Leslie Lovell, Savannah GA

Bernice Sims (1926-2014) - Outside/Folk Art

Bernice Sims (1926-2014) grew up near Brewton, Alabama. Bernice married at 16 and raised six children. After her husband deserted them she worked in a variety of office jobs to support her family.

She was active in the civil rights movement in the 1960s, coordinating the activities of the NAACP in Brewton, Ala., in secret because the organization at the time was outlawed by the state. She participated in voter registration drives and witnessed the violence and heartbreak as well as the triumph that those turbulent times engendered.

Sims took part in the famous Selma-Montgomery March and witnessed the “Bloody Sunday” events on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, an experience she later depicted in dozens of paintings. Like many other blacks, Sims was not able to vote due to long, complicated registrations forms and the poll tax.

Bernice was initially introduced to painting by a spinster sister. In the early 1980’s after having knee replacement surgery and becoming disabled, she enrolled in a continuing education art class at a community college to pursue her desire to paint. “The interest in painting had always been there when the time was not.”

Her painting instructor explained the materials and encouraged her to paint whatever she wanted to paint. “I paint the things that are real to me–that either happened to me or are in my memory from the old days. In my paintings are the important things to me. I want to save these memories for my family and for others,” says Sims.

Bernice’s work achieved national recognition and one of her depictions of the “Selma Bridge March” was pictured on a US Postage stamp in the ”To Form a More Perfect Union” stamp series.

Bernice suffered from two strokes. After the first stroke she happily explained her gratitude that she “still had the use of both arms and was able to paint and live alone in her small brick house.” Her second strok left her confined to a wheelchair and after the death of several of her children, Bernice moved to a nursing home in north Florida.  In October of 2014 Bernice released a book about her life calledThe Struggle: My Life & Legacy and attended a book signing for it.  Three weeks later she died on October 23, 2014.  She lived to see her paintings accepted into the collection of Atlanta’s High Museum and the Wiregrass Museum of Art in Dothan, Alabama. (Story contributions from Marcia Weber Art Objects, Folk Art Society of America and photo courtesy of Pensacola News Journal.)

Artworks by Bernice Sims (1926-2014) - Outside/Folk Art