- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006



Charleston’s premier blacksmith Phillip Simmons probably has designed his last wrought-iron gate. The artisan, who turns 94 tomorrow, gave up the hammering on his elaborate designs about 10 years ago.

Recently, though, he says his eyes are too weak to continue with the drawing and designing.

“My eyes are giving me a lot of trouble, and I’m suffering with diabetes,” he said. “I can’t do my drawing anymore.”

His last gate was completed a few years ago for the federal courthouse in Columbia named for Judge Matthew Perry.

But Mr. Simmons isn’t giving up entirely. He still spends part of his days at his forge, encouraging and mentoring his apprentices who he hopes will carry on his work. “Somebody passed the art on to me, and now I’m passing it along,” he said.

The three are working on gates for a cemetery in Gardens Corner and at Mepkin Abbey.

“They’re following the same old pattern since they were trained in this old shop,” he said of his cousin Joseph “Ronnie” Pringle and his nephew Carlton Simmons. “They started in the shop the same time I started, at the age of 13.”

Mr. Simmons also has worked with students at the American College of the Building Arts in Charleston and supports the Philip Simmons Artisan Blacksmith Guild, a group of professional and hobbyist artisans from across the state. He also is helping others document his long career by working with two documentary film crews.

Mr. Simmons’ mind remains sharp, and he still can explain in detail how he worked.

“Very seldom did I go to the forge with a drawing in my head,” he said. “Most times, I made my sketches to show the customer what they’re going to buy before I go to all that trouble. The sketch determines what you’re going to charge them. You’ve got to be fair to the customer. That was very important.”

Near the forge are several dozen bits and pieces of wrought-iron gates, fences and other objects Mr. Simmons collected from flea markets and old buildings.

“I’ve got some stuff back there over 200 years old,” he said. “I just pick it up because I love it and want to be around it. I want it to be around me.”

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