Editor’s note: “Truth and Beauty in the Canadian Rockies: An Explorer’s Guide to the Art of Walter J. Phillips” is a finalist in the Art and Photography category of the 2020 High Plains Book Awards.
Although little-known south of the Canadian border, Walter J. Phillips created vistas of the Canadian Rockies in watercolor, color block prints, wood engravings and oils. These media are presented in Lisa Christenson’s “Truth and Beauty in the Canadian Rockies: An Explorer’s Guide to the Art of Walter J. Phillips.” The subtitle is quite apt, as Christenson includes directions to the locations where Phillips created his art.
Phillips emigrated to Winnipeg from England in 1913 before moving to Banff thirty years later. He worked in the Ukiyo-e style of the Edo period (1603 – 1868) of Japanese block printing. He was particular about the types of paper he used and in the book’s glossary you will find a half dozen different types of paper he used to create his prints. I found his wood engravings particularly spectacular for their depiction of the rugged high mountains and lakes.
The layout of the book proved challenging, as the main text was interspersed with blocks of quotes from Phillips and others, along with other blocks with directions to the locations he painted. This is Christenson’s fourth book about Canadian plein air artists with directions for reaching the locations. This book is her first in an oversized format, making it a bit unwieldy compared to a pocket-sized book which can be used when trekking to viewpoint sites.