Phillips sketching in Banff Photo: The Glenbow Museum Archives

Phillips sketching in Banff
Photo: The Glenbow Museum Archives

Walter J. Phillips, 1884-1963

Walter Phillips was born at Barton-on-Humber in Lincolnshire, England. Encouraged from an early age by teachers and parents, Phillips studied art in Birmingham before pursuing a career as a teacher and commercial artist.

He enjoyed early success as a watercolourist in Britian, and spent a few years living and working on South Africa. However, by 1913 he an his wife had made the decision to relocate to Canada, landing in Winnipeg Manitoba.

Phillips took a position at St John's Technical High School and became
friends with another expatriate Englishman and printmaking enthusiast, Cyril H. Barraud.  When Barraud left to serve in the Canadian army, Phillips purchased his printing press and all his equipment.

From 1915 to 1918, Phillips actually produced etchings in very small editions, and began teaching himself woodcut printing, working in the manner of the Japanese artists. Within 2 years of making woodcuts, he caught the attention of the British art magazine Studio.

Throughout the '20s and '30s, Phillips was Canada's most famous printmaker, exhibiting his prints throughout Britain, the United States and Canada. He was incredibly prolific; by 1923 he had published forty-two colour woodcuts, and then in a burst of productivity between 1926 and 1928 he produced another thirty-nine.

Phillips’ work was in high demand, he was one of the few artists who was able to live off the sale of his paintings and woodcuts through the Depression.

1940 marked a departure for Western Canada, Phillips began teaching summer classes at the Banff Summer School of Fine Arts and in 1941 he accepted a position of instructor at the Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary, where he stayed until 1949. The popularity of printmaking in the western provinces can be attributed to Phillips's influence at both these schools.

 A few years later, in 1953 Phillips moved to Banff where he lived in a house on Tunnel Mountain. Unfortunately, in 1958 Phillips' eyesight began failing, and two years later, in 1960 he retired to Victoria, BC.

Retirement was short-lived, Walter Joseph Phillips died in Victoria in 1963 at the age of 78.

Special Collections
Glenbow Museum, Calgary, AB
Canada House Gallery, Banff, AB
Pavilion Gallery Museum, Winnipeg, MB
The Feckless Collection, Vancouver, BC