Art & Artists
Masters of the Southwest
art & artists
September, 2014, Page 22
Photos by Leland Gebhardt
Artisan Phil Womack crafts his signature benches from vintage truck parts
The street signs that mark the historic Bel Air neighborhood of central Phoenix feature the outline of a 1950s-era shellback chair. And the home of artisan Phil Womack—which sits within this charming district—sports a handful of these colorful metal seats as well. The slightly rusted and well-worn pieces harken to days gone by, recalling the sounds of leisurely front-porch chats with neighbors.
The only thing visible from the street that hints at Womack’s prospering business is an old rusted truck. With some-day plans to make it his “spokes-vehicle,” the truck’s bed is stripped down to its bare metal bones. It is this particular lack of car parts that reveals the key component of what the artisan refers to as his “full-time passion”—making benches from vintage truck tailgates.
With a slight Southern accent, Womack talks about his love of nostalgia and vintage Americana and shares memories of piling into the back of his father’s pickup truck with his siblings. He describes his childhood summers in rural Alabama simply as, “You’d leave your house and knew to come back when it started to get dark.”
Photos - From left: This bench was formed using a tailgate from a vintage GMC truck. It features storage, pine wood seating and exhaust pipe legs. • Artisan Phil Womack explains that his favorite finds are completely intact truck beds because the color and patina of the various parts already match. This piece was made using the original bed from a ‘49 Ford, complete with its tailgate chains.
Womack notes that when he was a child, a number of folks told his parents, “You gotta send that boy to art school.” In 1978, after the climate beckoned him to Arizona, he decided to pursue a creative field of study in advertising. However, discontent with the office-bound existence his degree led him to, he acted upon an inner desire to “work big.” Eventually, his career path turned toward furniture design, which he enjoyed for 25 years.
After moving into his current home in 2004, Womack came across an old truck fender in his backyard that had been left behind by the previous owner. Inspired, he transformed the discarded part into his initial bench. But it wasn’t until he submitted his work for a fundraising event held by the Big Heap Vintage and Handmade Festival that Womack realized he could start a business. He confides that the hardest part of his work is accruing vintage truck parts.
“I make everything in my backyard, so let’s just say I have very understanding neighbors,” Womack quips. Crafting a single bench requires a full 40-hour workweek to complete, and usually the artisan builds several at a time. Since launching his business, he has received orders from all over the world, and has even developed a model that can be broken down for shipping.
Kelly Riley, who works for Abode Fine Living, a Scottsdale showroom that carries some of Womack’s pieces, remarks that his truck tailgate benches invoke instant nostalgia for many of the store’s customers. “As an interior designer, I’ve had the pleasure of using Phil’s benches in a Southwest garden and as an interior conversation piece. The benches are both comfortable and interesting. They really are a fun way to bring a piece of history, and the West, into a home.”
Having produced benches with hair-on-hide seats as well as rocker and even glider models, the artisan feels he thus far has only scratched the surface of his creativity. “I hope people get a sense of a simpler time when they view my work,” he concludes. “These trucks have survived this long, and they deserve a new life.”
Photos - Clock-wise from top left: This bench features a Ford tailgate and is painted “John Deer-green.” The armrests are made from vintage Chevy parts, and the seat features a Diamond plate texture. • Phil Womack spends most of his time in the summer searching for vintage tailgates, when it is too hot to work outside.
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