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Frederick Phillips (1938-2021): woodworker who was master of the trade

Fred Phillips, master carpenter (File photograph)

An expert woodworker whose work ranged from antique furniture restoration to prized artworks was remembered by friends as “a master”.

Frederick Phillips’ creations can be found in historic buildings across the island, including Camden in Paget, the official home of the Premier.

His output of furniture covered a string of classic antique period styles including William and Mary, Queen Anne, Chippendale, Regency and Victorian.

Andrea Casling, of Hammers auctioneers, said Mr Phillips’ work “always appreciated in value”.

She added: “When he made a dining room chair from Bermuda cedar, it was an exact replica of an antique chair – and these are the antiques of tomorrow.

“Machine and factory made furniture does not last. The things he made are as wonderful as on the day he gave them to the new owner.”

Ms Casling said Mr Phillips was “a craftsman and an artist who enjoyed his work”.

She added: “It wasn’t done until he was done. He was just a master.

“If he made a cedar chest, at a glance it looked exactly like an antique. He believed in restoring things to their original integrity.

“He is a big miss. There is no one around who can do what he did.”

Ms Casling said: “He was the quintessential gentleman in every way.

“I admired him. I learnt a lot from him too.”

Mr Phillips’ speciality was Bermuda cedar, which he said was a difficult wood to work with.

Mr Phillips, a cabinetmaker since he left school, told The Royal Gazette in 2002 there was little he had not made.

He said: “I worked on boats, the souvenir business, kitchen cabinets, construction – you name it, I’ve done it.

“I’ve made cradles, cedar chests, bookcases, music stands.

“If it is in wood, I’ll give it a go.”

His works were dated and signed with his trademark mouse.

Mr Phillips was a lifelong supporter of the Bermuda National Trust, along with his late wife Anna Marie, an office manager for the charity.

He restored and maintained many of the Trust’s artefacts – in some cases reviving centuries-old furnishings at showpiece Trust properties such as Verdmont House in Smith’s.

Mr Phillips told the Gazette that his was a natural gift, like an artist’s.

He said craftsmen were “born, just like artists are”.

Mr Phillips said: “I don’t see young people taking it up if they are interested in getting rich.

“But there are always people who are fascinated by it and are willing to do it just like artists who starve to do their thing.”

Mr Phillips admitted it was tough work and competed with items that could be mass-produced.

He added: “It has to be made in some sort of unique way to make it appealing to people who can afford to pay for it.”

Much of his work went to collectors and connoisseurs and sometimes sold at auction for prices far higher than the original cost.

He told the Gazette in the 2002 interview: “Being a Bermudian and never living anywhere else, I would say I worked about 90 per cent on cedar.”

David Wingate, a former conservation officer for the Government and a council member of the Bermuda National Trust, said Mr Phillips and his wife were “an absolutely delightful couple”.

Mr Wingate added: “He was very generous hearted and genuinely loved, as well as admired for his carpentry.”

Mr Phillips’ workshop was at his home on Bayfield Road, Warwick.

But he opened a showroom, the Woodworker’s Bench, on nearby Stadium Lane in 1999, in a building that had been derelict.

Items on display included his artwork and sculptures.

He told the Mid-Ocean News after the showroom opened that he loved the creative process.

Mr Phillips said: “This was something I wanted to do for as long as I could remember.

“Now I'm making the things I want to make rather then the things other people want me to do.”

Mr Phillips sometimes worked in metal as well as wood, and had an early background in stone cutting and construction.

He worked as a teenager for the firm Monk & Martin, followed by Andrews & Co., the forerunner of Post Andrews, which built Hamilton City Hall.

· Frederick Cornelius Phillips, a master carpenter and woodworker, was born on October 28, 1938. He died in November, aged 83.

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Published December 15, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated December 15, 2021 at 7:59 am)

Frederick Phillips (1938-2021): woodworker who was master of the trade

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