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Philip Simmons: Master Blacksmith (1912 – 2009)

Philip Simmons Master Blacksmith (1912 - 2009)

Philip Simmons Master Blacksmith (1912 - 2009)


Philip Simmons-Master Blacksmith from Sunhead Projects on Vimeo.

“Philip Simmons is a poet of ironwork. His ability to endow raw iron with pure lyricism is known and admired throughout, not only in South Carolina, but as evidenced by his many honors and awards, he is recognized in all of America.”
-John Paul Huguley
Founder, School of the Building Arts (now the American College of the Building Arts)

Born June 9, 1912 in Wando on Daniel Island, near Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina, where he was reared by his grandparents. At age 8, he was sent to Charleston (via the ferry), to live with his mother on Vernon Street and enroll in the first class at Buist School.

At the time, the school on Daniel Island offered limited education because it was an agriculture and fishing community. It was open for only three months and teachers were difficult to keep.

While walking to and from school, young Philip noticed the ironwork and became intrigued with it. The neighborhood was a Mecca for craftsmen who serviced the waterfront businesses. He began visiting the blacksmith shops, pipefitters, shipwrights, coppers, and other craftsmen in the area. However, the sounds of the blacksmith shops interested him the most.

Philip Simmons, now the most celebrated of Charleston ironworkers, received his most important education from local blacksmith Peter Simmons, who ran a busy shop at the foot of Calhoun Street. Here, Philip Simmons acquired the values and refined the talents that would sustain him throughout his long metalworking career.

Moving into the specialized fields of ornamental iron in 1938, Simmons fashioned more than five hundred decorative pieces of ornamental wrought iron gatres, fences, balconies, and window grills. The City of Charleston from end to end is truly decorated by his hand.

In 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him its National Heritage Fellowship, the highest honor that the United States can bestow on a traditional artist. This recognition was followed by a similar award by the South Carolina state legislature for “lifetime achievement” and commissions for public sculptures by the South Carolina State Museum and the city of Charleston.

Simmons was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach, SC on January 31, 1994. The “Order of the Palmetto” the highest award given in the state, was presented to him by Governor David Beasley in 1998. In May of 2001, Philip Simmons received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for “Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.”

Pieces of his work have been acquired as well by the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution; the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM; the Richland County Public Library, Columbia, SC, the Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, GA, and the Daniel Island Company, Daniel Island, SC. In 1989, the vestry and congregation of his church (St. John’s Reformed Episcopal Church, 91 Anson Street in downtown Charleston), dedicated the grounds of the church to develop a commemorative landscaped garden as a tribute to his exceptional mastery of wrought iron and in recognition of his inspirational character and self assurance.

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