Bert Geer Phillips

American 1868 - 1956


Bert Phillips was an American artist, born in Hudson, New York, on July 15, 1868.  The great heroes of Bert Geer Phillips' youth were Kit Carson and the American Indian.  Years later he was able to pay tribute to both of them in a unique and gratifying way, through his paintings.  He began drawing before he could write, and when still a small boy won first prize at the county fair for a collection of watercolors.  After studying at the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design, he set up a studio in New York, where he painted for the next five years.  He then spent seven months in England, where he produced some charming watercolors of pastoral scenes.  In Paris, he studied at the Academie Julien with Benjamin Constant and Jean Paul Laurens.  There he met Joseph Sharp and Ernest Blumenschein, who shared his desire to paint the American Indian.  Sharp, who had visited Taos, in 1893, told the two young artists about the beauties of the New Mexico village and its Indians.

Returning to New York, Phillips and Blumenschein shared a studio and planned a sketching trip by horse and wagon, from Denver to Old Mexico.  The journey ended in Taos, in 1898.  Neither of the artists cared to go farther, and Phillips settled immediately, becoming the first of the pioneer Taos artists to establish permanent residence there.

In 1899, he married Rose Martin, an eastern girl who was visiting her brother, Dr. T. P. Martin.  It was at Dr. Martin's house in 1912 that the Taos Society of Artists was organized with Phillips, Blumenschein, Sharp, Irving Couse, Oscar Berninghaus, and Herbert Dunton, as the six charter members.

Of Taos, Phillips said, "I believe it is the romance of this great pure-aired land that makes the most lasting impression on my mind and heart."  He infused his paintings of the Indians with a romantic, lyrical quality.  Among the many New Mexican artists, he probably achieved the closest relationship with the Indians, breaking through their natural reserve with patience and understanding.

Through his intercession with the Government, the "sacred mountain" of the Taos Pueblo Indians was protected from prospectors, and when the great forest lands were made a national preserve, it was Bert Phillips who named them "the Kit Carson National Forest."  In December 1970, the title to a vast preserve was returned to the Indians.


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