Philip Simmons (1912–2009) was a renowned blacksmith in Charleston, SC. Enticed by the sparks flying in a blacksmith shop he passed on his way to school, he became an apprentice at the early age of 13 in the shop under Peter Simmons (no relation). Peter’s father, who had been a slave, taught him the blacksmith craft. Many African men skilled in iron work were brought to Colonial America as slaves. For more on Africa’s ancient metal traditions, see the Untold Story: African-American Ironwork.
Philip Simmons created more than five hundred pieces of ornamental wrought iron gates, fences, balconies, and window grills that adorn Charleston from end to end. His most famous works contain elaborate designs of animals and trees. He received national and local recognition including the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1982, the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts – the highest honor this country bestows on a traditional artist.
Mr. Simmons’ cousin, Joseph Pringle, and nephew, Carlton Simmons, now carry on the traditions and run the Simmons workshop, recently declared one of America’s Endangered Historic Places by the National Trust.