October is American Archives Month: Philip Simmons’ Gate at Charleston International Airport by Kangkang Kovacs
This blog post is written by Kangkang Kovacs, who is a graduate assistant at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture during the 2021-2022 academic year. Kovacs is a student in the College of Charleston's Masters in Fine Arts program.
Have you ever flown into or out of Charleston International Airport? At the Central Market place right after the security check, nestled among gift shops and cafes, an iron-wrought gazebo stands towering by the glass wall overlooking the runway. It is a Philip Simmons masterpiece, commissioned by the Charleston County Aviation Authority in 2004. It serves as a reminder of Charleston’s long history and Simmons’ place as a legendary Master Blacksmith whose name has become synonymous with the city.
A copy of Simmons’ pencil sketch of the ironwork gazebo is housed at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture. We can see the artist’s signature with the date and the phrase “my copy” inscribed on the sketch. The finished product brings together two iron-wrought gates positioned perpendicularly to each other, forming a three-dimensional contour of a cast iron gazebo.
Philip Simmons was born on Daniel Island in 1912. At age 13, he became the apprentice of a formerly enslaved blacksmith, the “Old Man,” Peter Simmons (no relation). While demands for practical household objects such as horseshoes dominated the beginning of his career, by the time Simmons retired seventy-seven years later, he was a legend artisan in the specialized field of ornamental ironwork, having fashioned more than 500 decorative pieces – gates, fences, window grills and railings throughout the city of Charleston.
The Philip Simmons Foundation created a self-guided walking tour centered around some of the most amazing ironworks done by Simmons in downtown Charleston. His pieces are also displayed at the Smithsonian and the South Carolina State Museum. In 1994, Philip Simmons was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. For more information about Simmons, his life and work visit the Lowcountry Digital History Initiative’s digital exhibit titled, Keeper of the Gate: Philip Simmons Ironwork in Charleston, South Carolina.