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Who founded Rockport Art Colony?
By Kay Betz
Friends of the History Center for Aransas County
Simon Michael is credited with starting the art colony in Aransas County. Of Phoenician, Syrian and Lebanese heritage, he was born in Pennsylvania and took private lessons in art. Beginning in 1925, he spent three years in Paris, holding an exhibit and studying at L’Academie de la Grand-Chaumiere-Des Beaux Art.
When he returned to the U.S., he traveled the country, forming a friendship with Gutson and Lincoln Borglum, who carved Mount Rushmore. The Borglums later lived in Beeville, where Michael taught art for many years. In 1941 he was inducted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Texas at Camp Wolters, where he created a “Saluting Soldier” statue and constructed actual size models of German and Japanese villages used in training exercises. For this work, he earned the Legion of Merit medal, which he claimed as his most-prized possession.
After his discharge, he traveled throughout Texas, moving to Fulton in 1948. He rented the 15-room McDonald House, now called Tortilla Flats, off Fulton Beach Road and created the Fulton School of Painting, patterned after a Cape Cod Art Colony.
In 1950, the population of Aransas County was 4,252, and Harry S. Truman was President of the United States. That same year Michael purchased five acres of land on King Street in Rockport for $1,500 and a pound of butter and established the Simon Michael School of Fine Art. He taught art in many small towns throughout the Gulf Coast and as far inland as Fredericksburg, spending his life on the road except for Sundays. Lessons were $1 a day. Summers he would often take students for several weeks to paint in Mexico. He also took his students out on “The Rambler,” a 35-foot cabin cruiser, to study working shrimp boats.
Many local children took lessons from him and remember him as a dapper, handsome, cultured and educated person, who not only taught the technical aspects of drawing and painting, but also modeled a sophisticated philosophy of living and creativity. His studio and gallery were filled with the paintings and sculptures of many famous artists as well as antiques and artifacts from around the world. He brought in other famous artists to teach, including his most famous student Dalhart Windberg. He was a mentor to several generations of artists and established many traditions still evident in the local art community, including plein air painting outdoors of scenes such as workboats in the harbors.
A wing of the Jostes Visual Arts Building at Coastal Bend College in Beeville is named for him. The Art Center of Corpus Christi also has a Simon Michael Art Gallery. Simon Michael: The Man, The Artist, The Teacher was written by Dorothy Kucera in 1988.
Learn more about him and other early artists in the new exhibit, The Art Colony: 1948-1984 at the History Center of Aransas County. The exhibit is on display now until Saturday, Sept. 3, 2016 at the Center, located at 801 E. Cedar St. The exhibit is free and open to the public Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. and Sundays in July from 2 until 4 p.m. For more information go to the website www.aransashistorycenter.org.