© Laura Walker

Bert Greer Phillips (1868–1956)

Bert Geer Phillips (July 15, 1868 – June 16, 1956) was an American artist and a founding member of the Taos Society of Artists. An essential part of Taos Art History, he was the first artist to permanently settle in Taos, New Mexico (1898) and is considered to be the founder of the Taos Art Colony. He is known for his paintings of Native Americans, New Mexico, and the American Southwest.

Phillips returned to New York in 1896, where together with Ernest Blumenschein he leased a studio. In the Spring of 1898, Phillips accompanied Blumenschein on a journey to the American West. Their first stop was Denver, Colorado, where they bought art and camping supplies, a wagon, horses, and a revolver. Thus equipped, they set out with the intention of reaching Mexico.

In northern New Mexico, one of their wagon wheels broke due to the roughness of the terrain. Blumenschein rode out on horseback to nearby Taos, New Mexico to have the wheel repaired, while Phillips waited with the wagon. After Blumenschein returned with the repaired wheel three days later, they continued on to Taos, where they sold their horse and equipage, set up a studio, and began to paint.

Phillips decided to stay in Taos when Blumenschein returned to New York a few months later. He and a friend caused a skirmish during a religious ceremony on Taos Plaza when they refused to remove their hats; during the skirmish the sheriff was killed. The incident increased tensions between the town’s Hispanic and Anglo residents. Phillips wrote in a letter to Blumenschein, “I began to feel as if this was the real ‘border life’, and only wish old Kit Carson was here with us.”

Phillips married Rose Martin, the sister of the famous local doctor Thomas “Doc” Martin, in 1899. He conceived the idea of starting an art colony in Taos, which he discussed in correspondence with Blumenschein. In 1915, his dream became reality with the formation of the Taos Society of Artists, of which Phillips was a founding member together with his friends Ernest Blumenschein, Joseph Henry Sharp, and three other artists. The Society was founded in the dining room of Phillips’ in-laws, Doc and Helen Martin, who was herself a batik artist. In addition to being instrumental in the formation of the Society, Phillips also spent more years in Taos than any other member.

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