Edna Phillips

A Trailblazing Musician

The present work descends directly from the collection of its subject, Edna Phillips (1907-2003). Born and raised in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, Phillips went on to become an iconic and revered harpist. At the age of 23, she became the first woman to hold a principal position in a major American Orchestra when she joined the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1930 under the direction of famed conductor Leopold Stokowski. Phillips was a member of the orchestra until 1946 and performed eight times with them as a soloist between 1937 and 1952, garnering acclaim from audiences and critics alike. She played in Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940) and her harp and music are now in the collection of the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. 

Phillips was also an artist and befriended others through her extensive social circle. In addition to De Szyszlo, she was painted by Arthur B. Carles and photographed by Harry B. Wright, two examples of which can be found in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A chronicle of her barrier-breaking life and career, One Woman in a Hundred, Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra by Mary Sue Welsh, was published in 2013.

Carl Jung used to say that one’s unconscious has common denominators with the collective unconscious and if a person manages to bring out something from deep in his interior, someone else may be able to interpret it. That is how I have based all my work, using artistic languages from my age and time, nourished by pre-Columbian and autochthonous content.

Fernando de Szyszlo