m. 4 Sep 1906
Facts and Events
by Scot Austin
Phil and Perry attended West School in Waukegan. Phil used to relate an account of an incident where he brought a bolo he had made of horse chestnuts and threw it across the school yard. He was punished for the infraction, and never forgot it. Due to Illness, Perry missed a year of school and subsequently they were in the same grade. When they reached high school age, the family moved to Three Oaks, Michigan to a truck farm where they raised vegetables for market. One year all the crops failed except for rutabaga, so all they had to eat was rutabaga. For the rest of his life he would never eat another. (I can’t say that I blame him.) Growing up Phil lived in Perry’s shadow. When they graduated from high school, Perry was the valedictorian and Phil was the Salutatorian (2nd). When they attended the University of Michigan, Perry was a track star, Earning 6 letters in cross country and track and was the Big Ten Champion in the mile and 2 mile runs. Phil was an also ran and trained with the scrubs. Phil however idolized his brother and I believe he emulated him by learning to eat and write and draw with his left hand. He did everything else right handed, so possibly this enabled the development of his right brain. Their father was an architectural draftsman and made a habit of taking his sons out in the country to sketch, a habit Phil enjoyed his entire life. He decided at the age of six that he would become an artist and worked at from then on, finding an activity at which he was better than Perry.
After high school Perry entered the University of Michigan majoring in Chemistry, eventually earning a PhD. Phil, however believed that college would not help his art career and enrolled in correspondence courses to achieve his goal. After two years of hearing Perry relate the glories of college life, he decided to follow Perry to Michigan. The university had no school of art at the time, so Phil with much difficulty, persuaded the dean of the school of architecture to admit him and allow him to follow his own non-degree curriculum taking only courses in drawing and painting. Much to his chagrin, two years later he came back, hat in hand to convince him to allow him to enroll in underclass core courses so he could complete his degree. Phil became a life long Michigan football fan following their fortunes relentlessly and returning to Ann Arbor for games as often as he could. He insisted on wearing U of M hats, jackets, sweatshirts and other paraphernalia all of his life, once nearly getting us thrown out of a restaurant in East Lansing for wearing his Wolverine’s hat. Phil graduated in 1933 and moved back to Waukegan as by then his parents had returned there. Unable to find steady work in the art field, he eventually took a job in a paint manufacturing factory in North Chicago. This was during the height of the depression and eventually that job ended as well. He felt he was a burden on his parents, he even had to ask his mother for gas money so he could drive her to church.
So, in 1934 with $19.00 in his pocket he left for Texas in his 1928 model A Ford roadster. He had a college buddy from a ranch near Fort Worth named Snow Robertson, and he remembered Snow had a pretty sister he had met In Ann Arbor once when she had come to visit.
Fort Worth was suffering from drought that was felt throughout the dust bowl in the thirties and the Robertson’s let him work on the ranch for a few weeks. There was no grass, so he and other hired hands would gather prickly pear paddles and burn the spines off of them so the cattle could eat them. It was hot dirty work, and they would come in at night sweaty, black and sooty from the fires, as tired as dogs. Soon Phil decided to move on and went to Austin where he made a few dollars drawing charcoal portraits of coeds for a dollar apiece. Eventually he ran out of coeds to draw so he went on to New Mexico and Arizona camping out and painting the Southwest scenery. One night while sleeping in his car near an asylum of some sort, someone tried to open his car door. He awakened, fended off whomever it was and drove down the road a few miles before he pulled over and went back to sleep. After 3 months he went back home. He had a flat somewhere in Arkansas and persuaded a service station owner to sell him a tire and tube on credit, promising to mail him the $1.10 it cost, which of course he followed through on. Upon his return, he became involved with the founders of the Lake County Art League and became a charter member. One of their first meetings was a talk about his trip to the Southwest and an exhibit of the paintings he had done there. He met some fine artists there namely a Mr. Payrole and a Tom Wilder, who served as mentors and critics to him for many years thereafter.
He finally got a real art job as art director for Bunting Publications, a small publisher specializing in house organs, for various corporations.
He was tall and gangly and terribly shy, but somehow he fancied himself a ladies man, so when he spotted a new girl singing in the choir at his church he decided to give her a break and ask her out so she could meet other young people in the community. Well, she would not ride in his car because it was so drafty, preferring her brand new 1936 Chevy bought for her job as a visiting nurse with the Metropolitan Insurance Company. He traded in his roadster for a 1932 3 window Ford deuce coupe with V8 wheels. That was a classic, and would be worth many thousands of dollars today. He paid all of $250 for it and his father said he was crazy to pay that much for a car.
