Mike Phillips has a vivid imagination – and it shows.
The 51-year-old Collinsville resident was recognized for his creativity in Cherokee National Historical Society’s 24th Annual Cherokee Homecoming Art Show on Friday, Aug. 9.
The event runs through Sept. 21 and showcases 119 pieces by 73 artists in both traditional and contemporary divisions, including six Cherokee National Treasures and a United Keetoowah Band Tradition Keeper.
The traditional division (“arts originating before European contact”) consists of three categories: basketry, pottery and traditional arts.
Likewise, the contemporary division (“arts arising among the Cherokee after European contact”) comprises seven categories: paintings, sculpture, pottery, basketry, beadwork, jewelry and textiles.
Phillips was named Honorable Choice in the contemporary sculpture category for his work, “First Fire,” representing a spider fanning the embers of a fire inside the trunk of a tree.
His entry is based on an inspirational ancient Cherokee story in which a small water spider rises to the challenge, above other larger and smarter wildlife, to learn how to make fire to keep warm amid cold temperatures.
“The moral of the story is don’t underestimate the little guy,” Phillips said, “that’s what the piece is about.”
The longtime Collinsville resident used an old pecan tree for the base of the sculpture, railroad spike heads and round bars for the spider’s body, and crumbles of ceiling tile for the fire embers.
Phillips, a former welder, said he’s always been interested in art and recently started tapping into his hidden talent as a fun side hobby.
“I entered a couple art shows here maybe 10 years ago and sold a piece here and there, and I got a lot of positive feedback … so I thought, ‘I’m going to try to this,’” he said.
Phillips has since gained local prominence as Best Emerging Artist at Cherokee Heritage Center’s Trail of Tears Art Show and Honorable Choice at Historical Society’s Homecoming Art Show.
When asked about placing in this month’s contest, Phillips replied, “It means a lot. When you got 20 different sculptures and there’s only like four places, that says a lot.”
Phillips vied with other contestants for a share of more than $10,000 in prize money, sponsored by Cherokee Nation Businesses.
For a full list of winners and their showcases, click here.