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    Quintin Middleton in front of his shop - photo by Andrew Cebulka

Meandering through the alleys and streets of Charleston, South Carolina, one may overlook a detail often missed by both residents and tourists. Intertwined in the fine ornamental ironwork, there might be a forged, lifelike figure of tarpon, sandpiper, or other creation. More than 600 of these art pieces are installed as operational iron gates, fences, balconies, and window grills that adorn the city from end to end. The blacksmith and artisan, the late, great Philip Simmons, took up his craft as an apprentice at the age of thirteen and served the city and its residents for over eight decades. Simmons received national recognition and, in 1982, was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts—the highest honor this country bestows on a traditional artist.

Southwest of Selma, in the Black Belt of Alabama, lies the rural community of Gee’s Bend. Within this enclave is a collaborative of African American quilters, many of whom are related by blood and are descendants of the slaves who once worked the cotton fields on the Pettway plantation, where the Gee’s Bend Collaborative still resides and operates today. Just over a decade ago, I had the pleasure of collaborating with Mary Ann Pettway on a project. Quilts, and more specifically African American quilts, tell a story. Each sliver of textile was saved and salvaged—from an old blouse worn by a family matriarch, a worn-out pair of trousers, or an old skirt—each piece carrying a memory. The craft and quilts of the women of Gee’s Bend served as the inspiration for the architectural design of the Dr. Billy Earl Dade Middle School, which anchors the Fair Park Community of Dallas.

From my hometown of St. Stephen, South Carolina—a town of fewer than 2,000 people—comes a young man named Quintin Middleton. Formally trained as an industrial mechanic, Middleton has created a legacy for his family built upon the hard work of his hands and the artistry of his mind. His handmade stainless steel and high carbon steel knives have equipped world-class chefs from around the globe to craft meals at fine dining establishments near and far. And in a case of iron sharpening iron, the functional yet artistic pieces of work formed and forged by Middleton have put both him and our small town in the South Carolina Lowcountry on the map.

Also from St. Stephen was a gentleman by the name of Charlie Broughton, my grandfather—often called Bubba, Big Brother, or Deacon. Working on projects on the East Coast and as far west as Kentucky, he could form and shape sand, water, cement, and aggregate into a table, bench, beam, bridge, runway, or road. It is very likely that you have interfaced with an element of his craft.

Each of the individuals and groups mentioned has contributed to the fabric of our nation through their artistry and craft. Our community of creatives has the unique opportunity to weave color, texture, vibrancy, and elements of delight into our physical and social environments. From the cast-iron gate that leads to a third place for interaction and fellowship to the chef’s knife that prepares the meals drawing patrons to the hospitality environments many of our members design, our work is driven and supported by the people who occupy and help build the places we dream of and create.

Our craft as architects and designers is an occupation that inspires, a profession that builds, and a skill set that positions us as critical thinkers. We are the craft; we support craft; and our work uplifts and elevates the craft of others.

Derwin Broughton, AIA, NOMA, is a vice president at KAI Enterprises in Dallas and the 2024 TxA president.

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