In 1938, Metropolitan required Edwina to trade in her 1936 Chevy for a new one, so Phil agreed to drive her to St. Louis to pick it up. It cost $999 and Phil was flattered when she let him drive it off the showroom floor. On the way home they stopped to meet her parents at their home near Mt. Vernon, Illinois and Phil could not believe it when her father met them at the door wearing his wife’s house shoes.
The next year they were married and he sold the deuce to his brother-in-law, Verne, who always claimed he got the short end of the stick. They went to the Great Smokies on their honeymoon and Phil painted every day.
That year they drove the Chevy to Mexico, going to Taxco, Acapulco and Mexico City. They had seven flat tires he did about 20 paintings, took dozens of photographs, bought Chimayo rugs, Tlaque Paque blue glass and managed to avoid confrontations with bandidos.
The next year they traveled to the Gaspe Peninsula in Quebec again camping and painting. Phil bought a codfish from one of the local fishermen, but Edwina was 5 months pregnant with me and got sick when she smelled the fish.
They had 5 children over the next 7 years and Phil had to work in the defense industry for the duration of WWII. After the war, he got back into art, working as a commercial artist at several studios and finally going on his own as a freelance artist in 1951. All through the years he continued painting and finally in 1964 when their youngest child left home, he had the courage to give up his commercial practice and begin painting full time. His income immediately doubled and in 1967 he was invited to join the American Water Color Society, gaining the coveted letters after his name, Phil Austin, AWS. In 1970 they sold the house in Waukegan and built a new one on the waterfront at the tip of the Door County Peninsula in Wisconsin. In the 60’s Phil began teaching part-time and traveled extensively on assignment for the Illinois Central Railroad and for United Airlines. He also began teaching water color workshops several times a year, a few of which became annual events, for example, at Southern Oregon College, Ashland, Oregon; Monhegan Island, Maine; at Dillmans Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin; The Clearing, Ellison Bay, Wisconsinone in Vermont as well as one timers in Kauai, Hawaii, San Diego and many others. Many successful artists have studied with him, including Elizabeth Whitten-Misunas, Wayne Atkinson, the late noted Western artist, Jolene Smith and many others. Examples of his work grace many private, corporate and public collections. He has been featured in several art magazines and wrote a book Capturing Mood in Water Color. He was a signature member of the American Water color society since 1967, and a founding member of the Midwest Watercolor Society, which later became the Transparent Watercolor Society of America. He was honored to be one of forty American watercolor painters chosen to participate with 23 Australian watercolor painters and about 160 from the Republic of China in a traveling show for the opening of a new art museum in Taiwan. His painting was one of six American watercolors chosen for the museum's permanent collection.Waukegan net
From the Feb. 17, 2004 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Austin was revered as Door County master watercolorist
By AMY RABIDEAU SILVERS Posted: Feb. 16, 2004 Watercolorist Phil Austin, who enjoyed traveling and painting throughout the United States and internationally, settled into a long working retirement as part of Door County's artist community. "Phil was one of a handful of what is known as the Door County masters," said Bonnie Hartmann, director of the Miller Art Museum in Sturgeon Bay. Austin died of natural causes Thursday at his home in Gill's Rock, in northern Door County. He was 94. Austin moved to the county in 1970. "He used to come up here on painting trips," said Jack Anderson of the Jack Anderson Gallery, which long represented Austin's work. "Finally he decided to live here full time and bought a cottage right on the water." Austin was best known for his landscape and marine painting. He worked from a limited palette, mixing his own watercolor shades. "He preferred to be a location painter rather than a studio painter," Anderson said. Austin was born in Waukegan, Ill., and earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. He worked as a freelance commercial artist for many years, later joining the staff at Wheaton College in Illinois. He also taught in other venues, including The Clearing in Ellison Bay. "He was very influential as a teacher to many, many watercolorists," Hartmann said. "He had a beautiful, fresh, facile approach to landscape watercolor. "He was probably one of the most gentle souls one could ever know," she said, "modest about his own accomplishments, with a wonderful sense of humor, and quite prolific as an artist." Austin wrote "Capturing Mood in Watercolor," later revised and republished. He was a founder of the Midwest Watercolor Society and served as president. He also was a member of the American Watercolor Society, the American Artists Professional League and the Academic Artists Association. His first wife, Edwina, died in 1997. Survivors include his second wife, Dottie; five adult children; grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Visitation was Monday. A funeral will be at 11 a.m. today at Bethel Baptist Church on Europe Road, Gill's Rock.
