Part of the collection at the shuttered Simmons Collection African Arts Museum.
Reece T. Williams/Gothamist
Wentt-Simmons’ late husband Stanfield Simmons Jr. first purchased the two-story building at 1063 Fulton Street in 1986, using the commercial space on the ground floor to display his carefully curated collection of African art that he’d amassed over a lifetime of international travel. Simmons Jr. was a Wall Street paralegal turned art aficionado who traveled the world, bringing some artifacts back to share with his neighborhood. His extensive collection includes masks, figurines, ceremonial objects and statues from countries across the African continent, as well as from Papua New Guinea, Brazil, and the African diaspora.
“He was very proud of our African heritage and he wanted to share that with the community. And not only the community, but people from all walks of life,” Wentt-Simmons said.
When Simmons died, then-State Sen. Eric Adams introduced a resolution to the Legislature to honor his death describing the cultural tours Simmons led abroad as well as the generations he mentored at his museum and in schools across the city.
“Armed with a humanistic spirit, imbued with a sense of compassion, and comforted by a loving family, Stanfield Simmons Jr. leaves behind a legacy which will long endure the passage of time and will remain as a comforting memory to all he served and befriended,” Adams wrote in 2010.
After Simmons Jr.’s death, Wentt-Simmons moved into the apartment above the museum, but struggled to keep it open with a full-time job of her own. She had aspirations to renovate it and reopen it to the public. Though it seems that dream is on hold.
While Wentt-Simmons was vacationing in Brazil in August, developer Reuben Pinner of the RYL Group, which owns the vacant building next door, called the buildings department to warn them of the crack in the back wall of her building, he confirmed.