Up From Down Home: Talking with Local Artist Jevoid Simmons

September 2, 2021

“I’m working to be the me I’m meant to be at this time in life”.

That’s the retirement mantra Jevoid Simmons lives by as he fully devotes himself to making his art. Over the years Jevoid has exhibited his work locally at the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center (April – October 2019), Evanston’s Noyes Cultural Art Center;  the Evanston Art Center, the Garrett Theological Seminary (Northwestern University,  and The Art Institute of Chicago and Creative Coworking Gallery.  Now he’s pushed Up From Down Home, a deeply personal story of family told alongside seventeen of his paintings. We caught up with Jevoid to ask him more about this important work.

Betsy Bird: I wonder if you could tell us a little about yourself. How did you become the artist you are today? How long have you lived in Evanston?

Jevoid Simmons: I’m a 40-year resident of Evanston, IL.As long as I can remember I’ve been an art maker. I’m not grounded in any specific artistic system. Art classes were a part of my educational experience from grade through junior high school. Of all the schooling received in those years, the art classes resonated with me; they fed my soul. I’m always amazed with the art produced by others, past and present and incorporate learnings from them where it makes sense. When painting I enjoy working in a primitive style. It’s not tied to the necessity of precision. This style has a certain warmth and innocence. I have an affinity for the work of Grandma Moses (Anna Mary Robertson). Her work and that of similar artists capture a snapshot of life and tell a story.

BB: Your first book Up From Down Home, A Family’s Journey North is out now and contains seventeen of your paintings. Tell us a little bit about the origin of this story and these artworks. What’s the story behind the book?

JS: My recently published book, Up From Down Home, shares my family’s migration story out of rural Alabama in the early 1950s to escape racial violence from the Klan. Seventeen paintings were completed to support the book’s written narrative. As you view the paintings, you may see similarities to Grandma Moses’ work. The paintings were executed over a seven-year period with the last one completed in 2015. My hope was that the warm style will invite the viewer into the picture; while the related written narrative conveys the extraordinary hardships faced by Black folks living under Jim Crow in the South.

BB: I know that in addition to painting you also carve and work in other crafts. Where can people see your works? And what do you have coming in the future?

JS: I’m working on a few things that are related to social justice.  I just completed a painting to announce/promote a play that Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre will put on in mid-September on the R. King incident and resulting LA riots.  I’m also going to participate in a curated show related to social justice that will open in mid-october at Noyes Cultural Art Center.  Got to get to work on that piece.  More long term, I will continue with social justice work.  I also intend to create paintings that reflect on my experiences going back to the south with my parents and siblings.  We left a huge contingent of kinfolks in Alabama when we left.  There are some interesting paintings that I have in mind.

To see more of Jevoid’s work,  go to:  http://www.sugarcreekfolkart.com/ His book is available at http://www.upfromdownhome.com. Up From Down Home: The Journey North is available at Evanston Public Library for checkout.

Evanston Public Library Announces 2021 Art Call / La Biblioteca Pública de Evanston Anuncia Una Convocatoria de Arte 2021

Evanston Public Library is putting out a call for new and emerging Evanston artists to feature in its 2021 exhibition schedule. Accepted work will be on display at the Main Library, the Robert Crown Library Branch, or online at epl.org. Interested applicants should fill out this form.

This Art Call is specially focused on centering historically marginalized voices and bringing the work of underrepresented groups to the forefront of our community. POC, LGBT+, indigenous, disabled or undocumented creatives—especially those who have yet to exhibit their work—are strongly encouraged to apply. Submissions are welcome from all community members.

According to M. Halka, Exhibits and Creative Programming Library Assistant, “EPL’s 2021 Art Call is the first step in a larger plan to support emerging Evanston artists. The Library is excited to offer exhibition spaces both physical and digital to help foster the next generation of artists within the Evanston community. We hope to both highlight the independent work of these artists and mediate a collaborative relationship between them and the community at large.”

Proposals relating to or inspired by the current moment and the many challenges facing the country, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat to Black lives, police brutality, and more are also encouraged.

Art@EPL is committed to promoting the diversity and growth of the artistic community in Evanston. Please do not hesitate to reach out to eplart@cityofevanston.org or M. Halka at (847) 448-8601 with further questions or thoughts.

La Biblioteca Pública de Evanston está haciendo un llamado a los artistas nuevos y emergentes de Evanston para que aparezcan en su programa de exposiciones de 2021. Los proyectos aceptados se exhibirán en la Biblioteca principal, la sucursal de la biblioteca Robert Crown o en línea en epl.org. Los solicitantes interesados ​​deben completar este formulario.