From the Waukegan News Sun
Walk of Fame honoree Phil Austin dead at 94
By Dan Moran STAFF WRITER
WAUKEGAN - Master watercolor artist Phil Austin, whose name sits on the city's Walk of Stars with his former Sunday school pupils Otto Graham and Ray Bradbury, died Thursday at 94. "He was a stalwart," said Jean Graff of the Lake County Art League, which welcomed Austin as both a member and an instructor during watercolor seminars. "Phil had international credentials, and I don't know that anyone else from Waukegan had international credentials in art." Austin's career took him from the Midwest to British Columbia, Mexico, Canada, Nova Scotia, Ireland, Wales, England, Scotland and the Caribbean. Known for using only seven colors - alizarin crimson, vermillion, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, pale viridian, cerulean blue and ultramarine - Austin often focused on landscapes and bringing them to life. "I consider myself very honest in my painting," Austin said in a 1997 interview. "I paint the beauty that I see around me. I'm very much aware that a lot of people don't use the beauty that we have, and I feel I have a mission to make people aware of how much we have around us that's beautiful." Austin was inducted into the Walk of Stars in 1997, the first addition to the Sheridan Road gallery's original roster of Bradbury, Graham and Jack Benny. In 2000, Dr. Eugene P. King, the first black physician in Lake County, became the fifth inductee. Born in January 1910, Austin studied art at the University of Michigan and the American Academy of Art in Chicago. His professional career included stints at Kling Studios in Chicago and 20 years as a feelance artist. His clients in that time included the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Fisheries Institute and Books for Children Press. One high-profile account was with United Airlines, for which he produced a calendar in 1969. Elizabeth Whitten-Misunas, a longtime friend and fellow member of the American Watercolor Society, recalled that United made an offer he couldn't refuse. "They sent him to Hawaii - all expenses paid," she said. "They wanted him to come up with at least 12 paintings they could use. He did the Presidential Palace and a lot of other scenes all around Hawaii." The success of the United calendar allowed him to move to the resort town of Gills Rock, Wis., at the northern shore of the Door County peninsula, where he remained until his death. He is survived by his widow, Dottie, who he married in April 1997. His first wife, Edwina, passed away in 1996. Austin traveled back to Waukegan several times over the years, including appearances as an instructor at art league seminars. Last summer, the city's Art Wauk 6 was devoted to his work, though he was unable to attend for health reasons. "I understand he was painting pretty much up until last year," said Whitten-Misunas. Austin once said that he tried to paint something every day, even on this 1997 honeymoon. According to art league member Laini Zinn, a memorial service will be conducted at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Bethel Baptist Church in Ellison Bay, Wis. Donations in Austin's name can be addressed to the church at 852 Europe Bay Road, Ellison Bay, Wis. 54210. All proceeds will benefit the church's hospice programs and food pantry. 02/14/04
The Last Time
an autobiographical story by Kristen Austin Sandoval
There is nothing particularly memorable about the journey, except for the solid thunk of the car doors closing after we step out into the frigid, afternoon air. In a small Wisconsin town, miles from everything, the temperature hovers at seven below. The cold is like nothing I have ever experienced before. I quickly extract a lifetime’s worth of baggage from the trunk: three overstuffed suitcases, the crutches, a wheelchair, a stroller. I am dumbfounded by our endurance, our ability to travel so far in such a relatively short amount of time. It's the time zone difference, I conclude. It is only three o'clock and we have somehow managed a dozen cumbersome transfers and several modes of transportation since this morning. We have covered thousands of miles in the dead of winter, both struggling with our own burdens and I feel as though we’ve been magically transported to another place and time.
My father, standing precariously next to the vehicle, looks dazed and helpless as I finally reach into the backseat for the sleeping newborn. Despite the cocoon of warm blankets that envelop the precious baby, she is awakened by the change in motion and the shock of the arresting cold.
“Don’t move,” I instruct my father, who looks like he is about to foolishly navigate the icy path towards their things. “Wait until I can help you.”
He is persistent and wants to be useful. I can’t decide which to do first: help him before he takes another step or get the baby inside, away from the unpleasant elements.
By the time we enter the church hall, the baby starts fussing, disturbing the silence that had previously claimed the room. A hundred pair of eyes suddenly focus on us and I immediately feel embarrassed by the disconcerting sounds that escape the bundle of life within my arms. They allow me no time for conversation, for greetings or requests. Someone in charge, the undertaker perhaps, quickly whisks me away to a place behind the main hall where no one can see or hear us and I am forced to desert my father with the others. They’ve already determined that the baby is hungry; they’ve already agreed it’s time for me to feed it and I can’t decide if I should be grateful or offended.
