The Many Faces of Sid Phillips
by Keith Lehman & Yujin Bronner
Artwork by Yujin Bronner.
"Everybody thinks they are really creepy and I like that. I get a lot of “Oh my God. Look at that!” And people whispering, “That’s a baby doll’s head!”
Like many museums in the United States, a gift store awaits at the end of the National Watch and Clock Museum tour in Columbia, PA. Among the usual suspects of museum-themed trinkets, books, and apparel, there is something quite unexpected. In a well-lit display cabinet is a lineup of characters that could be castaways from the Island of Misfit Toys—after they were experimented on by Dr. Moreau and then gifted to Dr. Frankenstein.
A bizarre menagerie of dollies trapped in vintage tins, a knitting basket made of paper spirals, and a snake head fastened on an old wooden tea box are just some of the oddities behind their glass cage. Above these creatures is a sign that reads “Sid Phillips Design” with a distorted graphic of a human skull.
Who is behind Sid Phillips Design? WatchNews is surprised to discover that Sid Phillips is actually a woman! Store and Admissions Manager Abby Krouse is the artist who created these curious chimeras. In her first interview, Krouse reveals the thought process behind her work and how it feels to reveal her true identity after all these years.
WN: Your work is unique. How would you describe it?
SP: Just that—unique, creepy, disturbing but also playful. I guess the proper definition is found or repurposed art.
WN: How long have you been Sid Phillips? Why the name?
SP: I’m not exactly sure the exact time but roughly two years ago. I decided to use the name Sid Phillips because of the movie Toy Story. Sid Phillips was the neighbor boy who destroyed toys and remade them into creepy versions of what they were before.
WN: What was your official first Sid Phillips piece?
SP: Sir Walter Dolly. It was a fun and liberating piece to make. I was really proud making it and the reaction I got was priceless. Her dead, hollow eyes are my favorite part.
Ms. Von Schtuup. Photo by Yujin Bronner.
Montage of Krouse. Photos by Keith Lehman.
"My work is unique and I want people to have a reaction. It can be love or disgust. I like any reaction."
WN: Do you get a lot of reactions from people?
SP: Everybody thinks they are really creepy and I like that. I get a lot of “Oh my God. Look at that!” And people whispering, “That’s a baby doll’s head!” No negative comments. Buttons the Clown gets a lot of reactions too. Some people actually like it. People don’t know how to react to severed doll heads on display. They are repelled but also attracted. I guess that’s the reaction I’m going for.
WN: What is the inspiration for your work?
SP: That’s a tough one. I’m not sure if there is. I have a pile of dolls, trinkets, and parts. I do whatever speaks to me. I’ll redo stuff two or three times till it’s right.
WN: So there is a lot of trial and error?
SP: There is that. I’ve finished many pieces and I’ve started over completely. Sometimes I’m just not happy with a piece.
WN: Where do you get the objects to make your pieces?
SP: Antique shops, flea markets, my attic, my basement, wherever I can find junk. For the watch pieces, some people are concerned that I'm taking whole watches and smashing them with a hammer. I’m not. They already come in pieces. I don’t destroy anything except for the baby dolls—I rip their heads off.
WN: Your pieces are reminiscent of movies like Demonic Toys vs Puppet Master. Are you familiar with those movies? Do you like them?
SP: Yes, I am. I love horror movies! But I don’t have those movies in mind when I’m making my pieces.
WN: Are you aware of the steampunk movement? Is your work steampunk?
SP: I am aware of steampunk. I like that it’s gaining popularity. It’s something different. I think it’s pretty cool that they are taking old stuff and making it popular again. I hate to see stuff getting thrown out . . . I’m a hoarder under cover. You should see some of these drawers; they are packed solid with crap that I want to eventually make something out of.
My work isn't steampunk though. I’ve done a few jars with watch parts in them that are more like that but steampunk is industrial; it’s Victorian and historical. My work really isn't any of those things.
Sir Walter Dolly. Photo by Yujin Bronner.
WN: What are you trying to express in your work?
SP: My work is unique and I want people to have a reaction. It can be love or disgust. I like any reaction.
WN: The Museum is a family-friendly place. Were you nervous when you first put your work on display?
SP: I was at first. I wasn’t sure if people would like my work. Everyone wants their artwork to be noticed and liked.
WN: How does it feel to finally reveal that you are
SP: It’s scary. You never know how people react to you being you.
WN: What are you working on now?
SP: I’m working on a bird cage series. I’m not sure yet
what I want to say with it yet, but it’s a work in progress. In the future I want to make bigger things that take up this whole case, something that hangs from the ceiling or can sit on the floor . . . bigger and more elaborate, creepier,
but I don’t know if it can get anymore creepy than a
baby in a can.
Peek A Boo. Photo by Yujin Bronner.
Buttons the Clown. Photo by Yujin Bronner.