Simpson finally to be laid to rest

Merton Simpson played saxophone in the Gibbes Museum rotunda at the opening of a 1995 exhibition featuring his work. (File)

The artist and respected collector Merton D. Simpson, who died March 9 but could not be buried right away because of financial problems, will finally be laid to rest today.

The burial will be at noon today at St. Peter Cemetery on Spruill Avenue in North Charleston.

It is made possible by funding provided by the New York-based Artists Fellowship, a charitable foundation “that assists professional fine artists and their families in times of emergency, disability or bereavement.”

Simpson, a Charleston native, left behind a substantial collection of art, both made and acquired over a distinguished career in New York City, but tied up in an estate whose assets were not liquid enough at the time of his death to pay for a full funeral, according to news reports. The collection could be worth millions of dollars.

Ann Berman, the court-appointed guardian of Simpson’s estate, confirmed the grant from the Artists Fellowship and praised the organization for its unusual work and proactive aid.

The fellowship provided the balance of funds necessary to proceed with the burial, she said. The guardianship originally had made $3,000 available for the Charleston funeral, “but arrangements the family chose were far in excess of that,” Berman said.

Wende Caporale, president of the Artists Fellowship, said she learned about the Simpson case in the newspaper on Tuesday, turned to her husband and said, “This has fellowship written all over it.”

She called Berman, encouraging her to fill out an application, then primed the board with several phone calls, she said. By Friday morning, the board had offered its approval, and a check for $5,750 was delivered to Berman.

In the intervening days, more than 20 friends of Simpson — artists and musicians mostly — contacted Berman offering donations, she said.

“I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I wrote them, thanked them and told them we had received a grant, but wouldn’t it be lovely if they could donate their money to Artists Fellowship?”

Juliette Pelletier, director of the Merton D. Simpson Gallery from 2008 until early 2012, when family disputes led to the formation of the legal guardianship and the end of her tenure at the gallery, said she had remained friends with the artist until his death.

“As much as this confusing situation has been a travesty and a disgrace, it is a relief to hear that his is burial is finally taking place,” she wrote in an email. “My dear friend Merton was a great and kind man, and deserves the utmost of respect; his legacy will indeed live on.”

Reach Adam Parker at 937-5902.