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Historic Art | Walter Joseph Phillips R.C.A.

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The Hoh-Hok House Posts at Karlukwees 1930

Technique: wood-engraving on paper, ed. 120

Dimensions: 4.8 x 3.85 in.

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From: An Essay in Woodcuts (10 prints), 1930


In 1927 Phillips went on his first trip to coastal British Columbia to sketch. He visited his sister and brother-in-law, Edith and Robert Sharp at Malcolm Island. Robert went along on a rented boat with Phillips to various surrounding villages such as Alert Bay on Cormorant Island, Tsatsisnukomi, Mamalilicoola and Karlukwees. On sketching in these native villages Phillips’ said that, “… totems were of great interest to me, as examples of primitive art.” He found plenty to sketch on that trip, and enthusiastically described how, “… the humidity of the air produced wonderful tones of blue in every background, and a range of soft harmonies which never occur in the mountains or on the prairies. As pure landscape it is the finest I have been privileged to see.” He was loath to leave the coast at the end of the trip, but would continue to return throughout the years. He also went to Pender Harbour on subsequent visits.

Phillips most desirable imagery is based on his Westcoast sketching travels and artwork. Essay in Woodcuts is a prime example of his work featuring Westcoast native village scenes.

s and artwork. Essay in Woodcuts is a prime

About the Artist

RCA, ASA, CSPE, CSPWC (1884-1963).

Walter Joseph Phillips was born in Barton-on-Humber, Lincolnshire, England in 1884. Phillips was a gifted artist and a well-rounded individual, who early on used scholarship funds obtained through his scholastic achievements to pay for art instruction. The first schooling received was at the Birmingham School of Art. He then set off to South Africa working in various capacities in an attempt to raise money to study in Paris. This was not as successful as planned, and upon returning to England he took up the post of Art Master in a school in Salisbury. Fortunately this position afforded him the time and financial freedom to take sketching trips in the countryside. His artistic career materialized as a work executed at Newlyn, Cornwall was accepted for exhibition at the Royal Academy.

Restless in his newfound stability, Phillips and his family chose to adventure to Winnipeg, Canada in 1913. He found another position as Art Master in a Winnipeg school. The first few years Phillips sketched in around the rural lakes and woods surrounding Winnipeg. He made wood engravings between 1915 and 1918, but having a preference for colour he undertook the mastery of colour woodblock printing. It is both as a watercolourist and as a master woodblock printer that Phillips would be most awarded for throughout his career. As a landscape artist he ventured to various geographical locations across Canada. He translated his watercolours to woodblock prints frequently. 1926 and 1927 marked his first trips westwards to the Rocky Mountains and Coastal British Columbia. He moved to Calgary in 1941 to be an instructor at the Institute of Technology and Art, and then to Banff in 1943. He retired to Victoria in 1960, and passed away in 1963.

Phillips successful artistic career is evident through his numerous solo exhibitions, awards, and memberships. He was given an honorary LLD from the University of Alberta, and was a member of the Royal Canadian Academy. He exhibited at the Royal Canadian Academy annual exhibitions, the Canadian National Exhibition, the British Empire Exhibition 1925, the New York World’s Fair 1939 and the Century of Canadian Art Exhibition at the Tate Gallery in 1938. Major institutions possess his work, including the National Gallery of Canada, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Smithsonian and the Art Institute of Chicago.


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