Milann Art Gallery and Studio opens in Seattle on August 16, 1959.

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 9/01/2019
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20854

On August 16, 1959, married artists Milton Simons and Marianne Simons open the Milann Art Gallery and Studio, located at 1127 34th Avenue in Seattle's Madrona neighborhood. The 800-square-foot gallery occupies a building that previously housed a bakery, and that in 1968 would become the headquarters for Seattle's Black Panther Party. From 1959 to 1961, Milann serves as Milton Simons' base of operations as he teaches painting and drawing, and also offers music performances. Milann Art Gallery and Studio closes in 1961.

An Artist's Life

Milton Simons was born on October 15, 1923, at the family home in Seattle to Frederick Douglas Simons Sr. (1893-1966) and Josephine Frances Marshall Simons (1898-1965). A middle child, he was raised with his two sisters and three brothers. He began his artistic journey as a young child through his teen years.

As a senior at Garfield High School, Simons enlisted in the Army on January 11, 1941, six months before his scheduled graduation. While in the military in 1944, he entered a watercolor art festival held in Honolulu, Hawaii, and won first prize. On November 26, 1945, he was honorably discharged from the Army, and five months later, on April 21, 1946, he married his first wife, Alberta Harris. 

By 1948, Simons was studying at the Burley School of Professional Art in Seattle. In 1949 he attended the Art Students League of New York. He returned to Burnley, graduating in 1951 with high honors, and was hired immediately as a teacher. On September 1, 1951, he married his second wife, Marianne Hanson (1931-2014).

In 1953, Simons began working at Boeing as a storekeeper to support his wife and new baby, Serge Milton Simons, born August 16, 1953. Within two months, Simons entered into an art contest and won the grand and first prizes. In 1956, he enrolled in the Cornish School of Music, where he studied music, counterpoint, and piano until 1957, the same year he left his job at Boeing. 

By 1958, Milton and Marianne Simons had started making plans to open their own contempory art gallery. They had little cash, big dreams, commitment, a willingness to say goodbye to luxuries, and no experience in business. They searched and found a building in Madrona that previously housed a co-op bakery operated by Eugene F. Fallers (1890-1956). Lured to the neighborhood by the integrated make-up of the community and the support of friends and family, they transformed their little building with a year of hard labor. "A lot of work had to be done to the building," Serge Simons recalled (interview).

Opening Day

Opening Day arrived on August 16, 1959, a warm summer Sunday evening and also Serge Simons' sixth birthday. Visitors to the gallery at 1127 34th Avenue were delighted to see how much work went into the new space. The one-level storefront included the family's cozy living quarters in the rear of the building.

In the showroom, Milton Simons' elongated, El Greco style human figures were designed and colored carefully against each other. There were two portraits, one a self-portrait, the other a painting of a bass player called Charlie. The room provided space for works by other artists, many of them relative unknowns. Milann was a place to host openings, performances, workshops, concerts, and to entertain in style. Milton Simons offered intruction in oil painting, drawing of portraits, landscapes, figure painting and drawing, fashion illustration, design, perspective and color, and media theory and techniques. 

The first concert in the studio was held on September 6, 1959; it featured the ensemble The Puget Sounds, led by Milton Simons on vibraphone, Marianne Simons on piano, Charles (Charlie) Williams on bass, and Joe Loughmuller (1927-1981) on drums. 

During its brief life, Milann Art Gallery was a point of pride for artists and the Madrona community. Interested in all aspects of art, Simons offered group and one-man shows of his own work and featured works by other artists such as Jerry Rose, who began teaching in Vietnam; Robert Ferguson, who moved to New York to paint; John Morgan, who worked at Boeing but continued to paint, and Bernard Baker, who taught painting at Sharples Junior High School. In 1961, the art gallery and studio closed its doors. Nine years later, in April 1968, the facility would become the headquarters for Seattle's Black Panthers. 


Sources:

Anne G. Todd, "Artists Realize Dream By Establishing Gallery," The Seattle Times, March 27, 1960, p. 30; Ann Faber, "Newest Commerical Art Gallery Striking Offerings," The Seattle Post Intelligencer, September 3, 1959; "Viewings," The Seattle Post Intelligencer, October 8, 1959, p. 31; Historylink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Black Panther Party Seattle Chapter (1968-1978)," (by Linda Holden Givens); http://www.historylink.org (accessed April 23, 2019); Linda Holden Givens interviews with David Martin, February 28, and March 11, 2019; Linda Holden Givens interviews with Serge Simons, May 30, Everett, Washington and June 7, 2019 Auburn, Washington, transcript, photos, discussions, notes in possession of Linda Holden Givens, Auburn.


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