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Considered the dean of Arizona artists, Mr. Curtis’s quiet, surreal desert scenes earned him a reputation as one of America’s most unique, thought-provoking painters. Writers sometimes labeled him a "Magical Realist," or the "Magritte of the Old West."
Philip Campbell Curtis was born on May 26, 1907 in Jackson, Michigan, one of four brothers. He received a B.A. from Albion College, where art had captured his imagination and spurred him to enroll in the art program at Yale in 1932. He moved to New York in 1935 and worked as supervisor with the Federal Art Project, Works Progress Administration (WPA) under Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal. In 1937 he was sent to Phoenix and established the Phoenix Art Center, which eventually became the Phoenix Art Museum. Two years later the WPA sent Mr. Curtis to Iowa where he directed the Des Moines Art Center.
In 1947, at age 40, Philip Curtis returned to Scottsdale, Arizona to paint. He set up his home and studio in a converted stable on Cattle Track.
His big break came in 1960, when Lewis Ruskin, who served on several Phoenix cultural boards, invited nine other Phoenicians to establish a trust and support Mr. Curtis for three years.
The arrangement led to one of the painter’s most productive creative periods. He painted more than 40 works and was given a solo exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum. A later exhibition at the Knoedler Gallery in New York established him as one of Arizona’s leading artists.
Mr. Curtis’s paintings can be found in many important private and public collections, including Arizona State University, Smithsonian American Art Museum, University of Arizona, and the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C. His work is permanently exhibited in the Ullman Center for the Art of Philip C. Curtis at the Phoenix Art Museum.