Art of Aging: Former funeral director finds beauty in both life and death

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A 77-year-old Logan Square man has garnered quite a collection over the years, consisting of both stories and stuff.

For Watermark resident and retiree Jeff Simmons, life has been a lot about death.

"I was very fascinated with cemeteries, because of history and architecture," he said.

He even visited the grave of Harry Houdini as a kid.

"My great grandfather was best friends with Harry Houdini. My great grandparents monument is right behind Houdini's monument," said Jeff.

His interest in cemeteries led to a 20-year career as a funeral director at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York.

"I buried a lot of famous people, including Judy Garland, Montgomery Clift,Joan Crawford, Duke Ellington," said Jeff.

Simmons found beauty in not only death, but also in life.

He started collecting art more than 40 years ago and has about 150 pieces.

"I would say, 70% is portraits, and 30% is sort of impressionistic," he said. "This is one-of-a-kind. The color almost gives it a 3D quality."

Simmons says he acquired his art through various sources, buying online, at craft fairs and while traveling.

"See a lot of these oils are reproductions of the re original, but the mattes and the frames I picked, so every frame is different," he said.

He has many original pieces too, especially in his art deco collection.

"That period I like the bronzes," he said.

He also collects mezuzahs.

"Well, I'm Jewish, they meant something to me and these were very rare," he said.

Jeff says he only buys art to display it and his walls are filled.

"So my collection is complete," he said.
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