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This profile was last updated on 9/28/02  and contains information from public web pages.
 
Background

Employment History

  • Contributor
    CityBeat
  • Scenic Designer
    Arts Consortium's gallery
  • Position, Production
    Arts Consortium's gallery

Education

  • Ohio Mechanics Institute
Web References
CityBeat: Into the Light (1999-02-11)
www.citybeat.com, 28 Sept 2002 [cached]
by Tom Phelps
into the light
I used to like to paint from dark to light.You're painting like you're putting light into dark.Think about neon signs in the dark.
...
Tom Phelps is an artist, one of the most imaginative in Cincinnati.Yet he hardly conforms to any preconceived image you might have of someone who creates art.
· He has refined his art by studying on his own all his life, not through formal education.
· He delivered mail for more than 30 years.
· He's been a grass-roots activist, for social causes and for the arts.
· He's a self-proclaimed "junker," creating provocative art from objects he finds at flea markets, antique shops and curbs on trash night -- broken baby dolls and old photos, pieces of fabric, African artifacts and Christian icons, animal bones and furniture.
· He doesn't care that the art he creates is not traditionally pretty or marketable.
· He's an African American.
Being an African-American visual artist in a town like Cincinnati is not a common thing.Phelps isn't the only one, but you'll learn a lot about issues important to black Cincinnatians by spending a few hours visiting with him.
Phelps is a warm, talkative man who frequently punctuates his conversation with his hands.He laughs and smiles easily.
He is slim and compact, but his intensity has a very physical dimension.His triangular face features gentle brown eyes above high cheekbones and a goatee that's going white.He always wears a hat -- an African kufi some days, a soft canvas cap on others.
And he is passionate about his art.
A born artist Phelps grew up in Cincinnati's West End, an intriguing stew of blacks, Jews, Asians and Appalachians during the 1940s and 1950s.He always knew he was a little different from others, because he felt so strongly about art.
"I've been an artist ever since I can remember," he says.
...
But Phelps didn't learn to be an artist."I've been an artist all my life, consciously," he says.
As a youth, he enjoyed drawing -- he still has some marvelously detailed sketches in spiral-bound notebooks drawn with a ball-point pen -- and carving.He shows with pride a work that looks a bit like a tall, thin African mask.It dates from around 1960; he carved it from a piece of burned wood he found in his yard.
His interest in objects began during his teen-age years.His grandfather lived in Chicago.Visiting was a treat, because he could explore the city's big, wide alleys.
"People would throw away all sorts of things," Phelps recalls."The first pair of ice skates I ever saw, I found in an alley.Writing pens.Things I didn't have any access to.I'd spend my days roaming the alleys.My brother was more like a free spirit: He'd go travel all over the place on buses and street cars.
...
Phelps doesn't own much of his early work, which was stored in an old house, and the owners cleaned it out when they decided to sell.But he still has one piece, a work accepted for the Art Museum's biannual competition in 1966.It's a long photograph of a line of soldiers, perhaps infantry from World War I. He painted an image of a serpent over and around the soldiers.From a distance, "Snake in the Grass" looks like just that -- a fat, striped snake.Close up, you realize the snake's striped markings are people.
Creativity has never been in short supply for Phelps, but he was not much inspired by other artists.The most profound influences in his youth were teachers: his junior high art instructor, Georgia Beasley -- "I call Miss Beasley my mother," he says with sincere respect and love -- and his art teacher at Taft High, Antonio Blackburn.
Photo By Jymi Bolden
Tom Phelps at the Arts Consortium
...
"Whatever we did, Tom was doing it extra time," Beasley says.
...
Beasley helped Phelps and other promising students by obtaining scholarships through the Corbett Foundation to attend the Ohio Mechanics Institute at the old Ohio College of Applied Science.
...
Phelps spent some time in a night-school program learning about drafting, but he never pursued the commercial side of art.
From the beginning, creative art classes most appealed to him.At first, he did what his teachers taught him to do, learning the basics.In high school he began to explore printmaking and three-dimensional construction.Field trips to the Art Museum gave him his first exposure to historic artists.Those trips influenced his early work, which reflected European-based art.He liked paintings by Thomas Eakins, Pablo Picasso and the Expressionists, artists who used emotion and powerful color to create images.
Filling his home with paintings as a teen-ager, the young Phelps hesitated to call himself an artist.Art was a part of who he was; he didn't want people to think he was putting on airs.
"Other people would say, 'You're an artist,' " he says.
...
Phelps was not playing a role.An artist was what he was.
In fact, being an artist in Cincinnati's African-American community was not seen as a "career."Most so-called contemporary "mainstream" artists have some higher education or training.Being an artist might be an unorthodox career, but it's an acceptably bohemian life for some.
Phelps says making a living as an artist is a mainstream concept.
"You go to school so you get the training and the background to become a professional artist, someone who lives from the art he's produced," he says."That's how the mainstream system works."
But it's different in the African-American community.