Esta Convocatoria de Arte está especialmente enfocada en centrar las voces históricamente marginadas y llevar el trabajo de grupos subrepresentados al frente de nuestra comunidad. Los que se identifican como POC, LGBT +, indígenas, discapacitados o indocumentados, especialmente aquellos que aún no han exhibido su trabajo, se urge que apliquen para esta oportunidad. Las solicitudes son bienvenidas de todo miembro de la comunidad en Evanston.

Según M. Halka, asistente de biblioteca de exhibiciones y programación creativa, “la Convocatoria de Arte 2021 de EPL es el primer paso en un plan más amplio para apoyar a los artistas emergentes de Evanston. La biblioteca se complace en ofrecer espacios de exhibición tanto físicos como digitales para ayudar a fomentar la próxima generación de artistas dentro de la comunidad de Evanston. Esperamos resaltar el trabajo independiente de estos artistas y mediar en una relación de colaboración entre ellos y la comunidad en general. “

También se alientan propuestas relacionadas o inspiradas en el momento actual y los muchos desafíos que enfrenta el país, como la pandemia COVID-19, la amenaza a la vida de los negros, la brutalidad policial y más.

Art@EPL se compromete a promover la diversidad y el crecimiento de la comunidad artística en Evanston. No dude en comunicarse con eplart@cityofevanston.org o M. Halka al (847) 448-8601 si tiene más preguntas.

Local Art @ EPL: Charles McCleanon

October 3, 2017

Local Art @ EPLWe are excited to welcome Charles McCleanon as the next featured artist in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL. A Chicago native and a retired Dean of Information Technology at City Colleges, McCleanon’s appreciation of 35 mm film inspired him to begin his photography career 25 years ago. He formed the company CGMcPhoto and began shooting political campaigns, street fairs, weddings, and community events. He eventually channeled his skills into digital photography and now combines his talents with a passion for travel that’s resulted in countless breathtaking images. You can catch his show through the end of October on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library and meet him at a closing reception at 7 pm on Wednesday, October 25. Also, don’t miss a featured interview with Mr. McCleanon later in the month. Stay tuned!

Local Authors and Book Connections You May Not Know

May 25, 2017

Once in a while we here at Evanston Public Library like to highlight the local authors and legends that make it onto our shelves.  We particularly like it when we learn something new in the process.  The other day I received a very interesting email from a Professor of History at Texas Southern University.  She wrote:

I would like to suggest that you consider adding the following historic novel to your collection: Angie Brown: A Jim Crow Romance (Outskirts Press, 2017), by Lillian Jones Horace (1880-1965), the US South’s earliest known African American female novelist, editor, Karen Kossie-Chernyshev, PhD, foreword by Michon Benson, PhD.

Angie Brown: A Jim Crow Romance is a coming of age migration novel in which the protagonist journeys midwestward in search for a better life. Part of the story unfolds in Illinois, which your readership may appreciate.

Suggesting is gradual positive reception, Angie Brown: A Jim Crow Romance recently won the Hungry Monster Gold Book Award, sponsored by a review service affiliated with Amazon.com.

You might also appreciate knowing that Lillian Horace spent considerable time in Evanston, IL, as her husband, J. Gentry Horace, once served as pastor of the historic Second Baptist Church, where he is still honored for helping marshal the church through the Great Depression.

Please consider also adding Recovering Five Generations Hence: The Life and Writing of Lillian Jones Horace (Texas A & M University Press, 2013) to your collection as well. It contains an annotated version of Horace’s historic first novel, Five Generations Hence, and a collection of scholarly essays treating various aspects of her work. Perhaps most importantly, it contains a biographical essay on Horace that examines her life in Chicago and Evanston.


I am happy to report that we will indeed be adding Ms. Horace’s books, both the new publication of Angie Brown and Recovering Five Generations Hence.  Look for these on the EPL shelves soon.

Meanwhile, local photographer Mark Swanson was in the library the other day.  He contacted me to let me know that he has a wide range of absolutely stunning nature books taken in our very own neck of the woods.  In fact he personally donated the following items:

  • Animals of North Park Village Nature Center
  • Birds of North Pond Nature Sanctuary
  • Birds of Montrose Point
  • Moments in Nature, Vol. 1: Birds of Chicagoland
  • Moments in Nature, Vol. 2: Insects of Chicagoland
  • Moments in Nature, Vol. 3: Butterflies & Moths of Chicagoland
  • Moments in Nature, Vol. 4: Damselflies of Chicagoland
  • Moments in Nature, Vol. 5: Dragonflies of Chicagoland

