Philip Simmons grew up in the rural backwoods of Daniels Island. In his words, "(I) used to work with my
granddaddy in the country, fish and farming...Our house was made out hand clapboard you get out of the woods."
Here Philip was part of a strong African American community whose lifestyle reflected deeply their African and
Caribbean ancestry. The houses of the community were, in the words of John Vlach, "survivals of an Afro-Caribbean
plan first used in Barbados." Simmons grew up in a rice growing culture which had persisted since the era
|In 1920, Philip Simmons left the Carolina Low Country of Daniels Island at the age of eight and rode the boat over to Charleston in order to find a better education. Simmons was immediately attracted to the work of the blacksmith because, in his own words, "that's where the action was." He was eventually hired by Peter Simmons (no relation) at the age of thirteen and continued to work in the same shop for 72 years. His health has recently kept him out of the laborious physical process of blacksmithing, but Simmons still finds time to sit around the shop, taking pictures as a local Charleston celebrity and offering his help to the younger generation of blacksmiths.||
||Philip Simmons has spent most of his life working in this same shop and his artistry has gradually changed over
the years as both his technique and buyers change. An overall continuity to the work is evident however, as these
The shop is now 169 years old and has now seen four generations of blacksmiths. Simmons' story has been that of the African American artisan middle-class, located in the cities of the South. While Simmons' acquaintances from Daniels Island rapidly disappeared to the cities of the North, the blacksmith never contemplated the thought of a move. Blacksmithing would have been an impossibility in the cities of the North where the demand for art like Simmons' (whether it be the practical trailer or carriage, as was the early case in Simmons' career, or the more decorative gates which now grace the streets of Charleston) was minimal and African Americas were expected mostly to take impersonal jobs in big industry.
|Simmons has had his work purchased by the Smithsonian and has been invited to Washington D.C. to be acknowledged by then president Reagan. He fashioned an wrought iron gate for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta and his work continues to be well sought after in the city of Charleston. Looking at Simmons' wrought iron, one is struck by the immense perfection and creativity which has found its way into a medium so fixed and rigid. From the fish which appear in Simmons' Smithsonian piece to the ominous snakes which situate themselves forbiddingly within a local gate, Simmons' artistry reflects the influences of both his religion and the Charleston community in which he has spent nearly his entire life. His work is startlingly blunt and human, indicative of his folk background, while also grandly decorative and lavish, specifically in instances where his art has met with the Charleston aristocracy. His gates, noticeable throughout all of Charleston, reflect the tremendous African American folk influence on the southern city and suggest a meeting of cultures, a dialogue which continues to this day.||
Philip Simmons' gate purchased by the Smithsonian