The man in charge leads me to a room that is quiet and dark, where the low muffled sounds of mourners out front become completely inaudible. It seems that I have been delegated a job backstage, where the entire show will go on without my participation. In the dim-lit space, illuminated only by the late afternoon sun outside, the baby finally grows quiet and I sit down next to a window to feed her. I look around to discover that I am in some sort of Sunday school room. In the corner, another doorway opens into a nursery. Since I am bound to this spot for however long it takes my daughter to finish, I study every detail of the gloomy space. In the stillness of this strange place, I swear I can hear dust settling. Faux-wood tables, orange-plastic chairs, cork boards, and rust-colored carpet fill the area. I feel like I am in a time-warp, in a place that has not been altered in decades. I cannot fathom living happily in this town for long, where nothing happens, where nothing ever changes and the thought makes me anxious to go back. Life here revolves around Sunday Worship, Bible Study and church potluck dinners. It’s the best thing the people here have to look forward to.
The room looks vaguely familiar, but I decide it must just be deja vu. Through the nursery door, I see old, worn-out toys and outdated baby equipment. Despite the derelict décor that suggests abandonment, fresh writing on the blackboard intimates otherwise. Imagining people here, carrying on their regular routine, seems surreal; but the warmth and vibration of daily life lingers faintly, only discernible to a keenly observant soul. I read an adult’s scrawl in chalk, saying “He Lives.” Below it, the writing includes a list of virtues to emulate. I avert my eyes to the window again. The sky is so gray now, the sun so weak. I watch the snow fall softly. There is not much to see, save the fresh, white blanket that covers and obliterates details of life, making it a dormant landscape.
And then, I think of my grandfather who lived here for so long. He was full of joy, despite his environment that only grew lively during brief spring and summer months. Others came here for vacation, but he stayed on year-round busy with his work. He made beauty out of nothingness. He was an artist. He had the ability to capture life, to make it eternal. He painted it, before it disappeared. I recall one of my favorite paintings of his, one I have not seen in years. The painting captured a day much like the one I experience today. I remember an abandoned farm house, perched on a snow-covered hill that is surrounded by a charcoal sky. In the background, a busted windmill squeaks, still turning, creaking out another cycle in the distance.
He had stories too, my grandfather. He repeated them over and over, never remembering or caring if we had heard them before. Everybody who knew him had heard the stories. They’d never forget. I recollect one of his best stories, the one about an old, dilapidated barn. He had knocked on the door of the old farm house to ask permission of the owner to paint his barn, but the farmer almost turned him away. The farmer had mistaken my grandfather for someone trying to earn money doing odd jobs, insisting there was no sense in painting something they had plans to tear down the next spring. My grandfather always laughed when he told that part, describing his need to explain that he only wanted to paint a picture of the barn.
There are very few original paintings left, but rumors speak of their rapid increase in value. They are worth more already, since his recent death. As I make a vow to track down my favorite painting before it is too late, my baby daughter finishes and finally looks content. She looks up at me, her face smiling briefly. It’s time to return, to go back to the front. The morning after the funeral, my father and I get up and check out of the hotel before dawn. In the darkness of the new morning, the car is already running, heated, waiting for us. As we negotiate our way towards the vehicle, I notice only the fog of our warm breath in the chilly air.
“Did you make sure you didn’t forget anything?” my father asks.
“I made sure,” I respond quickly.
The automobile lurches forward, kicks up speed, and turns on to the two-lane highway that stretches on toward the airport. The inky darkness of the early hour obscures the innumerable farms we pass, including fields, barns and tiny houses that all stay frozen still for the time being. It is unfortunate that my grandfather’s passing did not give us the time or occasion to look forward to coming here this last time. It would be naïve to kid myself into believing we might come back again, to visit in my the absence of my grandparents. There would be no reason really. It wouldn’t be the same.
I glance away from the window for just a moment, to tuck the baby in a little more snugly. When I look up again, I see that morning has just broken. An orange-red sun lights the sky on fire; the sight is breath-taking.
Phil by Bill Minnick
There is an excellent article which discusses Phil Austin's life and displays examples of his art in this link: 1Q 1994 AFAOA Newsletter, pg 3.
Also follow this link to discover: how I met Phil Austin through his son, Scot and how I came to write this AFAOA Newsletter article.