Liz Simmons (also known as Miss Lizzie Pants) is a local artist, waitress, photographer, musician, storyteller, plant whisperer, Shamanistic love child and all-around badass.
Her bright Technicolor home on the south side of Winston-Salem subverts the normal – a wonderland of WOW! with a pinch of witchy.
Her life story is just as colorful: a twisty Southern-fried fable that began in Statesville with pictures of the dead (her first drawing was of a cemetery). Obsessed with “Alice in Wonderland” as a child, Simmons ventured down her share of rabbit holes as a young woman, searching for meaning and the things that make us all human.
In Savannah, she was “scooped up and mentored” by the proprietor of the Velvet Elvis – a mama figure much like Winston-Salem’s own Mary Haglund of Mary’s Of Course, whom Simmons also worked beside for years. In the city by the sea, renowned for its garden of good and evil, the young Simmons reveled in the raucous and bawdy life of the popular stop-over of traveling musicians.
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Back in Winston, Simmons set out on her own hero’s quest in a grease bus with a bunch of friends from Krankies and the band Psychic Revolution on a homegrown magical mystery tour.
While she missed the one place of interest she hoped to visit on her cross-country trip – Devil’s Tower in the Badlands – the artist remains resolute that a close encounter with the spiritual landmark is in her future.
Today, after a lifetime of navigating roommates – 75 and counting – Simmons lives with her two Chihuahua-mix pups, Radar and Quasar, in the eclectic neighborhood of Sunnyside. She also shares space with her more quiet house guests – her plant friends – who pretty much stay put in the “ladies room” where they can be “very sassy at times.”
Simmons calls her Sunnyside home her “Corona Installation” – a collection of vibrantly colored rooms frantically painted during the quarantine – every room, everywhere, all at once. Her house is filled with art made by people she loves, living side-by-side with an ever-changing assortment of vignettes she assembles of made and found objects reminiscent of Mexican home altars.
At 51 years young, standing on a chair on the front porch, hammer in hand, she’s a rock star and heir of “super femme energy,” an independent and confident do-it-yourself woman free to pound nails, paint the baseboards the same color of the walls (“Are you crazy?” her Realtor asked), or beat a drum set in the wee hours of the morning – if she’s not already playing her musical saw.
“I need to get these curtains back up before the photographer gets here,” she says.
Her “junkyard paradise” out back is a work in progress – “the land of broken things where the squirrels are the Zen masters of the garden,” she says. A brick mosaic walkway leads to a fire pit at the center of the yard and is surrounded by a clear epoxy ring of pennies. At first glance, the random placement of copper coins seems by design, until Simmons points out the ghost rings of nickels, dimes and quarters.
“I needed money for food,” she says. So Simmons busted up a bunch of silver coins from their epoxy vault – “my savings account” she muses. It was $80 in change.
She likes the effect the pennies make shimmering in the sun, like the scales of a snake eating its own tail – an ouroboros – a symbol of eternal renewal.
Back in the kitchen, Simmons asks me to “stand here, right here and look.” Her finger directs my line of sight diagonally through her house, through multiple rooms, to reveal a riot of color, line, and texture – a visual impression of the musical chords she heard in her head.
Her conversation is just as colorful, just as lyrical, describing shared interests with friends and musical partners as “jammy jams” and her home’s quirky characteristics as “wonky wonks.” The turn of phrase that tickles me most is her occasional apology for taking me to “Banana Town” whenever we stray off topic.
Simmons says she loves being able to share her house with all the people she loves. It’s a genuine place of comfort and her favorite place to hang out.
She continues to find dead and broken things left on her front porch anonymously – offerings from friends who trust she will bring each object back to life in the art she creates or the altars she assembles.
Hanging out with Simmons at her Sunnyside house was magical, her stories captivating. It was three hours of time traveling at its best, without ever leaving a place that just feels loved, lived in and like home.
It’s also the only place in town where, if you listen to the music closely, with both your ears and your eyes, Miss Lizzie Pants will take you to “Banana Town” the same way Alice took us all to Wonderland.