Growing up in the segregated city of Charleston, SC in the early 20th Century was challenging for African-Americans. Lingering sometimes without direction in the Post-Bellum period, the city still reeled from the aftereffects of the Civil War and Great Earthquake of 1889 . This once properous city was slow to get back on its economic feet. Especially affected was the large African-American community. Virtually excluded from the middle and upper socio-economic classes, their struggles were particularly hard on females who mainly toiled in service jobs.
Watching her mother struggle with back-breaking menial jobs, Agnes Lucille Simmons longed for an opportunity for more. After graduating from Burke Industrial School in 1934, Agnes mastered skills in sewing, cooking, and laundry as was usual for African American female students of that era. But she desired to see and experience a larger world than Charleston offered at that time.
She left Charleston at age 18 for the big city of New York. She found employment as a nanny with the well-to-do family of Albert Taulb. Her employers treated her warmly and encouraged her intellectual growth. They also provided her opportunity to grow as an artist. For the first time she was exposed to the great art museums and galleries of New York City. These experiences nurtured her need to expand her horizons. It was here, in the evenings that she gravitated to the art of water colors.
Agnes was enthralled with her new life in the big city and this enchantment is expressed in her legacy of water colors. Using vibrant colors and easy strokes, she evokes an era of change for young black girls. Her ability to capture the mood, and the hopefulness of this time is evidenced in her artwork.
Agnes went to school, studied nursing and developed this artistic skill while in New York City. Eventually, she returned to SC to marry and raise her children. Her treasure trove of art was carefully preserved in a trunk. When her daughter Meta discovered the art, she was enthralled with the find. It was through Meta's persistence and probing that she was able to uncover and learn about the brave young girl who was her mother.
Meta had the foresight to preserve the art of Agnes. She honors her mother's life and the life of all those struggling African-Americans of the early 20th Century.