Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Presenting The Philip Simmons Collection by Charleston Artist Shelia Thompson

A couple of years ago we presented the work of renowned Charleston artist Shelia Thompson to you. Shelia is well-known for her wooden replicas of landmark Charleston buildings which have been very popular with collectors for about 30 years. More recently she turned her attention to working in recycled metal, producing functional art works of recycled steel featuring motifs of historic Charleston, South Carolina. Naturally, her interest in metal work and Charleston led her to honor the work of Philip Simmons.

Philip Simmons (June 9, 1912 - June 22, 2009) was an American blacksmith focusing on decorative iron work. He began producing household items and farm implements such as horseshoes. By the time he retired, blacksmithing had become an art form, thanks to his own efforts and those of artisans such as Bea Hensley of Spruce Pine, North Carolina.

Philip Simmons was born on Daniel Island, South Carolina, raised by his grandparents until he was 8 years old, then sent to Charleston in 1920 to live with his mother. Philip became interested in blacksmithing through Peter Simmons (unrelated), a former slave. At 13 years of age, he quit school and apprenticed with Peter for five years, becoming a full blacksmith when he was 18 years old. Philip established his own shop in 1938, working primarily in ornamental ironwork.

In the early 1940s, Simmons began working with Jack Krawcheck, a Charleston businessman, who, over the years, purchased or commissioned about 30 works. His relationship with Krawcheck proved to open up new opportunities for Simmons. Over the course of his career, he created over 500 works. Examples can be seen throughout Charleston and as far away as China. Some are on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, the Richland County Public Library in Columbia, SC, the Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, and the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia.

Simmons' forge at his home on Blake Street has been designated by The National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the eleven most endangered historic places in America, and is being preserved.

Some of Philip Simmons' motifs honored by Shelia Thompson include various ones from Stoll's Alley, 67 Broad Street, St. Michael's Alley, Simmons' egret, heart and palm.

To learn more about Philip Simmons, visit the web site of The Philip Simmons Foundation.

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