by Len Lear

“My work does not come from a market motive,” explains Chestnut Hill abstract artist Carol Philips. “It comes from an exploratory and somewhat spiritual motive.”

Carol is seen at work in her Chestnut Hill studio.

Philips, who does not want her age mentioned, has never been one to follow the profit motive. Several years ago she was teaching art courses for adults at Vermont College and for college-age kids at the University of Vermont, but she learned that Howard Gardner, whom she admired greatly, was teaching at Harvard University.

“He was the leading person in the country for using art to change people’s lives, not just art for the sake of art itself,” recalled Carol, “so I decided to go back to school in order to study with Dr. Gardner.”

After enrolling in a Ph.D program at Harvard, Carol would drive from Vermont for three hours and 15 minutes, one way, at least once a week to attend classes at Harvard and usually stay there for a few days. It would have been too complicated to move to the Boston area, she explained. Carol did earn her doctorate degree in education (Ed.D) after six years of making those three-hour-and-15-minute excursions, one-way, to classes. She then became a teaching fellow at Harvard, instructing doctoral students and developing a seminar on higher education.

In addition to teaching art at universities and to individuals, Philips has facilitated creativity and healing workshops from coast to coast, for example, at the Canyon Ranch resort in Arizona. (Have art, will travel!) After her many years in Vermont, she has connected with galleries, programs and arts education venues in Philadelphia, where she has lived for three years. She has exhibited locally, among other venues, at the Nichols Berg Gallery in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy Art Garage. “One thing I’ve discovered is that there are a lot of lovely, welcoming people in this area,” Carol said.

Carol Philips has now been making art for over 30 years. Throughout this time, some aspects of her work have remained consistent: a love of color, an obsession with composition, and the use of nature and mystic texts such as the Jewish Kaballah for inspiration. Others have changed; whereas her scale was once quite large, it became smaller and smaller. “Finally,” she said, “I thought I might wind up painting postage stamps, so now my work is getting bigger again.”

Texture has become a predominant concern for Carol, and while her work was once representational — landscapes, still-lifes, etc. — her imagery has become increasingly abstract. Finally, her medium is no longer paint. Rather than painting, she creates mixed media work using both paint and other materials — from nature, such as leaves and petals, to “craft,” including glitter, sequins and ribbons, to office supplies and found items. All of these are combined as needed to discover and create a piece’s meaning.

“The work and the life of the artist can be maddening and frustrating as well as joyful,” said Carol. “Making art gobbles up many many hours that could alternatively be dedicated to, say, making a living. It also costs lots of money to make; think studio and storage space and a couple of hundred bucks or so at art supply, craft and fabric stores every few months, as well as to share; think framing, photography, and website costs, just for instance …

“Several years ago many artists moved to Philadelphia from New York, but with the economy the way it is today, the art market is collapsing. To make it now, you have to be long-dead and Picasso … And in schools, because of the economy, art classes are the first thing to go. Art is seen as a frill that is easily disposable.”

Carol grew up in Queens, New York. Her father was a dress buyer (“so I got used to color combinations”), and her mother, Evelyn, who now lives at Springfield Residence in Wyndmoor, was an editor at a paper called the Roslyn News in Long Island. While there she also was a stringer for the New York Times for 10 years.

“My parents were great for taking my sister and me to museums and shows in New York City,” Carol said, “so we were definitely exposed to lots of culture growing up.”

In 1983 Carol married Bill Levine, whom she had met in high school on Long Island. Levine went to the University of Pennsylvania and later to Antioch University in Keene, New Hampshire, where he earned a doctorate degree in psychology. Today he has a private practice in Chestnut Hill.

Cariol and her husband have two daughters, Rose Levine, 27, a teacher at a small private school in West Philadelphia, and Ruby Levine, 22, a recent graduate of McCallister College in St. Paul, Minnesota. A resident of Minneapolis, Ruby is also a social and environmental activist who started a non-profit organization with a group of colleagues called Grand Aspirations. They have 12 sites across the country, and they call themselves “Solutionaries.” So Carol boasts, “I’m the mother of a solutionary.”

According to Carol, who has not done commercial art, “I’ve been thinking about people recently buying my work as gifts for themselves and for others, thought about those who have done so over the years, and of the art that I myself have been given and bought. How different art is from mass-produced commodities, regardless of their marvels. Art provides the opportunity to see through another’s eyes, mind and heart. One individual’s exploration for meaning, beauty or whatever else s/he seeks is transferred to another who derives these same qualities from it. Perhaps for this reason, art tends to be kept for a lifetime.”

Carol said she expects to be scheduling workshops in this area soon for budding artists. Her work can currently be seen at Nichols Berg Gallery. For more information, visit