Because these items don’t have an ISBN our talented catalogers will have to take a little extra time to add them to our collection.  Rest assured that it will be worth the wait, however.  The critters on these pages are rendered in all their magnificent splendor.  Here are some sample images from his pages:

An Interview with Amy Lee Segami

February 28, 2015

amy-leeAmy Lee Segami is a Chicagoland painter and the latest featured artist in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  Her show Frozen Dreams: Painting on Water is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library where you can catch it through March 7th.  Weaving her backgrounds in art and science with Eastern and Western perspectives, Segami draws on her Asian heritage and physics knowledge for her contemporary take on the ancient art form Suminagashi.  We recently spoke with her via email about the fusion of art and science, the 2,000-year history of Suminagashi, her creative process, and her future plans.

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An Interview with Maryna Danylovych

December 14, 2014

maryna dMaryna Danylovych is a Chicagoland painter and the latest featured artist in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  From now until December 31st, more than three dozen of her impressionist still lifes and landscapes will be on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Library.  Inspired by her favorite painters Monet, Renoir, and O’Keefe, Danylovych strives to ensure that the emotions she puts into her pictures reach the people who view them.  We recently spoke with her via email about her artistic origins, creative process, and future plans.

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Local Art @ EPL

April 14, 2011

We are quite pleased to introduce local painter and Prairie Joe’s restaurant owner Aydin Dincer as the next featured artist in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  From now through April 30th, you can catch his eye-popping paintings in their 2nd floor display at EPL’s Main Branch.  Playfully self-described as an artist who both “paints in oil and cooks with oil,” Mr. Dincer’s portraits and landscapes are at once fresh, bold, and fun.  So don’t miss this satisfying art sampler straight off the eclectic walls of his popular Central Street eatery, and make sure to check back with Off the Shelf later in April for a featured interview with Mr. Dincer himself.  Stay tuned.

An Interview with Leonid Osseny

March 27, 2011

"Self Portrait" by Leonid Osseny

Leonid Osseny is an architect, designer, teacher, and the latest artist to be featured in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  His show  – titled 36 Views of Ulysses – is currently on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Branch and insightfully interprets scenes from James Joyce’s landmark novel with a stunningly original collection of inventive graphic works.  You can catch 36 Views of Ulysses through April 5th and also learn more about Mr. Osseny’s work at the website for his Lincoln Terrace Art Studio and Gallery.  What’s more, you can meet Mr. Osseny in person and hear him speak about 36 Views of Ulysses when he visits EPL’s 1st Floor Community Meeting Room on Tuesday, March 29th at 6:30 p.m.  In anticipation of his visit, we recently spoke with him via email about his artistic beginnings in Belarus, his experiences at the 2004 International James Joyce Symposium in Dublin, and his future plans as an artist and writer.

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Local Art @ EPL

March 4, 2011

"Nora and James Joyce"

We are extremely pleased to introduce local architect, poet, and designer Leonid Osseny as the next featured artist in our ongoing exhibition series Local Art @ EPL.  From now until April 5th, his eye-popping exhibit 36 Views of Ulysses will be on display on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Branch.  For 36 Views of Ulysses, Mr. Osseny created a stunningly original collection of inventive graphic works that interpret scenes from James Joyce’s landmark novel as well as 8 poster installations subtitled “Inner Monologue” that explore Joyce’s work in relation to that of Sergey Eisenstein and Stanley Kubrick.  Recognized internationally, the exhibit was part of both the North American James Joyce Conference in 2001 and Dublin’s 19th International James Joyce Symposium in 2004.  So don’t miss 36 Views of Ulysses right here at EPL, and make sure to check back with Off the Shelf later in March for a featured interview with Mr. Osseny and info on how you can meet the artist himself.  Stay tuned.

A Talk with the Artists of ‘Thursdays with Leslie’

February 19, 2011

(front, l-r) Karen Corrado, Judy Cohen, Marlene Brill, Jean Novales, Leslie Hirshfield, Maribeth Gibbs. (back, l-r) Tracy Hodgson, Sandi Lawrence-Brogen, Rima Lockwood.

Thursdays with Leslie is an impressive collaborative exhibition by ten talented painters from the Noyes Cultural Art Center and the latest show in our popular Local Art @ EPL series.  Currently on display through February 28th on the 2nd floor of EPL’s Main Branch, Thursdays with Leslie features an ecclectic mix of watercolor, oil, and pastel works created by the skilled students of instructor Leslie Hirshfield.  I recently spoke with many of the Thursdays with Leslie artists via email about their artistic backgrounds, experiences at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, and impressions of the Chicagoland art scene.

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