Michener Art Museum

Phillip Lloyd Powell

Phillip Powell with shovel, 2002, turqoise, lapis lazuli, copper, ash, bubinga, and walnut. Used in the ground-breakign ceremony at James A. Michener Art Museum, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 20 June, 2002.
BORN: August 26, 1919, Germantown, Pennsylvania
DIED: March 9, 2008, New Hope, Pennsylvania

I'm an artist working with furniture that has sculptural qualities. There's more emotion involved than anything else - I need that.

Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, in 1919, Phillip Lloyd Powell began crafting furniture during his teen years. After studying mechanical engineering at the Drexel Institute of Technology in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1939 – 1940) and then meteorology at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, Illinois (1942), he began working as a meteorologist in Great Britain with the Army Air Corps.

When I originally came to New Hope, having run screaming from office or business life, I was looking for a quiet unstressful life, really becoming a hermit, but from the moment I started building my first house on the highway, I was inundated with people and eventually business and I went with the flow.

In 1947 he moved to New Hope, Pennsylvania where he purchased an acre of land and began building his home. Inspired by George Nakashima and Wharton Esherick, Powell began developing his own designs in the early fifties, which he sold from his New Hope shop. By 1953 he had moved his showroom to Mechanic Street, where he would create a line of lamps as well as slate-topped tables and chairs. His shop was open by appointment and from 8PM until midnight on Saturdays, when the Bucks County Playhouse theater crowd was wandering about town. He would make enough money from that one evening where the showroom could remain closed for the rest of the week.

When designer-craftsman Paul Evans moved to New Hope in 1955, Powell and Evans opened a joint showroom and began collaborating on screens, tables, and cabinets.

Displayed in their showroom was a walnut fireplace surround (ca. 1956 – 1958), a prime example of Powell’s sophisticated deep-carved work with sinuous carvings that follow the wood grain and highlight irregularities of the wood. The Michener acquired the fireplace surround in 2008, and it is now part of the permanent exhibition, Intelligent Design, which opened in 2012.

In 1957 a Powell and Evans’ metal sculptured-front chest was included in the Museum of Contemporary Crafts’ seminal exhibition Furniture by Craftsmen, which showcased objects by such key participants in the Studio Furniture movement as Wharton Esherick, Sam Maloof, and George Nakashima. In 1961 Powell and Evans exhibited their work in a two-man exhibition at America House in New York. Powell would later reflect on his partnership with Evans, writing, “Paul helped me refine my engineering-based designs, as his background was in the arts—and in return I turned his art into furniture.”

Shortly after Powell and Evans ended their collaboration in New Hope in 1966, Powell began to travel extensively. As stated by friend Herb Speigel, Powell’s “modus operandi” was to get a commission and make enough money for a trip. He drew inspiration from his travels including places such as Sicily, England, Morocco, Portugal, Japan, and Spain, where he lived from 1976 to 1979, before returning once more to New Hope. Powell also frequently visited the Nataraj Grukul School in West Bengal, India and helped fund some much needed improvements to the school.

In 2002 Powell was commissioned to create a dedication shovel as well as a bench (called the Sun and Moon Bench) for the New Hope branch of the James A. Michener Art Museum.

Powell passed away in March of 2008 at the age of 88. At the remembrance gathering held in May friends gathered to share stories and photographs of the woodworker. Herb Speigel gave a eulogy outlining all the great ways that Powell did things “his way.”

The twelve-foot high iconic Phillip Lloyd Powell Door to his former home and studio on Route 202 in New Hope was permanently installed at the James A. Michener Art Museum, in Doylestown, in October 2010.