The Fire Paints the Path: Matt Simms’ Watersheds in Clay

If Google Earth had a pottery filter, Matt Simms may as well have designed it. On his platters of the Blackfoot River, clay crackles into the fingers of drainages, black speckles of coal slag stipple like treetops, and paths of fire move over the land. Then there is the river itself: a 132-mile-long dam-free waterway originating in Montana’s Continental Divide, all laid out in porcelain.

As an artist, Simms is “drawn to contrast, changes in value and a blend of detailed precision and expressive looseness”—a set of qualities fit for his intersecting loves of clay and rivers, though he refers to the latter as an obsession. Simms has been a flyfishing guide, art teacher and fly tyer in Missoula, MT, for over 20 years. His story is a braided one, full of put-ins and takeouts, unexpected gifts and chance encounters. The kind of story built for river life.

Simms was born in Denver but moved to Los Angeles with his family at the age of 4 when there was only one fly shop in the city. For his sixth-grade graduation, Simms received a vise from his father who hoped to never buy a commercial fly again. At the time, Simms wasn’t yet interested in fishing but was good with his hands. This eventually translated into an art degree from Lewis & Clark College where Simms was intimidated by the “cool-kid potters” and instead stayed close to what he excelled at: drawing…

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