"We never had that position, except in the performing arts -- theater, music, things dealing with sound and motion," he says."During the Harlem Renaissance (in the 1920s and early 1930s), some of those artists made a living from their work, some of them had to leave the States, some had to move to areas where blacks were more accepted to do the things they did."
...
Being a professional artist and having a career focused in art was never an option for Phelps.
"Higher education was a rare thing for most of us," he says."Just to get a good-paying job was considered successful.The basic thing was that you'd provide for yourself and for the family you had."
Among men of Phelps' generation, that usually meant working for a government agency.
Right out of high school he made doughnuts at a bakery and then apprenticed as a cement finisher (the only building trade that accepted African Americans).
...
For the next 31 years, until retiring in 1997, Phelps was a letter carrier.
It was a means to an end, a good job with a steady income and benefits.And it enabled him to pursue freely the creation of the art he cared about.It also took him through Cincinnati neighborhoods where he sometimes found objects that became his mixed-media sculptures.
Photo By Jymi Bolden
Tom Phelps at home
Issues of race did not thwart Phelps' artistic drive.Growing up in the West End at mid-century, he says, he saw never much discrimination.
"This was a real nice spot," he says."Blacks had businesses.Jews always accepted us, because their homes were right next to ours.It was a really dynamic neighborhood.You'd hear about discrimination at Coney Island, but it was so far away and I'd never go there.On Sundays, I'd get on a loop bus with my mother -- we didn't want to get lost."
...
But Phelps was sensitive to the world around him.
"I did a lot of drawing from my own sense of pain and experience," he explains."A lot of my early work was dealing with the human condition.That's an area that a lot of people don't want in art.You can't hang it on your wall in your house.I didn't have no great following because of that."
He worked through a lot of personal issues in his early art: "Once you deal with your own pain, you can deal with pain outside yourself.
...
It's a boxlike structure, topped with a baby doll's head and outstretched arms, which Phelps' painted and lacquered.Beneath a lacy dress is a skull and an empty bowl.There are photographs of victims of hunger.
The work is evocative of both hope and despair, shot through with a sense of yearning.It would move a viewer anywhere in the world.
...
Being an African-American artist in the 1960s, while working a full-time job, could be an isolated existence, Phelps explains.
"We were disconnected from the mainstream of artists," he says, noting that, with very few exceptions, art galleries
CityBeat: Into the Light (1999-02-11)
www.citybeat.com [cached]
Tom Phelps' provocative art reflects African-American issues and images in a universal framework
...
by Tom Phelps
...
Tom Phelps is an artist, one of the most imaginative in Cincinnati.Yet he hardly conforms to any preconceived image you might have of someone who creates art.
· He has refined his art by studying on his own all his life, not through formal education.
· He delivered mail for more than 30 years.
· He's been a grass-roots activist, for social causes and for the arts.
· He's a self-proclaimed "junker," creating provocative art from objects he finds at flea markets, antique shops and curbs on trash night -- broken baby dolls and old photos, pieces of fabric, African artifacts and Christian icons, animal bones and furniture.
· He doesn't care that the art he creates is not traditionally pretty or marketable.
· He's an African American.
Being an African-American visual artist in a town like Cincinnati is not a common thing.Phelps isn't the only one, but you'll learn a lot about issues important to black Cincinnatians by spending a few hours visiting with him.
Phelps is a warm, talkative man who frequently punctuates his conversation with his hands.He laughs and smiles easily.
He is slim and compact, but his intensity has a very physical dimension.His triangular face features gentle brown eyes above high cheekbones and a goatee that's going white.He always wears a hat -- an African kufi some days, a soft canvas cap on others.
And he is passionate about his art.
A born artist Phelps grew up in Cincinnati's West End, an intriguing stew of blacks, Jews, Asians and Appalachians during the 1940s and 1950s.He always knew he was a little different from others, because he felt so strongly about art.
"I've been an artist ever since I can remember," he says.
...
But Phelps didn't learn to be an artist."I've been an artist all my life, consciously," he says.
As a youth, he enjoyed drawing -- he still has some marvelously detailed sketches in spiral-bound notebooks drawn with a ball-point pen -- and carving.He shows with pride a work that looks a bit like a tall, thin African mask.It dates from around 1960; he carved it from a piece of burned wood he found in his yard.
His interest in objects began during his teen-age years.His grandfather lived in Chicago.Visiting was a treat, because he could explore the city's big, wide alleys.
...
Phelps doesn't own much of his early work, which was stored in an old house, and the owners cleaned it out when they decided to sell.But he still has one piece, a work accepted for the Art Museum's biannual competition in 1966.It's a long photograph of a line of soldiers, perhaps infantry from World War I. He painted an image of a serpent over and around the soldiers.From a distance, "Snake in the Grass" looks like just that -- a fat, striped snake.Close up, you realize the snake's striped markings are people.
Creativity has never been in short supply for Phelps, but he was not much inspired by other artists.The most profound influences in his youth were teachers: his junior high art instructor, Georgia Beasley -- "I call Miss Beasley my mother," he says with sincere respect and love -- and his art teacher at Taft High, Antonio Blackburn.
