Henry Simon (American born Polish, 1901–1995)
Born in 1901 in Poland to working-class parents, Henry Simon and his family fled to the United States the following year to escape the threat of military conscription and pogroms. The Simons settled on the northwest side of Chicago in a neighborhood populated primarily by Polish Jews. Henry dropped out of high school at the age of fifteen to apprentice in a sign shop, where he met an artist who encouraged him to study art and introduced him to the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Simon sought more formal academic training in evening classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and, beginning in 1920, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). Although he never pursued a degree, Simon continued to take part-time classes in drawing and illustration at SAIC until 1935. While pursuing studies in art, Simon supported his family by working as a sign painter and apprenticed as a poster and stage set designer with the movie theater chain Balaban & Katz. During the Depression, Simon worked in the easel and mural divisions of the Illinois Art Project (IAP). After a hiatus from art making in the early 1950s, Simon re-emerged a few years later as a photographer. His documentary-style photographs of Chicago streets and people from the 1960s were shown in a solo exhibition at the Art Institute in 1973. In recent decades, exhibitions of Simon’s work at the College of Lake County Community Gallery of Art and at the Mary and Leigh Block Gallery at Northwestern University have advanced a more complete understanding of his lengthy career and diverse contributions to American art.