Celebrating Philip Simmons

Feb 16, 2021

In honor of Black History Month, we are celebrating the work and legacy of renowned Lowcountry artisan and master blacksmith, Philip Simmonswho is also the namesake for Point Hope’s three schools.  Simmons was born on neighboring Daniel Island in 1912 and raised on the island by his grandparents until the age of eight. Relocating to Charleston, Simmons attended the first class at Buist Elementary School (now known as Buist Academy). At the age of 13, he apprenticed with wheelwright Peter Simmons (no relation). 

Over the course of his 80-year career, Philip Simmons produced more than 550 documented works of ornamental art, including gates, fences, window grills, interior and exterior railings and balconies throughout historic downtown Charleston. He was known to incorporate symbolic images from his childhood on Daniel Island: birds, fish, trees and stars, into his ironwork.

Often called the “gate keeper of Charleston”, he received a plethora of awards and honors during his lifetime including induction into the National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Fellows program (1982), the South Carolina Legislature Lifetime Achievement Award (1981), the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Governor’s Award for “Lifetime Achievement in the Arts” (2001), along with being inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame (1994), and an honorary degree from South Carolina State University. His work is on display at both the Smithsonian and the National African American Museum in Washington, DC. Philip Simmons passed away at the age of 97 on June 22, 2009. 

At Point Hope, we are incredibly honored to continue his legacy. Simmons was an avid teacher of the craft to younger artisans, so it was appropriate for the Berkeley County School District to name three schools after him: Philip Simmons Elementary, Philip Simmons Middle and Philip Simmons High, all located within our community. Home to the ‘Iron Horses’, the schools honor Simmons’ work and influence throughout all three school buildings – from student artwork to elements woven into the architecture. 

 

For more information about Philip Simmons and his work, visit Keeper of the Gates. This digital exhibition draws from materials and essays originally featured in a traveling exhibition produced by the Philip Simmons Foundation, Inc.

 

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