Philip Simmons. The Blacksmither’s Art
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.