As Harry Simon reflects on his time at Simon Gallery—opened in the space once the longtime face of the Morristown Typewriter Exchange, his family's business—he looks on his desk at the very first article written about his and wife Mary Ellen's newest endeavor in 1996.
"Sixteen years later, I've got to put my glasses on to read it," he said with a laugh.
While the 38-year-old with pitch-dark beard and better vision today has a little more salt to his pepper and a pair of spex balanced on his nose, the 54-year-old Harry Simon's mission for Simon Gallery remains the same as it did when its 1,200-square-foot gallery and 2,000-square-foot storeroom opened on Oct. 25, 1996.
"It's not about anything but the art, artists and quality of the art," he said.
That art will be on display Friday when Simon Gallery, 48 Bank St., will celebrate its "Sweet 16" from 6 to 9 p.m.
It could have been much different when the family business closed in 1992 after over 50 years. After a retaining wall was erected to separate new tenants Aikido Center of New Jersey—now the location for Guerrilla Fitness—from the remaining space, the Simon's had a blank canvas and a decision to make.
"It was all one space, raw and rough," Simon said. "Instead of just making improvements to rent it out, Mary Ellen and I decided to open an art gallery."
While fans of good art at the time, an art gallery had not been a longtime dream of the Simon's. But, it was several artist friends, including Simon's childhood friend James Rosenthal, that convinced the couple to take that route.
Rosenthal's acrylic works were hung and presented first, and the art since has run the gamut, from geometric shapes on canvas, to giant triptych paintings, to pieces from one artist currently in the Simon Gallery showroom, "Kinetic Sculptures," priced at about $10,000.
Such a price may surprise those not in the art realm, but pales in comparison to some pieces found in New York City that can range in the hundreds of thousands. Prices can vary at Simon Gallery, he said, from a little under $1,000 to upwards of $30,000 for established artists.
It is another element of his 16-year-old gallery that has kept people coming to Morristown for art and not just taking a knee-jerk reaction journey to the Big Apple. "Having a gallery in any town adds to the cultural fiber of the community," Simon said.
Indeed, it was his gallery that was at the forefront several years of "" a self-guided quarterly art program collaboration between Simon Gallery, the Arts Council of the Morris Area, Hyatt Morristown and a number of other Morristown businesses that post art installations for the public.
"I'm very proud of the contribution the gallery has made to the community," Simon said.
Today, the owner of Morristown's only fully-dedicated art gallery may need to put on his glasses to read the newspaper, but his enthusiasm for art and his business are still that of someone at least 16 years his junior.
"It's a great job," Simon said. "As long as I want and have to work, this is what kind of business I want to be in."
The Simon Gallery "Sweet 16" celebration runs from 6 to 9 p.m. at Simon Gallery, 48 Bank St. For more information, click here.