Accomplished sculptor Marvin Roberts Phillips, who spent more than 30 years of his life on Main Street selling and creating his work, died on December 29, 2018.
His children, in a sit down with The Scene, spoke of their father’s journey.
“There was always something about wood for him. Daddy would see a piece and he’d look at the wood and turn it around and really look at the piece, then he’d say what he sees that can be made from it. He first began by helping another sculptor Gary Thomas with the sanding of his pieces and then he began making his own,” his eldest daughter Odeen Phillips recounted.
Phillips, who hailed from Fifth Street, Patentia Housing Scheme, West Bank Demerara, spent his early years selling icicles and ice blocks in Wales prior to taking up sculpting. Odeen spoke of her father’s struggle to secure a permanent location and recalled him selling on the parapet of Guyana Stores Limited before being forced to move. Phillips and the other sculptors, for a short period, sold in front of the Bank of Guyana until they moved to Main Street where sculptors remain even today selling their pieces.
Odeen attended school in Georgetown and after school would sit with her father helping to sand or sell his work.
Phillips, she noted, used trees that had already been felled or were about to fall and would cut whatever he needed from them. The late artist, she said, was always mindful of his fellow sculptors and would always let them in on a tree he might have seen or take cuts of logs for them. When asked how Phillips made out fetching his pieces to and from the city, Odeen said he and his colleagues made use of an abandoned building nearby where they stored their work.
His pieces included fish, singly or in a group; masks; walking sticks; a family, in most cases a mother and a child. His walking sticks, she noted, were really sought after.
Speaking about his passion for sculpting the family, the young woman said that her father was always tenderhearted when it came to family and family values.
His work has been featured by the Brazilian Embassy, the African Museum and Castellani House. A few of his pieces are still on display in the National Art Gallery.
Some of his work is also at the family home. Odeen recalled a folding chair and a pair of love seats.
The woman said her father never took note of a negative situation. He never complained about anything and did not want any of his children or anyone else do so. There were instances where he was robbed or disrespected, and the family never learned of it until someone who would have witnessed it brought it to their attention. Her father, she said, had always tried to keep his family from worrying about him or any situation.
Odeen, who is also a sculptor and a painter as well as a model, has a fair idea of how supportive Guyanese are of artists. She saw it firsthand when she was younger and sat near her father as he tried to sell his work. She mentioned that seldom was a sculpture sold and when it was, the money had to take care of the family until another was sold. There have been times when Phillips had no choice but to sell his pieces at half price or less than so as to take care of his family.
On average, a piece took two to three days to complete and every day each piece was moved to Main Street from the building it was kept in and back, it stood the chance of being scratched and the artist having to sand and polish it all over again.
Phillips’ pieces are in the US, Brazil, Japan owned by people from all walks of life including dignitaries. He was featured in exhibitions in and outside of Guyana and would have sent his pieces to be exhibited in Japan.
“The world has lost someone great. I miss our time. I miss our conversations. I could have shared anything with him,” Odeen tearfully said. The woman who resides between Washington in the US and Kazakhstan said the time zone often made it difficult to call home whenever she felt like it.
Merecia Phillips, the late artist’s second child, now 23 years old and a model, was the one who was closest to him and was the one to discover he was gone. “He always dressed nicely for church on Sundays and would come let me fix his tie,” she said. “He always wanted to hear he was looking good before he left the house. He loved his suit and loved his hat.”
Merecia recalled her father working way into the night trying to finish a piece.
Her father, she said, would usually get up at six every morning and not go back to bed but this particular morning he got up and went back to bed. Merecia was taking a phone call when he went back to bed and when she went to check on her father at 8.30 am, he was already dead.
Ten years ago, the sisters shared, their father had suffered a stroke and was paralyzed on his left side, but he remained determined and exercised every day, walking from his home in Patentia to the Wales Estate and back until he was back to normal. He worked all his life and was last working at Main Street the day before his death.
Phillips left some 60 sculptures some unfinished and Odeen plans to finish them and have them polished before she leaves. The Phillips siblings are now seeking to have their father’s pieces displayed at the various museums in Guyana, which they hope to do within the next year.
They plan on creating a Facebook page in his memory, where they will feature his work. They are inviting persons who would have purchased one of the late sculptor’s pieces to upload a photo of the piece and share what it means to them. In addition, persons can share reminisces.
In addition to his sculptures, Phillips had a collection of Dutch bottles which are now on sale. However, the siblings are still contemplating what they will do with his remaining works.
Phillips leaves to mourn his children: Odeen, Merecia, Annastaceya, Jamayne, Daniel and Timothy; adopted daughters: Tiffany Welch and Alicea Mc Calman. His two youngest boys are currently in secondary school.
He had dreamt of owning his own home, but this was never fulfilled and the sisters will be starting a trust that will help in building a home for the siblings as well as aid in the younger boys completing their education.
To purchase any of the Dutch bottles or contribute to the trust fund, the sisters can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram at Odeen_Odeen@instagram.com or by calling 615-5670.
Phillips was buried on Saturday, January 12, 2019.