MERTON D. SIMPSON, PAINTER, COLLECTOR AND DEALER IN AFRICAN ART
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: March 14, 2013
Merton D. Simpson, an artist who became a trailblazing collector and gallery owner specializing in African art, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 84.
Mr. Simpson had had several strokes and suffered from a number of prolonged illnesses, including diabetes and dementia, said his son Merton Jr. and Alaina Simone, director of theMerton D. Simpson Gallery, in confirming his death.
Mr. Simpson’s work as a painter was largely in the Abstract Expressionist mode. It grew more political after he joined the Spiral group, a collective of black artists founded in 1963 by Romare Bearden, Hale Woodruff and others, who met to discuss the role of black artists in the art world and, given the growing civil rights movement, the larger world as well.
Influenced by Bearden’s collages and the Spiral discussions, Mr. Simpson, after witnessing a standoff between Harlem residents and the police in 1964, produced a series he called“Confrontations,” abstract renderings of masklike faces, white and black, seemingly in hostile opposition.
Mr. Simpson began collecting African and tribal art in the late 1940s. His interest grew through the next decade, spurred by the influence of African sculpture on the paintings of Picasso, Miró and others.
“I was so taken with them, with the forms, you know,” he said in a 1968 oral history interview for the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art about the figures he had seen in the collections of Mr. Woodruff (who had been his teacher), Paul Robeson and others. “People talked about Picasso, Miró, and I used to say, ‘What about African sculpture?,’ which these people sort of got this idea from.”
He began dealing in art in the early 1950s to support his painting and to help his family, at first working out of a studio apartment and later from a gallery in Manhattan. (The Merton D. Simpson Gallery is now at 38 West 28th Street.) Over decades of traveling in Africa and Europe, Mr. Simpson established a reputation for taste and expertise that many aficionados in the field consider unmatched.
“Over the course of the ’60s and ’70s Simpson became the most important dealer in the U.S. in this field,” Heinrich C. Schweizer, head of the African and Oceanic art department at Sotheby’s auction house, said on Tuesday. “Worldwide, you could say he was one of the two or three leading dealers, and certainly a powerhouse in the U.S., and this was especially remarkable for an African-American, who began doing this in the time of segregation.”
Merton Daniel Simpson was born in Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 20, 1928. His father, Marion, was a water-meter reader; his mother, Jennie, was a homemaker. As a young boy he had diphtheria and rheumatic fever, illnesses that kept him out of school until fifth grade.
His youthful interests ran to both drawing and music; in high school he was a reed player, and he continued to play jazz saxophone as an adult, which he said influenced some of his later paintings, abstract works with looping lines, indefinite shapes and energetic brush strokes suggestive of the improvisatory nature of jazz.“Painting is like playing music,” he said. “You can hear a song, you can hear a melody, you don’t have to know the words, but you hear the music and get an impression of what’s going on.”
He came to New York in 1948 and studied at Cooper Union and New York University, where he met Mr. Woodruff. In 1951 he entered the Air Force; he spent most of his time playing in the Air Force band and painting portraits of military officers, including Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. He also worked on paintings of his own.
When he left the service he returned to Manhattan, where he supported himself working in a frame shop frequented by well-known artists like Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell, who would critique his paintings.
Mr. Simpson’s marriage to Beatrice Houston ended in divorce. In addition to his son Merton Jr. he is survived by another son, Kenneth; a brother, Carl; a sister, Patsy Johnson; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
“He was a real pioneer, involved in African art at a high level at a time when there weren’t even many African-Americans who were collecting African art,” said Lowery Stokes Sims, curator of the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, who worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from the ’70s to the ’90s. “When I worked at the Met I would go to the gallery and see some of the most incredible African art I’d ever seen in my life. It was really showstopping. And occasionally he’d show his own work,” she said. “For an African-American who came up in the art world in the 1970s, he was truly one of those unsung pioneers, crucial in establishing our place in the art world.”
LILIAN CRAIG, BELOVED OF PRINCE WHO COULD BE KING
Published: March 11, 2013
“If I were to sum up my life, everything has been about love,” Princess Lilian of Sweden once said.
