Thursday 10 August 2023

Archive Spotlight

On this day in history Master Blacksmith Phillip Simmons was born in 1912. Philip Simmons (1912-2009) is the most celebrated ironworker of Charleston. Born on nearby Daniel Island, he moved to the city of Charleston in 1919. He attended local schools, but received his most important education from Blacksmith Peter Simmons (no relation), who operated a busy shop at the foot of Calhoun Street.

Moving into the specialized field of ornamental ironwork in 1938, Phillip Simmons fashioned more than 500 decorative pieces of ornamental wrought iron gates, fences, balconies, and window grills. The Charleston peninsula, from end to end, is decorated by his hands. 

Simmons regularly incorporated African Adinkra symbols, like Sankofa, into his art. His life’s work is an example of the long legacy of African (Gullah Geechee) skilled artisans whose contributions were essential to the development of Charleston and the Low country.

Simmons was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame on January 31, 1994. On August 11, 1998, Simmons was awarded “The Order of the Palmetto,” by Governor David Beasley. Pieces of his work have been acquired by the Charleston International Airport, the National Museum of American History, the Smithsonian Institute, and the Museum of International Folk in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to name a few. 

Images 1-8: Phillip Simmons and his ironwork, undated (Avery Photograph Collection folder 10-45)

Images 9-10: Peter Simmons (no relation), circa 1920's, who taught Phillip Simmons the trade (Avery Photograph Collection folder 10-44).

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