Alice C. Simkins’s aunt, the Houston collector and philanthropist Alice N. Hanszen, introduced her to the McNay when she was quite young. However, it was during a museum trip in 1969 to London, Paris, and Madrid, led by founding McNay director John Palmer Leeper, that her long history with the museum really began. Leeper was so impressed with the Newcomb College graduate that he invited Simkins to join the McNay’s staff. During her time as a staff member, she completed her Master of Arts thesis, a beautifully researched and much needed catalogue of the collection of Mary and Sylvan Lang, and organized an exhibition of American women artists in celebration of the American Bicentennial, American Artists ’76: A Celebration.
Having grown up around art collectors and having served as a curator at the McNay, it is no surprise that Simkins would become a collector in her own right. Hers is a laser-focused group of American watercolors and drawings from the early Modernist period, particularly the 1910s when American artists were experimenting with new ideas and forms emanating from the influential Armory Show in 1913. Tellingly, many of the artists she
has collected have parallels in the McNay’s collection, particularly works collected by the Langs as well as by Margaret Batts Tobin and Robert L.B. Tobin. Perhaps the most poignant connection between Simkins’s and the McNay’s collections is her masterful watercolor by Charles Burchfield, Sunrise and Rain from 1916. Simkins was intimately involved in the acquisition of the McNay’s equally masterful Nasturtiums and Barn created just a year later.
The exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay co-authored by MFAH curator Alison de Lima Greene and McNay Curator of Prints and Drawings Lyle W. Williams.