In what Swedes consider a Cinderella story, Lilian Craig, who died on Sunday at 97, lived for a third of a century as the lover of Sweden’s Prince Bertil, unable to marry because there was a chance he could become king, and Swedish kings were forbidden to wed commoners. Pretty much the whole country knew about their relationship, but they were still barred from appearing in public together.
Three years after King Gustaf VI died, in 1973 — to be succeeded by his grandson Carl Gustaf — Prince Bertil, a son of the older king, finally married Ms. Craig. He was 64 and she was 61, and both called it the happiest day of their lives. Ms. Craig became a princess and duchess with the nuptials.
“I was nervous as a kitten,” Ms. Craig told The Boston Globe in 1985. “I had butterflies in my tummy. When we exchanged vows, I was afraid I wouldn’t even remember my husband’s name.”
The wedding signaled the formal end of an already bygone era. Prince Bertil had agreed to refrain from marrying a commoner because of fears it could jeopardize the royal line: he was next in line to the throne until Carl Gustaf, his nephew — and now the king — came of age. Today, many members of European royalty, including Sweden’s, routinely and without penalty marry commoners, and female prospects have the same succession rights as male. Carl Gustaf himself married a commoner.
Princess Lilian paid a price for her loyalty, including whispers early on about living in sin. She said she regretted not having children. “But now the queen’s children are like my children,” she told The Globe. “It makes up. Well, not quite.”
As for not being allowed to be seen in public for many years, she said: “Sometimes I felt it wasn’t nice. But it was nice that we were together, anyway.”
Her death, in Stockholm, was announced by the royal palace.
Lillian May Davies was born in Swansea, Wales, on Aug. 30, 1915, and left school at 14 to seek work as a maid in London. She ended up working as a fashion model, dancer and singer, and marrying Ivan Craig, an actor. She dropped one of the L’s from her first name, she said, because she thought it seemed more fashionable that way. During World War II, while Mr. Craig served in the British Army in Africa, Ms. Craig worked at a factory making radios for the Royal Navy and at a hospital for wounded soldiers.
There are several versions of how she met Prince Bertil, in 1943, when he was naval attaché in the Swedish Embassy: at a party held to celebrate her 28th birthday, at a nightclub, in the London subway. One story has the prince gallantly rescuing her from a drunken sailor.
In any case, she wrote in her memoir, “My Life With Prince Bertil” (2000), she was captivated: “He was so handsome, my prince. Especially in uniform. So charming and thoughtful. And so funny.”
During their wartime separation, her husband had also developed another romantic tie. They divorced amicably.
Two of Prince Bertil’s brothers had already disqualified themselves from the line of succession by marrying commoners, becoming the first members of the Swedish royal family to do so in 400 years. Their grandfather Gustaf V, who remained king until 1950, had blocked a marriage between Prince Bertil and the daughter of a Swedish Army captain in 1934, according to The Associated Press. Prince Bertil was soon publicly linked to Princess Juliana of the Netherlands, who later became the country’s queen, but that incipient relationship also fell through.
In 1947, Prince Bertil’s eldest brother, Prince Gustaf Adolf, the heir to the throne, died in a plane crash. Gustaf Adolf’s son, Carl Gustaf, was less than a year old, and if the king had died before the child was old enough to assume the throne, Prince Bertil might have had to serve as a regent, or acting monarch.
Both Prince Bertil’s grandfather (who died in 1950) and father refused to allow him to marry a commoner. So he and Ms. Craig lived together in France until 1957, when they moved to Sweden to live discreetly. Her first public appearance with him was in 1972, at the 90th-birthday celebration of King Gustav VI, who had developed a personal liking for her.
Once wed and royal, Princess Lilian, who left no immediate survivors, participated inNobel Prize events in Stockholm. After Prince Bertil died in 1997, she helped lead sports organizations in which he had been active.
She said laughter was the key to her longevity, and also to her great romance.
“Oh, how we laughed together!” she said.
MILDRED DALTON MANNING, ’ANGEL OF CORREGIDOR’ NURSE WHO WAS HELD AS JAPANESE P.O.W.
Published: March 10, 2013
Mildred Dalton Manning grew up poor on a Georgia farm. Her mother made all the family clothes on an old sewing machine. Hoping to escape a life of poverty, she attended nursing school during the Depression and became a nurse at a hospital in Atlanta.
She enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in 1939. “I joined the Army to see the world,” she told The Courier News of Bridgewater, N.J., some 60 years later. “And what I saw was a prison camp.”
Mrs. Manning was among the Army and Navy nurses of World War IIknown collectively as the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor. When the Japanese were overrunning the Philippines in early 1942, the nurses treated wounded, dying and disease-ridden soldiers under heavy enemy fire, in one of the darkest chapters of American military history.
A total of 66 Army nurses were taken into captivity by the Japanese after the Americans’ final outpost, on the island of Corregidor, fell in May 1942. They spent most of the war under guard at Japan’s Santo Tomas internment camp for foreign nationals in Manila, where they faced near-starvation and were ravaged by disease and malnutrition while treating nearly 4,000 men, women and children.
When Mrs. Manning died on Friday in Hopewell, N.J., at 98, she was the last survivor of the Army and Navy nurses who had been captured by the Japanese in the Philippines, said Elizabeth M. Norman, who told their stories in “We Band of Angels.” Ms. Norman’s book was first published in 1999 as a Random House hardcover, but she said she had continued to keep track over the years.
“I’m certain she was the last one,” Ms. Norman said of Mrs. Manning.
“We Band of Angels” was published in paperback in 2000 and as an e-book in 2011. Ms. Norman is preparing a revised paperback edition that will include a final chapter on Mrs. Manning titled “Last Woman Standing.”
Mrs. Manning — Lt. Mildred Dalton during the war — and her fellow nurses subsisted on one or two bowls of rice a day in the last stages of their imprisonment. She lost all her teeth to lack of nutrition.
“I have been asked many times if we were mistreated or tortured,” she wrote in a remembrance for her files, made available on Saturday by her son, James, who announced her death. “Physically, no. A few people might get their face slapped if they failed to bow to a Japanese guard. Humiliated, yes. We would be awakened at 2 in the morning for head count or searched for contraband.”
“From time to time they would round up a number of men and take them out of camp and they were never heard from again,” she continued. “Our internment was nothing compared to the Bataan Death March and imprisonment our soldiers went through. They were tortured and starved.”
Mildred Jeannette Dalton was born on July 11, 1914, near Winder, Ga. She graduated from the Grady Memorial Hospital School of Nursing in Atlanta, then was head nurse at Grady before entering military service.
She was stationed at Clark Field, north of Manila, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and bombed the Philippines (where it was Dec. 8, across the international date line).
She treated servicemen at field hospitals in jungle terrain in the retreat to the Bataan Peninsula, then joined the last-ditch stand on Corregidor, treating the wounded there in tunnels bombed incessantly by the Japanese, until the American capitulation.
The 1943 Hollywood movie “So Proudly We Hail,” starring Claudette Colbert, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake as Army nurses in the Philippines, was based on the memoir “I Served on Bataan,” by Lt. Juanita Redmond, who was among nearly two dozen nurses evacuated from Corregidor shortly before it fell.
The captive nurses — 66 from the Army at Santo Tomas and 11 from the Navy, who had surrendered in Manila and were held at another internment camp — were liberated in the winter of 1945. The Army nurses received Bronze Stars in a ceremony on Leyte island in the Philippines, then were flown to California and received a message of gratitude from President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Lieutenant Dalton was sent by the Army to promote war bond sales in her final months of military service. She met Arthur Brewster Manning, an editor at The Atlanta Constitution, at a rally and married him on her 31st birthday.
She later worked as a nurse in Jacksonville, Fla., while raising a family. In her later years she moved to Trenton to be near her son. In addition to him, she is survived by a daughter, March Price, as well as five grandchildren and a great-grandson. Her husband died in 1994.
Mrs. Manning told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2001 that she continued to experience trauma from her war experiences. She feared dark places long after those grim days and nights in the tunnels of Corregidor, she said, and she built extra shelves in her home to store staples out of fear that she would run out of food.
“But I came out so much better than many of my friends,” she said. “I have never been bitter, and I have always known that if I could survive that, I could survive anything.”
DIRK COETZEE, SOUTH AFRICAN OFFICIAL WHO LED APARTHEID-ERA KILLINGS
Dirk Coetzee in London. He ran a hit squad in South Africa.
