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Spicer-Simson, Theodore (1871-1959) | University of Miami Finding Aids

Name: Spicer-Simson, Theodore (1871-1959)

Historical Note:

Theodore Spicer-Simson was born at le Havre, France on June 25, 1871, the first son of Frederick John Simson and Dora Mary Spicer. His education was in various boarding schools in London, Germany and France. After his graduation, he enrolled in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris to study sculpture.

In Paris he met Margaret Schmidt and followed her to Washington, D.C. where they were married on July 1, 1896. When the United States entered the Spanish American War in 1899, they moved to Paris where he met and worked with sculptor Jean Dampt. Living in the Montparnasse section of Paris he met many artists and literary figures, many of which were later to be subject of his medallions, including Leo and Ella Mielziner, Henri Monod, James Stephens, and many others.

Many prominent people on both sides of the Atlantic sat for Spicer-Simson, including three United States Presidents. President William Howard Taft sat for him in 1911 for a medallion that was later reduced and used as a campaign button. In 1914 he did a cast of President Woodrow Wilson's right hand which was going to be used in propaganda for wartime with the slogan "Uphold the President's Hand." However, this was never used. Also, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sat for him for a medal commissioned by the French Mint. He also made a medallic portrait of Ignance Jean Paderewski, a famous Polish pianist, who, between sittings for Spicer-Simson, was chosen the first President of independent Poland, forcing Spicer-Simson to finish the medallion in a hurry.

In 1921 he started work on Men of Letters of the British Isles a volume containing medallic portraits of the prominent writers of England and Ireland of the time. These were to be accompanied by critical essays on each author's work by Stuart P. Sherman. Included among the authors that sat for Spicer-simson were George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, A.E. Houseman, G.K. Chesterton, and others.

In 1925, during a visit to the United States, he was invited to visit Miami by his old friend David Fairchild. Spicer-Simson liked Miami so much that, on his return to France, he had a home built in Coconut Grove. During the world-wide depression of the 1930's their Florida home was rented out and they returned to like at a home at les Volets Verts, Bourron, France.

The Spicer-Simsons were in France during the outbreak of World War II. Since Spicer-Simson was of British citizenship, he was arrested in 1940 by the German army which was arresting British nationals living in occupied France. Margaret was not arrested because she was an American citizen and the U.S. was not directly involved in the war at that time. He was released, after spending time in a prisoners' camp, in April, 1941 and remained the rest of the war at Les Volets Verts.

After the war, in late 1946, they were able to return to their home in Coconut Grove. Here Spicer-Simson made a medallion of Robert Frost who was associated with the University of Miami at the time. He remained in the United States until his death in Miami after a long illness on February 1, 1959.

Among the honors Spicer-Simson received during his lifetime, he was named fellow of the Numismatic Association and Recipient of the J. Stanford Saltus Medal of the American Numismatic Society. He was also named fellow of the National Sculpture Association member of the National Academy of Design, and associataire de Salon des Beaux-Arts, Paris. His work is contained in various museums, libraries, and private collections world-wide. Notable among these are a tablet honoring Alexander Graham Bell displayed at the National Geographic Society Building and one honoring Hervey J. Allen on display at the American Museum of Natural History, both in Washington, D.C.

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