Artist Earl Simmons rebuilding home on Warriors Trail

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 2, 2003

Earl Wayne Simmons stands in front of his new home on Warriors Trail with one of the art pieces salvaged from the Aug. 13 fire that destroyed his home and folk art museum. (Melanie DuncanThe Vicksburg Post)

The view from Earl Wayne Simmons’ front porch is the rubble from the August fire that destroyed his home and art gallery.

Since that blaze, Simmons has been hammering his way into a new home every day and some nights.

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“You have to keep going, you can’t give up,” said the widely known folk artist whose works are in museums and private collections. “You have to show everyone that has helped you out your appreciation.”

Simmons, who is 47, has completed the porch and steps that will lead to the new structure he plans at 644 Warriors Trail.

It will be made of wood and possibly some bricks, Simmons said.

Depending on how quickly he can get materials, many of which have arrived through donations, Simmons said, he hopes to be finished within the year.

The previous structure, a work of art itself visited by traveling scholars and busloads of students on field trips, was called Earl’s Art Gallery and Museum. It stood for 23 years before the fire destroyed its themed rooms including a nightclub, disco booth and cafe.

The precise source of the flames was not discovered, and firefighters said that because it was built of wood largely encased in tin, there was little hope of saving it once flames spread.

From the day of the fire forward, there have been benefits for Simmons, who works for the Warren County Highway Department, and his family. He said the new house will be better.

“It will be different from the old one,” Simmons said. “It won’t be scattered, and the rooms will blend together.”

Simmons, his wife, Geneva Shears, and her 13 children now live in a mobile home on property adjacent to where the building stood. The couple obtained the used trailer after the fire, and Simmons said he plans to build around it. Other than in flood zones, there are no building safety codes in Warren County outside Vicksburg.

“We’re going to build above it, around it and beyond it,” he said.

Simmons said he intends to install a fire alarm, possibly a sprinkler system and “everything else we can think of” to help prevent another disaster.

Shears said Bovina and Vicksburg communities have helped the family. She said they’ve received two vehicles and building materials along with $7,000 in donations.

Simmons’ artwork can be seen at Attic Gallery, 1101 Washington St., where he said it would remain until his own gallery is up and running again.

“The good Lord has blessed me, so I have to put it back,” Simmons said.