Lisa Simms Biography

Lisa Simms in a tuk tuk

I was born in Texas in the beginning of the 1960’s. By the time I was a crayon-wielding kid, my mom could tell by the amount of graffiti on the living room walls that I wanted to be an artist.

In 1978 my parents sent me on a tour of Europe. I saw art everywhere and it changed the way I saw myself in relation to the world. The possibilities felt endless for who I could become. I returned to the U.S. and promptly ran away from home. I hitched a ride on the back of a Harley and found my way to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. At this point I started on the path to learn what I did and didn’t want in my life. I made choices, suffered through parts of them but I eventually earned a BA in photography and ceramics. Through the photography I became interested in mask making. Then I got a college gig making masks for an opera colony, which lead to me producing my own masks.

1988 I went on to study mask making and mask design for Comedia del Arte Theatre in Arlesega Italy in the workshop of Donato Sartori. When I returned from Italy, I spent several years making masks, hats, and headdresses by the dozens and bringing them down to New Orleans to sell during Mardi Gras. I also made sculptural masks in paper mache which I sold in galleries. By 1993, I got bored of just making masks all the time. I started the search and decided I needed to go to Mexico to study sculpture and Spanish.

1994 I went to San Miguel de Allende to study lost wax for sculpture, but while there I also studied jewelry-making, lost wax casting, paper mache, puppetry, ceramics, and drawing. I stayed there for 16 years. I couldn’t get a real job back home so I opened my own gallery in 1995 and started soon after to sell my one of a kind sculptural jewelry. I hosted many exhibitions there over the years.

By the year 2000, for purposes of shear survival, I started part-time teaching paper mache, for mask making and sculpture, out of my studio there in San Miguel. I was pretty good at it. The teaching taught me a lot. I started volunteer teaching special needs children there in Mexico, which lead to an opportunity in 2004 and 2005 to facilitate art workshops with landmine victim kids in Quang Tri Province in Central Vietnam.

When I returned from Asia, after seeing the world and my country from the other side, and experiencing eastern culture and the beauty of it, I had a renewed inspiration to push further into my own work and what I wanted to say with it. The themes and the meaning of my pieces became important to me, I always want to tell a story.

This was me then in three of my wearable sculpture neck pieces.

Lisa Simms wearing three neck pieces
Necklace titled "Asian Summer" by Lisa Simms.

I made a whole lot of crazy, big, gnarly neck pieces. My slogan for a while was: “Wearable Sculpture by Lisa Simms, It’s not for everyone!”

This one won 1st prize in the state of Guanajuato in a jewelers competition in Bellas Artes.

I was super productive during this period creating a large body of work. I picked up some galleries in the US and everything was going great until the economy collapsed in 2008. I lost the US galleries when they went out of business, and tourism slowed down for us in San Miguel. But I hung in there and kept creating jewelry, kept teaching art classes, kept volunteering.

2009 I followed my heart to Guatemala to volunteer teach paper mache techniques at the ADISA handicapped vocational center in Santiago Atitlan. While there I met “THE MAN” at the other end of that Mayan village, who is the love of my life. Nice months later I closed my gallery in San Miguel and relocated to an indigenous town of 50,000 T’zutujil Mayas. It is located on the shores of lake Atitlan and between three volcanos. A paradise full of birds and nature. It was, to say the least, a challenge/“fertile void” period in my life.

I rode that challenge into expanding myself as an artist. I eventually gave up doing the wearable stuff and stretched my fingers into painting and sculpture. (My eyes can see it better than the jewelry and I am having a lot more fun.)

I built and opened a gallery in Santiago. (Which is not an art mecca bringing in clients for foreign artists like me.) After having the San Miguel gallery, I was worried that if I had the door open and painted in this gallery, people would want to come in and keep me from working. Like they did in San Miguel. There I had a gallery that could get quite busy during high season. But I was wrong! Hardly anyone came in the door at the edge of that Mayan village. Really it was the end of the road, so what did I expect? I used that space as my gorgeous atelier, overlooking the lake and facing volcano San Pedro. The light was fantastic!

I left Santiago and that atelier behind in 2019 when we relocated across the lake to the Kaqchikel village of Panajachel. Here, we are building our dream home. I will be building my dream studio also.

I am currently working in a studio I rent in an old artist space that has been operating in Pana for decades. It is funky and fun, and has not slowed down my inspiration nor productivity in the least.