Retired army pilot finds new career in woodworking, opens gallery


Retired army pilot finds new career in woodworking, opens gallery

After spending 20 years as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, Michael Phillips picked up a hobby in woodworking that transformed into a new career for himself and an opportunity for local artists.

After spending 20 years as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, Michael Phillips picked up a hobby in woodworking that transformed into a new career for himself and an opportunity for local artists.

Ansbach Artisans celebrated its grand opening on May 2. The little building at 1974 Wilson Pike in Franklin has been a drive-in market and grocery, but now doubles as a work space for the owner and a gallery for seven other visual artists to display their work.

Splashes of sunflowers on canvas, glass and rock mosaics depicting western figures and themes, colorful abstract portraits of musical icons, and Phillips’ own rustic artisan furniture, wine racks and other wooden handcrafted items fill the walls and corners of the shop. Phillips initially purchased the property this year with the intent of selling his own creations.

“I work on projects on one side of the shop,” Phillips said. “It was just obvious I wouldn’t be able to keep the other side full of things that I make, so I thought I’d invite other local artists who don’t have a place to sell it.”

Five painters, a mosaic artist, and a 78-year-old wood turner, all Tennessee-based, were hand-selected by Phillips to exhibit their work at Ansbach Artisans.

And unlike typical art galleries, Phillips does not charge artists to show their work at the gallery, and he takes a relatively modest 25 percent commission. He hopes this business model combined with a discerning eye for good work will sustain this entrepreneurial venture.

“I’ve gone in galleries and not liked much of anything I saw there,” Phillips said.

“The gallery owners are making money from the artists either way, so they’ll let anyone come in and hang anything, and that doesn’t interest me. I think time will tell how well this works, but I’m approaching this from an artist’s perspective. I think it’s a win-win.”

The Wilson Pike building, recognizable by its green roof and over 80-year-old history as Jamison Market, has served many purposes in just the last three years. After opening briefly as a cafe and convenience store that ultimately failed, the space was leased by a local business owner to use as a “think space” for designing healthcare apparel.

Phillips moved from Germany to Williamson County with his wife and four children in July 2014. Soon after, he decided to put down roots by purchasing the Wilson Pike property and a home less than two miles from the shop. Though a career in art is a first for him, Phillips said it will be his last.

He and his family spent the past 12 years in Ansbach, Germany, where he was stationed during his tenure in the military. Phillips retired from the service at the end of 2009 – “a terrible time to be looking for a job” – and took up woodworking as a hobby.

Though he initially began by refinishing antiques, Phillips ultimately moved on to creating his own furniture and other crafts. His wife, now a teacher for Williamson County Schools, made hand-woven baskets.

Phillips’ mother dubbed the craft-making couple “artisans,” which inspired the name for the business and carried over to the states.

“I thought we’d move to wherever a job was, but the job never came along,” Phillips said.

“We’d been in Germany 12 years. We stared at a map and said, ‘We can literally move to anywhere in the world,’ and we narrowed it down, and it turned out to be Franklin.”

Phillips grew up in single-parent home where there was no money for art. He recalls studying classic artists in school, but it was his travels as an adult that developed his appreciation for art and a collecting tradition.

“We spent so many years overseas and took advantage of travel there,” Phillips said.

“Whenever we traveled to a different country, we’d seek out an original piece of art. We have a great eclectic collection, and every piece has a story.”

Phillips recalls one such painting – his wife’s favorite – discovered serendipitously on vacation in Morocco nine years ago.

“There’s very little art there, to my understanding, because Allah is believed to be the only perfect thing in the world, so any attempt to recreate that is almost against the religion. So very few people try to do any art, and it’s difficult to find.”

Determined to locate a piece, Phillips and his family embarked on a treasure hunt for art. Their cab ultimately led them to a furniture store in which hung an abstract painting by a local artist. Though the work was reserved for another buyer, Phillips convinced the shopkeeper to sell him the painting.

“I really appreciate beautiful things, whatever it is,” Phillips said.

With the gallery now open, the owner is committed to finding those things to display and share with the community.

“We’re not leasing, we’re not taking this for a test drive,” Phillips said.

“We bought it, and now it’s an art gallery. I expect there to be learning curves, but we have an artist-friendly business model, which is one of the reasons we’re having artists coming to us. Somehow the word is getting out.”

Jessica Pace covers Williamson County, Williamson County Schools and the Town of Nolensville for Home Page Media Group. Contact her at jess@brentwoodhomepage.com or follow her on Twitter @Jess_NHP.

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