Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Walk on Wednesday: Finding Philip Simmons (Part I)

     A look at Snake Gate at 329 East Bay Street. Simmons is credited with the first use of animal form in blacksmithing by an African-American.

The thing about the gate pictured above for me is that I never noticed it in all the years I've lived in Charleston. Nearly two decades of walking along these storied streets and I just never looked up, never saw it. Maybe, like today, the gate was always open and I walked right on by...maybe I just didn't know where to look.

Wandering downtown on any given street, you don't have to look too hard for a sample of Philip Simmons perfections of wrought iron. There are snakes, egrets, "wiggle tails", hearts and crosses worked into the themes of many a gate a stone's throw from one another all across downtown Charleston; a lifetime of work. Legendary blacksmith Philip Simmons left his mark for us to find... read the book, take down the coordinates, and set your course on an interesting walk of discovery.  

Mr. Simmons often wakes with an idea for a new gate. "I see it finished completely in my mind," he says.
- from Catching The Fire - Mary E. Lyons

This book by Mary E. Lyons is one to order here at this link and keep on your family shelf. See more examples of iron work by Simmons in this great piece by Charleston Magazine.

Simmons died in 2009 at the incredible age of 97 having spent a lifetime doing what he loved. Honor his work by passing his story on to your children... another piece of their Charleston tradition.

Simmons designed this piece for Buist Academy and I have omitted his animal shapes either side so that you can discover them for yourself!

Start at the Main Library on Calhoun Street downtown and pick up the book featured here. Then walk across the street to see the Buist Academy iron work. Circle the block of George Street and locate the Snake Gate on East Bay Street as you make your way back to the library. A great, short walk for kids and a chance to see two of Simmons's pieces in the process. Remember to look up, down, and all around!  

*More of our iron work discoveries on Part II, Friday. This post compiled to Satellite - The Dave Matthews Band

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