Chesterton residents have probably seen the work of local artist and
interior designer Virginia Phillips somewhere around the town, maybe hanging
inside the Red Cup Café or at a local art show.
Now thousands across the county will get a glimpse of Phillips’ creative
talent in their mail this spring. Philips was one of six artists nationally
whose work was chosen by the Easter Seals organization for their 2011
mailing campaign, “Seals with Zeal,” to help individuals with disabilities.
“I’m just tickled to death to be part of that effort,” said Phillips. “I
love taking part in a well-established organization that can do so much good
for people. I like the whole picture of me being an artist and a resident of
Phillips, who turned 79 this past year, has had a strong interest of
painting ever since she was a little girl living in Chicago’s south side.
She went to school to become a schoolteacher, but wound up landing a job at
Marcus T. Nielson Interior Design firm in Chicago as an assistant in 1953.
She has been a part of the business ever since.
The majority of her interior design work is residential, but she has also
helped design restaurants and offices. In her paintings, she enjoys creating
landscapes and portraits using oils.
When Nielson decided to retire in the late 1960s, he moved the business to
Suman Valley just one mile south of U.S. 6 in Jackson Township, Phillips
said, and grew in popularity. Phillips and colleague Dewey Kooinga soon took
over promptly after Nielson’s retirement and renovated what is now known as
the Art Barn. The barn also features an antique store that Phillips helped
“We never suffered from going from the big city to the boonies,” she said.
Although the economy has nosedived, Phillips continues to work as an
interior designer and paints with her friends at the barn where she works
and lives close by.
Encouraged by a friend, Phillips had entered the contest once before in
2009. Her painting of a tiger lily made the cut in this year’s contest.
Phillips describes her style as similar to German Expressionists, and
creates her paintings to be abstract to some degree. Her paintings are often
in the style of Van Gough, leaving the painting abstract enough that the eye
can still identify objects it sees.
Sky, Lake and
Recently, Phillips has turned to the Indiana Dunes for inspiration in a
series called “Sky, Lake, and Dunes.” Twelve paintings from the series
Phillips incorporated into calendar for 2011, with each painting containing
its own special characteristic for each month.
“I thought people would be interested since they know about the Dunes and
are enthusiastic about them. Some of my friends or their parents were very
active in getting the National Lakeshore established back in the 1960s,” she
Phillips has decided to order more calendars for those who are interested in
A glimpse of Phillips’ work is at www.virginiaphillips.com Webpage visitors
can also purchase the paintings online if they desire. Paintings may be
purchased in different sizes, including her submissions for the Easter Lilly
Phillips’ name is not one to go unnoticed around award presentations. Just
recently, Phillips won a commemoration from the Elkhart Art Museum and often
receives praise each year at the Chesterton Women’s Art Club award show.
She also participates annually in the Schoolhouse Shop Art Show in September
located off of Furnessville Rd.
Phillips also speaks fondly of her late husband, Hal, who taught English for
thirty years at the Purdue University North Central campus in Westville. She
is planning to enter submissions again for the Easter Seals 2012 art
The Easter Seals program was started by the National Society for Crippled
Children in 1934. According to a press release, the campaign became an
annual effort with mailings every spring to help children live normal lives.
The seal serves as a symbol of health and hope for children and adults with
disabilities. Cleveland Plain Dealer cartoonist J.H. Donahey designed the
first seal depicting a child with crutches standing in front of a white
By 1952, the organization officially incorporated the lily as its logo,
symbolizing the growth of spring. The lily has appeared on each seal ever
since and has brought about a 90 percent public recognition rate and
overwhelming public support.