The Poet of Ironwork
Phillip Simmons (1912-2009) was born on Daniel Island, near Mount Pleasant, SC and, during his early years, was raised there by his grandparents. When he was eight, he was sent to Charleston to live with his mother. Intrigued by the ironwork young Philip noticed during his walks to and from school, he began visiting blacksmith shops. He learned the craft from Peter Simmons (a former slave) and eventually worked with him in his shop.
Philip Simmons was the most famous, respected ironworker in Charleston and as his work evolved, his pieces became more ornamental, adorning homes and businesses throughout the area. During his career, he created more than 500 pieces of ornamental wrought iron, gates, balconies and more.
In 1982, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him its National Heritage Fellowship. He received a lifetime achievement award from the SC state legislature, and in 1994, was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, the state’s highest award.
His work has been acquired by the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian, Museum of International Folk Art and many international museums. He died at 97.
Today, visitors to Charleston can find his work on almost every corner. The Philip Simmons Foundation is working to preserve his legacy and his home has been opened as a museum. A gift shop offers items that are fashioned from his designs, and his work is being carried on by family members who learned their craft from him.
There is a tour available which shows visitors notable examples of his work. A documentary on his life, “Keeper of the Gate” won a 1995 Emmy Award. Learn more.
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