New Book Documents Local Homebuilder’s Efforts To Turn ‘Trash’ Into Treasure
Texas Review Press’s newest publication, Resurrecting Trash: Dan Phillips and the Phoenix Commotion, has just hit the shelves.
Written and designed by Sam Houston State graduate students enrolled in Paul Ruffin’s “Editing and Publishing Practicum” course in 2011, Resurrecting Trash introduces the reader to the many remarkable projects that have been produced in the Huntsville and Houston areas by Phillips and his building initiative, The Phoenix Commotion, through textual histories and a full-color gallery of photographs of most of Phillips’s projects.
With more than 40 years of experience under his belt, Phillips produces architectural masterpieces from recycled goods found in city dumps, left on curbs, or items neglected and left for anyone who wants them.
License plates, shattered tiles, bottle caps, wine corks, old pieces of timber, and wine bottles are only a few of the materials this “wizard of waste” employs to create fully functional homes, according to Don R. Bates, one of the book’s student editors.
“Dan Phillips combines the passion of an artist with the wisdom of an artist with the wisdom of a philosopher to create inimitable living spaces that are as full of life and personality as the people who inhabit them,” Bates said. “Harnessing the power of apprentice labor provided by an army of willing novices, Dan fashions structures from salvaged materials that become affordable yet aesthetically unique homes for artists, single parents, and families with low incomes.
“This book will open your eyes to the uplifting spirit of Dan Phillips, who chooses to see the possibilities rather than the limitations in both the building and the builders he quietly goes about the business of improving the planet, one project at a time,” he said.
The idea for the book was pitched to the class by Phillips, who met with the students and sold them on his philosophy of life and construction. Each student was mesmerized with the buildings, and from this fascination with the recycled-trash projects the students decided that they wanted to write about Dan Phillips and The Phoenix Commotion, according to senior editor Doug Haines, now an SHSU graduate.
"Dan Phillips may be the closest thing we have to a modern day renaissance man,” Haines said. “He's an artist, a philosopher, a builder, a dancer, and a true visionary. He's the type of person that makes the world better just by being in it."
“I have watched Dan Phillips at work for nearly 40 years, and I must say that he constantly surprises me with his ability to create something magnificent out of ‘trash’ others have consigned to the city dump or left at the curb to be hauled off,” said Ruffin, who is also director for Texas Review Press. “I was delighted to learn that Dan would be willing to allow my class to write this book about him, incorporating the remarkable story of Dan and The Phoenix Commotion with well over a hundred black-and-white and full-color photographs.”
Throughout the semester, the students in the course learned how to create a book from beginning to end: doing initial research, writing the text, laying out photos and illustrations, and designing the cover. As part of the curriculum, Ruffin plays only an advisory and mentoring role during the creative process. The book itself is the product of the hard work of the students.
The biggest challenge encountered by the group of students involved the scope of the project, which led to hundreds of hours of researching the subject through interviews with Phillips; making trips to the featured houses, parks and business; as well as taking and sorting through hundreds of photographs.
“This project proved to be the most complex publication the class had ever produced,” Ruffin said.
The book is currently available from the Texas A&M University Press Consortium and on-line sources. Those interested in buying an autographed copy also may buy them directly from Texas Review Press, in Evans Building Room 152, or from Phillips by contacting his administrative director Edie Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Resurrecting Trash is an archive of what The Phoenix Commotion has been trying to accomplish. It is thrilling that the years of struggle have caught the attention of The Texas Review as a viable—indeed urgent—model for reuse in the 21st century,” Phillips said. “My abiding hope is that there is at least cameo visibility of this model as we all continue to heal the planet."
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