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Carl Simmons is Alive & Well & Living in New Bedford

“Where was Benjamin Rodman’s Woodlawn?”, watercolor on paper, by Carl Simmons

When you live in a historic city like New Bedford, nostalgia can be a trap. While its storied history adds resonance to the place and creates a surfeit of invaluable emotional infrastructure, there’s also a danger that you can lose sight of the present – and more importantly, the future – if you are trapped in a mythical past forever.

There’s a lot to like in New Bedford’s past. There are some things better left behind. Determining the difference requires the efforts of a dogged historical detective with a discriminating, if not downright off-beat, aesthetic.

That person is Carl Simmons.

You’ve no doubt heard the name before – because I’ve written about Carl fairly often on this blog and also interviewed him (repeatedly) for a podcast.

During that recording session, I dubbed Carl a “grassroots renaissance man” in acknowledgement of his varied interests. Historian. Musician. Writer. Performance artist. And, as many will see on the walls of the Groundwork! Gallery right now, artist.

Carl Simmons the artist and historian combine in the latest show in the gallery, New New Bedford Watercolor Drawings. The series is inspired by history – but not captive to it. Indeed, promo material for the show states that it contains, “colorful grotesque portraitures inspired by his passion for the preservation of local history coupled with an interest in the inevitable decay of matter and information.”

You’ll find familiar figures from the city’s past in unfamiliar garish colors and various states of existential stress. This isn’t so much a homage to the past but a more realistic – nay, grassroots – interpretation of it.

Because while Carl devotes an extraordinary amount of time in searching for relics of a bygone age, he is very much alive and well and living in New Bedford – now.

And as such, he’s an invaluable asset to its present and future, and one of our favorite people.

Though Carl isn’t a Groundwork! member, he’s one of those extraordinary residents of the city who make the larger culture of this coworking facility thrive, and whenever time and space allows us to intersect each others’ orbit is a point of historical contact.

Make the connection with us. You’re invited to the opening reception of Carl Simmons’ “New New Bedford Portraits” on Saturday, Jan. 20 from 5:00-8:00 p.m. There will be snacks, drinks, and music from Carl’s music collection in addition to the artwork for sale.

Steven Froias