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Philip Simmons

Blacksmith Philip Simmons was born on June 9, 1912 to Rosa Simmons on Daniel Island, South Carolina. He was raised by his grandparents until he was eight years old. He then went to live with his mother in Charleston, South Carolina. He completed the sixth grade at Buist Elementary School in Charleston. When he was thirteen years old, Simmons became the apprentice of the local blacksmith, Peter Simmons (no relation). After which, he worked for almost eighty years as a blacksmith.

Simmons’ first duties were to clean floors, make and maintain the fire and hold the horses. He moved on to other work, much of which involved shoeing horses and repairing carriage wheels. Although cars replaced horses as modes of transportation, Simmons mastered other tools, allowing him to create trailers for cars. In addition, he learned how to repair ironwork for houses and he became skilled at ornamental ironwork. Sometimes, Simmons would be commissioned to do specific work, but most of the time, the image was his own design. He has fashioned over 500 decorative pieces of ornamental wrought iron throughout Charleston, South Carolina. Simmons fashioned a gate for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 1982, Simmons created his favorite work, "The Star and Fish Gate." It won the National Heritage Award and the National Endowment of the Arts Award, and it was purchased by the Smithsonian. Simmons has also received the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.

The vestry and congregation of St. John’s Episcopal Church dedicated the grounds of the church to develop a commemorative landscaped garden as a tribute to his exceptional mastery of wrought iron. In 2006, South Carolina State University awarded him an honorary Ph.D. in F.A. degree.

Philip Simmons passed away on June 22, 2009.

Philip Simmons was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 1, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.040

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/1/2007

Last Name

Simmons

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widower

Occupation
Schools

Buist Academy

Burke High School

South Carolina State University

St. Luke's Reformed Episcopal Church

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Philip

Birth City, State, Country

Daniel's Island

HM ID

SIM06

Favorite Season

Spring

State

South Carolina

Favorite Vacation Destination

Georgia

Favorite Quote

None

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

South Carolina

Birth Date

6/9/1912

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Charleston

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Okra Soup, Turnips

Death Date

6/22/2009

Short Description

Blacksmith Philip Simmons (1912 - 2009 ) worked as a blacksmith for nearly 80 years, and during that time fashioned over 500 decorative pieces. Simmons fashioned a wrought iron gate for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia

Employment

Peter Simmons’ Blacksmith shop

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Philip Simmons' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Philip Simmons lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Philip Simmons describes his mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Philip Simmons describes his early education

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Philip Simmons describes his siblings

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Phil Simmons describes his mother's visits to Daniel Island, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Philip Simmons describes what he knows about his father

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Phil Simmons remembers the Buist School in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Philip Simmons describes his grade school education

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Philip Simmons remembers his introduction to art

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Philip Simmons describes his blacksmith training

Tape: 1 Story: 12 - Philip Simmons remembers his early work experiences

Tape: 1 Story: 13 - Phil Simmons describes his duties at the blacksmith shop

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Philip Simmons describes his early artistic work as a blacksmith

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Philip Simmons describes his mentor, blacksmith Peter Simmons

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Philip Simmons remembers the impact of motorized transportation

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Philip Simmons remembers building automobile trailers

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Philip Simmons describes his blacksmithing tools

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Philip Simmons describes his transition to decorative wrought ironwork

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Philip Simmons describes his first client and his artistic process

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Philip Simmons describes his wife and family

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Philip Simmons describes the history of his blacksmith shop in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Philip Simmons remembers the death of his wife

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Philip Simmons remembers his children's adoption by his family members

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Philip Simmons describes his ironwork for the City of Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Philip Simmons remembers his introduction to blacksmithing machinery

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Philip Simmons describes his neighborhoods in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Philip Simmons describes how he began working on wrought iron gates

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Philip Simmons talks about repairing wrought irons gates in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Philip Simmons talks about his artistic materials and process

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Philip Simmons describes his relationships with customers

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Philip Simmons describes the content of his lectures

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Philip Simmons describes his organizational involvement

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Philip Simmons talks about the Philip Simmons Garden in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Philip Simmons describes his ironwork tours in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Philip Simmons describes his artwork for the 1996 Summer Olympics

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Philip Simmons describes artwork for the Smithsonian Institution

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Philip Simmons talks about the changes he witnessed in Charleston, South Carolina

