Charleston's African-American Heritage



Philip Simmons: Iron Working Legend

An excerpt from the book: "Charleston Blacksmith: The Work of Philip Simmons" by John Michael Vlach



Philip Simmons, now the most celebrated of Charleston ironworkers, was born on nearby Daniel Island on June 9, 1912. A Charleston resident since 1919, he attended local schools but received his most important education from local blacksmith Peter Simmons (no relation), 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. Mr. Simmons died on June 23, 2009 at the age of 97.



Moving into the specialized fields of ornamental iron in 1938, Simmons fashioned more than 500 decorative pieces of ornamental wrought iron: gates, fences, balconies, and window grills. Charleston, from end to end, is truly decorated by his hand.

In 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded Simmons 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, S.C. on Jan. 31, 1994. The "Order of the Palmetto," the highest award given in the state, was presented to him by Gov. 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, N.M.; the Richland County Public Library, Columbia, S.C.; the Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, Ga.; and the Daniel Island Company, Daniel Island, S.C.

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.