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Aviator Turned Artist

Phil Daves Art

As a child, I spent a lot of time in Santa Fe. I vividly remember the long drive from Oklahoma to New Mexico, stopping at bbq shacks along Route 66 headed West.

As you move into New Mexico, a particular scent fills the air. The smell of piñon and pines start to take over, and something magical happens as you drive into the historic city of Santa Fe. 

My aunt, CeCe, and her husband, Phil, had an adorable casita in town. Phil was a full-time painter in Santa Fe and had a gallery on the famous Canyon Road. I remember walking down Canyon Road to his gallery, which seemed like a very long street as a child. Full of art galleries,  exquisite metal sculptures, outdoor cafes, and ristras (dried red peppers) hanging from Spanish-style architecture. Phils’ gallery was nestled in a small courtyard surrounded by fountains and chimeneas. Like many galleries, it was spacious and white. Large windows in the front allowed natural light to peer through the space, and when the weather was nice, the door was left open, so when strolling through the rooms, you could smell the piñon burning from the courtyard. 

My uncle Phil was a shy and quiet man, but his


paintings were bold and vibrant. He mainly used earth tones with rich brushstrokes of emerald green, burgundy, sapphire blue, and golden yellows. I loved how the thick oil paint would harden and erupt along the edges. As a little girl, I remember sneaking my finger onto the painting to touch it and see if it was dry.

Phil loved to paint two things: women and nature. He seemed drawn to women with long limbs, thick wild hair, bodacious curves, and unique facial features. I remember once asking him, “Who is that woman in the painting?” Not being able to place what race she was, how old she was, and what type of woman she was. He explained how he watched her work in a coffee shop for years until he asked if she would sit as a model for him one day. She did, and he built a whole series of paintings around her. Now, one of these paintings lives at my father’s home.

My father, Milton, the brother-in-law to Phil, was one the artists biggest fans. He has collected over 20 pieces from Phil and has a dedicated art room in his home for Phil’s paintings. Since Phil died in 2018, most of his art resides in Palm Springs with his wife, CeCe. But my dad feels he has collected some of his best work. 


I particularly love the ‘Ana Series’. During a trip to Santa Fe around the age of 14,  Phil asked if I wanted to pose for a painting. I jumped at the opportunity. Being a model for a painting turned out to be a lot harder than I thought. I remember it was a few hours a day, sitting completely still. As an anxious teenager, I did find that difficult. But seeing my face painted with his rich bold colors was a magical experience. I hold that memory dear to my heart and hang the paintings proudly in my home, today.

Phil was a decorated Aviator with a 20-year career flying almost every aircraft in the Army inventory. His passion and skill as an aviator earned him to be part of a unique experimental aviation unit, the 8305th Aerial Combat, and Reconnaissance (ACR), which developed the concept of attack helicopters. He served in Vietnam and taught at the Army Command and General Staff College in Kansas. While stationed in Kansas, he began to take art classes. Thus, starting his career as a fine arts painter. Then, making his way to Santa Fe, where he lived and pianted for over 20 years. 

"Phil grew up in western Oklahoma, Elk City, and was a young kid young kid during the Depression in the 1930's" Milton Berry, brother in law

Though Phil is gone, his art lives with us forever in the beauty of his painted images. Phil’s art compliments a home. It isn’t too big, obtuse, or abstract. Instead, it’s functional art that would hang beautifully over a piano or as a centerpiece in the dining room.

To me, his art is familiar, reminiscent, warm, and inviting, as if Phil wants to remind us of the beauty in the world. Not superficial beauty or interpreted beauty, but raw and authentic beauty. The beauty you can only find in nature, beauty in the form of an aged woman peering out her window- what is she thinking? Beauty in the form of the red dirt of Oklahoma- oh, the history it holds! The beauty of a silent golden wheat field at sunset and a closed door on a dusty street in New Mexico- will it ever open?

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I often sit in my father’s art gallery, staring at Phil’s paintings, closing my eyes, and remember being a little girl walking down Canyon Road holding my dad’s hand. The smell of piñon and pines, recollecting on times past. Although,  I am older now, Phil is gone, and the gallery in Santa Fe is full of someone else’s art, the feeling inside me is still there. And that is the beauty of a painting. It holds that memory for us to remember forever in its frame.

Phils' Art Today

Phils' Art Today

Most of Phils art lives in private homes, although some of it can still be purchased online through special auctions.

“An ex wife bought me a Rolex watch that I never liked. But I asked Phil if he liked it and he did. So I asked to trade the watch for the painting of Poncho. We made the deal and to this day, Poncho is my favorite painting.” Milton Berry

Visit Canyon Road in Santa Fe?

With more than 80 galleries, studios, and designers in the Canyon Road Arts District you’ll find art that is contemporary, abstract, modern, expressionistic, digital, figurative, photorealistic, traditional, western and Native American.
  • C Gallery 
  • Historic Santa Fe Foundation
  • Auralia Gallery 

Along with some of the most delicious New Mexican restaurants.

  • El Farol 808 Canyon Road
  • Geronimo 724 Canyon Road
  • The Compound 653 Canyon Road

Stay at the 

Phil Daves Art

“The colors he chooses are remarkable but it’s about what he captures in the character of the people and the landscape. The people are odd; Poncho, the Gypsy and the sad Soldiers. In his paintings, I see somebody that I know. For example, I see my mother in one of his paintings, and in another, I see my sister. ” Milton Berry on Phil Daves Art

  • The Voyeur

    The Voyeur

    “She is looking at something intently as we are looking at her," Berry says.

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  • RAM


    This painting was created after Phil returned home from fighting in Vietnam.

    Read More
  • Poncho


    “He was homeless. He was a drunk," says Berry.

    Read More

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