Looking glass

Bainbridge sculptor mirrors nature in his art

Al Philips has always considered himself an environmental conservationist. When he first moved to his property on Bainbridge Island 30 years ago, he lived in a van for five years, saving money to build a home. The 53-year-old quotes Thoreau, studies salmon, and can identify a bald eagle's call.

Philips eventually began to capture his beloved natural forms in art ― specifically, glass. Through a collaboration with Dale Chihuly, he even learned the delicate technique of working with blown glass. Philips's early work, on display at his studio on Bainbridge, depicts humpback and orca whales in multilayer panes that look like clouds. Other pieces, on display at Pier 66 and Wyland Galleries Northwest in downtown Seattle, depict salmon and other fish in plates and on beautiful, bulbous vases.

Philips's latest work, an interpretive mural of sandblasted and etched glass that he created with his 21-year-old son, Ben, is perhaps the most moving of his oeuvre. The mural, titled We Stand upon the Shoulders of Our Ancestors' Accomplishments, after a phrase in Chief Seattle's famous 1854 oratory, portrays a family of Suquamish Indians as they must have lived on the very same spot years ago, catching fish with wooden spears and living out of a long house built of cedar shake. The mural is outside Philips's studio, and when viewed against the eastern horizon, it superimposes these images on the landscape behind, bringing the entire scene to life.]CP]

"This beautiful land was around long before we were," Philips says. "The mural pays homage to those who were here first and is our way of saying, 'Thanks.'"

Visiting the studio

Al Philips's studio is open to the public by appointment. www.dolphinplace.com or 206/842-4600. ― Matt Villano