The Art of David Philpot

Several years ago, I had the pleasure of working with a Chicago artist named David Philpot. David could fill a room with joy. I worked at a museum where he helped us run workshops for our teacher training program. Students that were usually distracted when visiting our museum would drop their jaws in silence when David showed up carrying one of his incredible art staffs (which were usually about 6 to 8 feet tall). From teachers to students, everyone listened eagerly to every word that David said. I am sharing his art today because his work should be even more widely recognized. 

David Philpot was born in 1940 in Chicago. He was a self-taught mosaic artist and wood-carver who created intricately detailed and embellished art staffs. He used various discarded items to decorate his staffs, including jewelry, shells, mirrors, and beads. David carved the staffs out of locally sourced wood from the Ailanthus altissima tree or Tree of Heaven, which grow like weeds in Chicago. David used to tell his story about being called by a power higher to go outside to the ailanthus trees and cut one down (they are small trees). That was in 1971. It took him about one year to make his first staff. He went on to create 350 more staffs, which are now in collections all over the world.

David went through an intense period of grief after Jean, his first wife of forty-five years passed. In 2011, David met Marsha Music at a group exhibition featuring his work. It was held at the N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art in Detroit. Shortly after, he relocated to Detroit and married Marsha. I remember his eyes shining with happiness when he told me that he had met someone. He said he did not think it was possible to find love again. You can find a beautiful photo and story about Marsha and David here. 

In 2018, David passed away at the age of 77. He left behind many fans, family members, and friends who continue to uphold his legacy. His work is in many notable collections and has been exhibited widely. Below is a video featuring David Philpot. He tells his inspiring story in his own words, and there are some great detail shots of his artwork.

Image credits:  ©David Philpot:

Please note that all images are copyright © of the individual artists and used on this blog for educational purposes. Selling, printing, or repurposing artwork without an artist’s permission is not nice or permitted.

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