Photo By Jymi Bolden
Tom Phelps at the Arts Consortium
...
"Whatever we did, Tom was doing it extra time," Beasley says.
...
Beasley helped Phelps and other promising students by obtaining scholarships through the Corbett Foundation to attend the Ohio Mechanics Institute at the old Ohio College of Applied Science.
...
Phelps spent some time in a night-school program learning about drafting, but he never pursued the commercial side of art.
From the beginning, creative art classes most appealed to him.At first, he did what his teachers taught him to do, learning the basics.In high school he began to explore printmaking and three-dimensional construction.Field trips to the Art Museum gave him his first exposure to historic artists.Those trips influenced his early work, which reflected European-based art.
...
Phelps was not playing a role.An artist was what he was.
In fact, being an artist in Cincinnati's African-American community was not seen as a "career."Most so-called contemporary "mainstream" artists have some higher education or training.Being an artist might be an unorthodox career, but it's an acceptably bohemian life for some.
Phelps says making a living as an artist is a mainstream concept.
"You go to school so you get the training and the background to become a professional artist, someone who lives from the art he's produced," he says.
...
Being a professional artist and having a career focused in art was never an option for Phelps.
"Higher education was a rare thing for most of us," he says.
...
For the next 31 years, until retiring in 1997, Phelps was a letter carrier.
It was a means to an end, a good job with a steady income and benefits.And it enabled him to pursue freely the creation of the art he cared about.It also took him through Cincinnati neighborhoods where he sometimes found objects that became his mixed-media sculptures.
Photo By Jymi Bolden
Tom Phelps at home
Issues of race did not thwart Phelps' artistic drive.Growing up in the West End at mid-century, he says, he saw never much discrimination.
"This was a real nice spot," he says.
...
But Phelps was sensitive to the world around him.
"I did a lot of drawing from my own sense of pain and experience," he explains.
...
It's a boxlike structure, topped with a baby doll's head and outstretched arms, which Phelps' painted and lacquered.
...
Being an African-American artist in the 1960s, while working a full-time job, could be an isolated existence, Phelps explains.
"We were disconnected from the mainstream of artists," he says, noting that, with very few exceptions, art galleries in Cincinnati did not cater to black artists.
...
It was there Phelps met other artists of color, people interested in reflecting their culture through their art.But visual artists remained a small population among African Americans.
"In our community, performing arts are what most people lean toward and interact with on a more active basis: music, theater and so on," he says."Those are their expressions of creativity, rather than visual."
He suggests that this might be a long-term by-product of slave owners who prohibited slaves from creating art.
"You couldn't use images the masters could not understand," he says.
...
Phelps chose to be an artist on his own terms.He's not concerned about selling his work.
"Trying to get into the mainstream, that's a whole 'nother thing," he says.
...
The NeoAncestralists (L-R: Ken Leslie, Tom Phelps and Jimi Jones) from a Weston Gallery promotional postcard
...
Phelps has become profoundly self-educated in his own racial history -- he's descended from Southern blacks, with some Native American ancestry -- and in art related to that lineage.While he is interested in visiting areas where Africans have settled and mingled with other races, he has not traveled broadly.
"I have hardly been out of Cincinnati," he says, laughing.
But his reading and conversation have helped him know his roots.He knows most African Americans have not undertaken that exploration, and he envisions his art as opening some doors.
"Our own community had to understand what we are doing," he says."We're going to give you images that come from our African heritage, that's mixed with our American experience."
He likes to cite the wisdom of James Baldwin: "If you reject your history, you don't have any present."
"You have to accept your past," Phelps says firmly, "and deal with it, with that pain, and put yourself through it."
Over the years, Phelps has been more concerned with creating his art than finding a market for it.That meant he had less need for galleries as an outlet for his work.
...
Phelps enjoyed working with like-minded artists, and in the late 1980s he joined with several friends to create the NeoAncestralists.Phelps is the group's spiritual center; his partners are Jimi Jones and Ken Leslie.
...
"We feel that, s
DM Direct: Online Newsletter for Business Intelligence & Data Warehousing Professionals
www.dmreview.com, 9 Aug 2002 [cached]
By Tom Phelps Despite spending vast sums on information technology to generate and house financial data, many companies have yet to transform this data into strategic analytical solutions with the power to increase return on investment for the entire enterprise.(go to the full story)
Web-Enabled Call Centers: Do They Really Work?
DM Review - Resource Portal - Data Marts
www.dmreview.com, 7 June 2002 [cached]
By Tom PhelpsDespite spending vast sums on information technology to generate and house financial data, many companies have yet to transform this data into strategic analytical solutions with the power to increase return on investment for the entire enterprise.(go to full story)
The Next Big Thing for Data Warehouses
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