New mural of Philip Simmons unveiled at PSMS

When Philip Simmons Middle School Principal Dr. Anthony Dixon saw a mural of his school’s namesake in the Avondale area of West Ashley, he knew he wanted something similar for his facility.

Dr. Dixon reached out to the visual arts teacher at the school, Mrs. Lexie Benardot, and they began working on getting a mural of the renowned late master blacksmith on campus.

The mural in Avondale was painted by Matthew Foreman, known nationally for street art with beautiful murals and portraits found on the sides of buildings and in art galleries in several cities.

Foreman spent about eight years in Charleston before moving to New Orleans. He lived just a few doors down from Mr. Simmons in the early 2000s and even had the opportunity to meet him. Foreman became fascinated with Mr. Simmons’ work and developed a high level of respect for the man known around the world for making masterpieces from the melting, bending and molding of iron.

“There was just an energy about him that left me fascinated for a long time,” Foreman said. “I decided that was somebody I wanted to paint a portrait of and pay tribute to. His life fascinated me.”

When Foreman was asked to paint his Avondale mural of Mr. Simmons at PSMS, he was thrilled. The mural in West Ashley is one of his favorites. He agreed to work around the clock over a recent weekend to get it done and was determined to give the new mural its own special character.

Last month, the stunning rendering was unveiled to the delight of students, faculty and staff.

Purple, lots of purple, nearly every shade of purple imaginable makes the backdrop for the new work of art that now greets PSMS students every morning. It’s appropriate, Foreman said, because purple is the school’s color.

Students at PSMS were stopped in their tracks on “unveiling day” as they walked down an adjoining hallway and saw the artwork painted in the honor of their school’s namesake. Most stood as motionless as a crane in marsh grass as they carefully looked over the details of the mural painted in the main hallway of the school.

Those experiences are ones that Foreman, Dr. Dixon and Mrs. Benardot hope will stay with students forever. They hope students will find inspiration in Mr. Simmons’ story, his modesty and his work ethic.

“His modesty, after being so successful and after being such a prolific artist, was really inspirational,” Foreman said. “I really adore the city (Charleston) as well, and I think he really embodies the essence of the city for me. I feel like also that a lot of stories like his, and other African Americans as well, need to be portrayed more openly and celebrated more, when the city was built by a lot of that culture and history.”

Foreman believes more people should try to be like Philip Simmons. He hopes his artwork of the legendary iron worker will inspire the students at PSMS to pursue and fine-tune their own skills.

Vernelle Dickerson is a friend of the Simmons family. She’s worked with the Philip Simmons Foundation for about 15 years and, just like Foreman, became fascinated with every aspect of the iron giant’s life. She remembers the details of his facial expressions like her own. She recently stood in the entryway of PSMS gazing at the new mural in awe. She said Foreman’s painting of a smiling Philip Simmons with his arms folded was spot-on.

“This is wonderful,” she said. “Because he was a very humble, kind-hearted human.”

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