Search This Blog

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Flying in honor of Mr. Simmons

Monday, June 22nd, Philip Simmons died. For those who didn't know him, you really missed out. He was a very prominent figure in the Charleston area. He designed and built many of the iron gates in downtown Charleston. His works are exhibited at the Smithsonian Institute. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Mepkin Abbey where he designed his final gate. It was the gate to the African American cemetery that was discovered on the property. I sat in awe as he recounted story after story of his amazing life. I was equally blessed with a signed copy of one of his books. He will truly be missed.

At the store Zinnia, you can purchase jewelry designed after his famous gates. The proceeds go to the Philip Simmons Foundation, Inc. A dear sistergirlfriend gave me a piece and I give pieces to others.

This is the release sent to me via email.

Master Blacksmith
(1912 – 2009)

(Charleston, SC June 22, 2009) It is with deep sorrow that we announce that Philip Simmons, America’s premier blacksmith, died on June 22, 2009, at Bishop Gadsden Retirement Community. Philip moved to Bishop Gadsden in the spring of 2008 and lived comfortably surrounded by a caring nursing staff and many friends and family. Philip died peacefully. He was 97.

Born on June 9, 1912, on Daniel Island, South Carolina, Philip was reared by his grandparents. At age 8 he was sent to Charleston via ferry to live with his mother on Vernon Street. He was enrolled in the first class at Buist Elementary School (now Buist Academy). 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, pipe fitters, shipwrights, coopers, and other craftsmen in the area. However, the sounds of the blacksmith shops interested him the most.

Philip Simmons apprenticed under the blacksmith Peter Simmons (no relation), who ran a busy shop at the foot of Calhoun Street. Here, Philip acquired the values and refined the talents that would sustain him throughout his long metal-working career.

Moving into the specialized field of ornamental iron beginning in 1938, Simmons fashioned more than five hundred decorative pieces of ornamental wrought iron: gates, fences, balconies, and window grills. The City of Charleston, from one end to the other, 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 from the South Carolina State Legislature. 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 by the National Museum of American History as well as the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Smithsonian Institution, the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, NM, and the South Carolina State Museum, Columbia, 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.

Philip is survived by Lillian Gilliam, daughter; Philip Simmons, Jr., son; Rebecca Comings, sister; 16 grandchildren; 17 great and 23 great, great grandchildren, plus many nieces and nephews.

The celebration for Mr. Simmons’ life among us will be announced tomorrow. The burial service will be private. Memorial donations may be sent to the Philip Simmons Foundation, Inc, P.O. Box 21585, Charleston, SC 29413-1585, or The Philip Simmons Home and Workshop Fund, Coastal Community Foundation, 90 Mary St., Charleston, SC 29403.