Tape: 3 Story: 11 - Philip Simmons talks about segregation

Tape: 3 Story: 12 - Philip Simmons talk about why he was not drafted to the U.S. military

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Philip Simmons remembers the March on Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Philip Simmons talks about Marcus Garvey and the Black Star Line

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Philip Simmons reflects upon the March on Washington

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Philip Simmons describes his message to future generations, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Philip Simmons describes his message to future generations, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Philip Simmons describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 1

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Philip Simmons describes how he would like to be remembered, pt. 2

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Philip Simmons narrates his photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$1

DAStory

12$11

DATitle
Philip Simmons describes his ironwork for the City of Charleston, South Carolina
Philip Simmons describes his blacksmith training
Transcript
So now your work is in demand, you know, for the gates and fences and balconies. So now the city--the city asked you to do some things, right? What are some of the pieces that you designed for the City of Charleston [South Carolina]?$$I made a lot of pieces for the City of Charleston. I can name some of the thing now was given to me, job--different jobs were given to me by the city, and most of those jobs was given to me were for a purpose, they had a purpose to give it to me, like the gate, like the welcome gate to Charleston, the waterfront gate now in the waterfront, the gate--the egret on the, on the--in the statehouse and the gate--and the national museum, like the Smithsonian institute [Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.], all of those things were given to me for a purpose. One for the airport [Charleston International Airport, North Charleston, South Carolina] when people come in the airport and want to see what Charleston look like after not coming in Charleston and to tour Charleston, they would see something in the airport, Waterfront Park [Charleston, South Carolina], people coming by water, like to come here by water, and they will see the gate there. Welcome people by water, welcome people by land, welcome people by plane, and I like that. I got--I got what you call a good kick out of that, because all that time I was making these pieces for the city and private homes through business they had, I was learning. I didn't know everything when I start. Because I made that first gate for Krawcheck [Jack Krawcheck], a merchant here in Charleston, that was the first gate I made.$$You say it's Krawcheck?$$Um-hm.$$How--how do you spell that?$$Huh?$$Do--how do you spell Krawcheck?$$K-R-E-W-C-H-E-C-K [sic.]. K-R-E-W-C-H-E-C-K, that's a merchant here, clothing store. First gate I made for him. But, now, gates was here before now, because a lot of those gates and pieces--different pieces came from Europe, came here from elsewhere.$$Um-hm. But yours were very unique.$When you were in high school [Burke Industrial School; Burke High School, Charleston, South Carolina], what grade did you go to?$$I went to seventh grade. I quit in the seventh grade.$$Okay. And you--that's when you went to the local blacksmith, right? Tell me about that. You went to ask for a job?$$I went--after I got about eight years old, or when I came into Charleston [South Carolina], I was eight years old, I wanted to go in the blacksmith shop then. I was excited about the blacksmith shop, because the blacksmith shop, up until today I like excitement, I like sport and all that kind of stuff, and up until today I got--when I first came here to Charleston, I got excited about the blacksmith shop, 'cause what was going on in the blacksmith shop made me excited. The horses, you have to help shoe the horses, you have to make the fire up, like some of the pictures you will see I got around here, and I had to keep the fire burning, and I learned--first thing I learned how to make up the fire and how to keep it going, and from there on, I started taking up smaller thing in the blacksmith shop. And finally I'd go on to the bigger thing (simultaneous)-$$(Simultaneous) But before-$$--like building the wagons for the horse, shoeing--$$Build--you were building the wagons for the horse?$$Yeah, I was building the wagon for--or repair, and also building, too, 'cause I had to work with the old man [Peter Simmons] until I was able to do it on my own, 'til I learned to create things on my own, and that's the time I really went into the creative stuff.$$Okay. But tell me, before you got hired at the blacksmith shop, you didn't get hired the very first time you went there.$$No, I didn't.$$What happened? What did he tell you?$$He told me I was too young at eight years old (laughter).$$When did he tell you to come back?$$And I--and I was at this kind of shop, because I wanted to go in that blacksmith shop, because a lot of excitement, like I foresaid, a lot of excitement was going on in the blacksmith shop.$$(Laughter).$$But I was told the old man had to be safe, had to use safety precaution, so he wouldn't hire me at the age of eight. But I keep insist on I wanted to go in that shop. That shop was exciting, honey, at my first time in that blacksmith shop.