Gilena Simons

"I collect other people’s things, what was once treasured and then discarded, and provide new homes and arrangements for them. I’m fascinated by the stories each could tell if each could talk: Who designed it? Who made it? Who originally sold and bought it? Where and when? Who kept it, played with it, wore it and then let it go? Why? Individual components are assembled into new arrangements, hopefully to be treasured again.

While assembling my pieces, I like to think, “What are the chances?” as in, “What are the chances these individual items, having originated in separate places as diverse as Wisconsin, Germany, South America or South Africa would meet up in the same place someday in Los Angeles?” What are the chances any of us would?

Having been the product of a “broken home” with a decisively severed family tree branch, I understand why someone’s precious baby photos or stamp collection might wind up in my hands rather than being passed down to the next generation. I allow these once treasured and then discarded items an inanimate chance to have a new “family,” much the way I’ve had to assemble a new one myself.

The black houses are related to the theme of loss and grieving.

Queen Victoria is our most famous widow. Because she was the ruler of Great Britain when Prince Albert died, her empire and then other countries followed her example of wearing black and “widow’s weeds” became the custom following the death of a husband, often for years. These dresses, some elaborately beaded and embellished, are now over 150 years old. Many are shredded and beyond repair. What to do with them? Throw them away? Store them in attics never to be seen again? All that time spent on beading and embellishing… isn’t there somehow to make all those hours still relevant to someone else? What can we do to salvage what we can from what’s still here and create a new beginning, a new chance to be treasured again?"

Gilena Simons was born in North Hollywood, California in 1969. She received a BA in Economics from Mills College and an MBA from Pepperdine University. She held a series of jobs, was married, widowed, married again, had two children and ran a household before that marriage ended in divorce. Gilena self published a memoir called “A Life Imagined” in 2008 and a collection of blogs called “Can Gilena wear it All?” in 2010. She has been on the Photography Committee at MOCA since 2005 and is a passionate collector of contemporary art. Gilena now owns a vintage shop on Main Street in Santa Monica and walks to work.

Black House # 1: Black vintage cloth on wooden frame. Dimensions: 24 ¾” l x 18 ½” w x 25”h

Black House #2: Black vintage cloth on wooden frame. Dimensions: 33” l x 14” w x 34” h


Black House #3: Black vintage cloth on wooden frame. Dimensions: 22 ½” l x 18” w x 22 ½” h


Black House #4: Black vintage cloth on wooden frame. Dimensions: 17 ¼” l x 24” w x 25” h