Published: March 9, 2013
Dirk Coetzee, who led a South African police hit squad that killed antiapartheid activists, and who eventually confessed to his crimes as his country began shifting away from official racial segregation, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Pretoria. He was 67.
The cause was kidney failure, a hospital spokesman told South African news outlets.
Mr. Coetzee was a divisive and complicated figure: a convicted murderer and a whistle-blower whose detailed accounts of a violently corrupt police force shed new light onSouth Africa’s racist government.
His confession prompted accusations that he was an opportunist, out to protect himself when political winds began to change. But he was also viewed as brutally honest in a culture of cover-ups.
“There wasn’t anything he told us that wasn’t true,” Jacques Pauw, who wrote the first articles about Mr. Coetzee’s role in 1989 for a small South African weekly, said recently. “And for that I will always respect him.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Mr. Coetzee was a captain for the South African security police at Vlakplaas, a 100-acre farm on the outskirts of Pretoria, where police officers were trained in counterinsurgency to help defend white control in other African countries. Yet under Mr. Coetzee and other leaders, officers at Vlakplaas also led a war within South Africa.
Mr. Coetzee oversaw multiple killings of antiapartheid activists, including members of the African National Congress, which the government had outlawed. He sometimes recruited black South Africans to join the force and carry out killings.
It was one of those black South Africans, a former police officer named Almond Nofomela, who first revealed the actions of Vlakplaas in 1989 and implicated Mr. Coetzee in a number of killings. Among them was the murder in November 1981 of Griffiths Mxenge, a black lawyer linked to the Congress. He had been stabbed more than 40 times and his throat had been slit.
The allegations prompted Mr. Coetzee to flee the country and, in an interview with Mr. Pauw, the journalist, to confess to having led the death squad.
At the time, President F. W. de Klerk of South Africa was under increasing pressure to end apartheid, and the government was considering releasing the African National Congress’s leader, Nelson Mandela, from prison. In early 1990, Mr. de Klerk, who had initially rejected calls for an investigation into Vlakplaas, created a commission to lead one. It quickly issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Coetzee.
Mr. Coetzee, who by that time was living outside the country under the protection of the very group whose members he had once targeted, said he welcomed the investigation. He said that the killings had been ordered by the government to preserve white rule and that they had continued after he left Vlakplaas in the early ’80s.
“The responsibility for the death squads goes right to the top,” Mr. Coetzee said in an interview with The New York Times in Zimbabwe in 1990. “I have evidence which, when brought together, could bring the Pretoria government to a fall.”
Mr. Coetzee said that he had been involved in 13 killings and that government officials, including Mr. de Klerk, had been directly involved in crimes in Africa and elsewhere, including a 1982 bombing of the Congress’s office in London.
But government prosecutors eventually dismissed the allegations by Mr. Coetzee, Mr. Nofomela and another black officer, calling them “untruthful” and “groundless.”
Years later, after the end of white rule, prosecutors would reverse course, affirming many of Mr. Coetzee’s claims about Vlakplaas and even saying that he had become a target of the unit he had exposed. In 1991, they said, a bomb intended to kill him instead killed a human rights lawyer.
After apartheid ended and South Africa created its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mr. Coetzee was among the first to apply for amnesty. In 1996, before the commission ruled on his case, he was arrested by the government over the killing of Mr. Mxenge.
He and two officers were convicted in 1997. One of the prosecutors was the same one who had dismissed his claims against the government years earlier.
There were still more strange turns. Mr. Coetzee did not testify at the trial, and his lawyers suggested that public confessions he had already made could have been fabricated. Mr. Coetzee expressed anger after the verdict.
“It is of course pathetic to me that after eight years, the first time in my life that I reserve the right to remain silent, I’m found guilty,” he said at the time. “While in stark contrast to the past eight years that I struggled to get the truth out, I was never believed.”
The conviction was handed down in May 1997, but Mr. Coetzee and his co-defendants were never sentenced; that August, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission granted them amnesty. The commission determined that Mr. Coetzee had acted on “the advice, command or order of one or more senior members of the Security Branch.”
Mr. Coetzee was born in April 1945. His father was a postal worker. Mr. Coetzee himself worked for the postal service before he took a job as in investigator in 1969. He returned to South Africa in 1993 and was eventually given a job in South Africa’s National Intelligence Agency.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.