’m most proud about was the level of diversity that we’ve been able to build within the collection.

Host: The exhibition “From the Chambers” has become a memorial on a number of levels. First to Chamberlain, who created great muscular sculptures, like the one in the Ringling collection on display in the exhibition, to Sims, who left us at such a tremulous time as we are seeing a backlash to the racial reckoning of the past few years. And to our sense of place, as our community gentrifies and continually loses the character that drew so many artists and art lovers to the shores of Sarasota.

You can see the exhibition and here Sims’ voice echoing through the chambers at the Ringling Museum until August 6.

JS: [Reciting the poem] “From the chambers / of creation / comes forth / the meaning / the beauty / the honor / of memory.” [Music]

Host: This has been Bonnie Silvestri reporting for WSLR.


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