The Timeless Beauty of Philip Simmons

A few weeks ago, I was giving my Best of Historic Charleston walking tour to a group of visitors and noticed on Stoll’s Alley that one of my favorite wrought iron gates, created by famed iron worker Philip Simmons, had gotten a face lift of sorts. In a way, I couldn’t help but miss the rusty appearance in which I first glimpsed the creation a few years back. And, its shiny, black coat of paint reminded me that Mr. Simmons said that his gates, fences, etc. should be painted WHITE. It then got me thinking how different the landscape of Historic Downtown Charleston would look if his 500+ works scattered around town, were indeed, painted white.

In the modern era, Philip Simmons was the most notable Charleston ironworker. Born on nearby Daniel Island in 1912, during his long and illustrious lifetime, he produced an enormous amount of work throughout the city. Drawing upon the German ironworkers, such as Werner, he ultimately forged his own path and truly took the skill to a whole new artistic level. His blend of historic precedent and new design created works that were appropriate for the historic city and yet, not copycats from previous artists.
 
Using a forge and anvil more than 150 years old, he continued a local tradition of craftsmanship at his shop on Blake Street. No electrical tools were ever used.
 
In 1976, Mr. Simmons and his helpers were invited by the Smithsonian Institution to demonstrate their blacksmith talents at the Festival of American Folk Life in Washington, D.C. There, for two straight weeks, he designed and constructed the Star and Fish Gate and displayed a wide range of his works. Mr. Simmons was invited by President Reagan to visit the White House in 1983.
 

 

Some of my favorite Philip Simmons’ masterpieces are:
The ironwork that remains is an important part of the Charleston landscape. The people of Charleston, both historically and presently, have recognized the value of iron and have continued to use iron pieces even when the old ones were destroyed by war or fire. Charleston’s ironwork tradition has mighty deep roots. Beginning with its English origins and, like other forms of art, have been evolving over time.
 

 

There are so many fun things to do in Charleston. Beauty abounds on every hidden alley and every secret path. To catch a glimpse up close and personal of some of Philip Simmons’ ironwork, book one of my walking tours where we’ll examine his artistry at your own pace. Bring your camera. You’ll want to capture the beauty at many angles.

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