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As renowned blacksmith and Lowcountry treasure Philip Simmons’ funeral was held yesterday at the Gaillard, I remembered the following Editor’s Letter that I wrote for the November 2006 issue of Charleston,
the cover story of which featured Mr. Simmons and the Philip Simmons Project to document his wrought-iron works throughout the city. It relates my first visit with the man and the legacy he leaves for the city and the nation’s decorative arts heritage.
I first met Philip Simmons, our cover subject, six years ago. I had been in Charleston just a few weeks when I was invited to a reception to honor the renowned blacksmith and reveal the portrait of him that artist Mary Whyte had just completed for the Gibbes Museum of Art. I couldn’t RSVP “yes” fast enough. I was excited—and a bit nervous—to meet this icon, a man who went from hammering out wagon wheels and iron trailers to putting a visual stamp on the city through his beautifully handcrafted ironwork.
I arrived at the crowded event with a past copy of Charleston featuring Simmons in hopes of getting his autograph, and there he was, a spry 88-year-old encircled by a throng of fans. When I got a chance to speak with Simmons, I was surprised by how genuinely happy he was to sit and talk with me about Charleston, his life, and his work. As I brought out the magazine to ask him to sign it, he remembered working with writer Stephanie Hunt and photographer Frank Edwards and asked if he could keep it. Who was I to say no?
What I didn’t realize prior to that reception is how accessible Simmons really is. Here’s this living legend, an artisan with a piece in the Smithsonian, who regularly welcomes strangers into his workshop. (In fact, during the photo shoot for this issue, a hobbyist ironsmith from Ohio dropped in and visited with Simmons for a while.) It’s one of the things I love about Charleston: there are so many intriguing and talented people who are modest, down-to-earth, and generous with their time and spirit.
In this issue, you’ll meet some of these folks.... For the feature “The Philip Simmons Project”, contributing editor Stephanie Hunt and photographer Frank Edwards revisit Simmons, this time riding around town with him and learning about the eponymous endeavor to document Simmons’ more than 600 pieces of wrought iron—gates, railings, and sconces—that help define Charleston and its decorative-arts heritage.
To read this feature and view a photo gallery of Mr. Simmons and his works, click here.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Simmons. You will be missed, but your legacy will live on.