Philip Simmons. The Blacksmither’s Art

Jewelry of Simmon's gate design

Jewelry of Simmon's gate design

Philip Simmons is a legend. He is Charleston’s best known blacksmith. His love of the anvil and the hammer is evident and his recognition is long overdue. The Smithsonian Museum named him a National Heritage Fellow and the National Endowment for the Arts named him a “master traditional artist.” The curled circles of black wrought iron, that grace the doorways and windows of so much of Charleston, continues a tradition begun here by the early colonists. “Wrought ironwork (much of the early pieces were balconies) of the 18th and 19th centuries featured scrolls, fleur-de-lis, leaf and flower patterns, spears and wiggletails.” according to the Historic Charleston Foundation.

Many of the earliest gates and balconies in the city were destroyed in the fires of 1740 and 1778, and much of what survived was removed to support the Patriot cause during the Revolutionary War. According the John Michael Vlach, whose 1991 work on African American Vernacular art, By the Work of Their Hands, and who also wrote a book on Philip Simmons, wrote about the earlier blacksmiths: “In the middle of the 19th century, almost one fourth of the African American blacksmiths were free men. Christopher Werner, a prominent metal worker in Charleston, owned five slaves. ‘Uncle Toby’ Richardson is remembered as a “top rank artist in iron”. Werner is credited with the design of the famous “Sword Gate” (at 32 1/2 Legare Street) but Richardson, perhaps, should get the credit for making it.”

Traditional blacksmithing has been carried on by Philip Simmons, and he has trained apprentices to continue the art. He will turn ninety-seven on June 7th. His home and workshop at 30 1/2 Blake Street is on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of the 11 most endangered places. He began working at this small shop, for Peter Simmons (no relation) at age 13. Peter was given the place by his father, a slave, in the late 1880’s. The wonderful snake gates, the design that inspired this silver bracelet, are those of the Gadsden house, at 329 East Bay Street. This piece of jewelry can be ordered from the Foundation, or purchased at the Gibbes Museum Shop and was created to support the Foundation established to preserve and continue his legacy.

I was called to be an artist. And as an old old midwife said to me "If the Lord wants you to do something, you won't have no good luck' til you do." So, here I am, sharing what I love, longing to illuminate the work of art, which is everywhere.

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Posted in architecture, art, Arts & Culture, beauty, Charleston South Carolina, creativity, Gullah, South Carolina History, travel

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What’s this?

Welcome to my blog about the Lowcountry of South Carolina, a place proud with beauty, history and art. Sometimes we feel a call, to be, to go, to do. I was called to be an artist, and as an old midwife from Alabama said, “If the good Lord wants you to do something, you won’t have no good luck until you do it.”

So here I am writing about what I know, about the 'under glimmer' as the poet Basho, says, the way I have learned to see, to notice. I am inspired by, and talking about the history and art and culture of this place that has called me to herself. By the ancestors.

My background includes a degree in fine arts from a small private college in Florida, and before that, four years of all girls' boarding school in Asheville. I worked as a professional photographer, helped my children grow up, and now and I love seasoned things, good food, better conversation, beauty, my beloved and beautiful Italian Greyhound, Beau. Moved by the sacred places and stories of this beautiful historic land called the Lowcountry, I am here in spirit and I hope to infect you with my love of this place.

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