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Maria Antonietta Phillips

1944 - 2014 Obituary Condolences
Maria Antonietta Phillips Obituary
MARIA ANTONIETTA PHILLIPS Maria Antonietta Phillips, a local arts advocate, historian and environm-ental activist, passed away at her Vallombrosa Ave. home October 5, 2014 after a battle with cancer. She was 70. She was born in 1944 by candlelight in Nazi-occupied Rome. Her family moved to Caracas, Venezuela, when she was a toddler and then to Los Angeles. She started high school at age 11 and graduated by 14. She eventually earned a Ph.D in art history at UCLA and taught at CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Chico, and Butte College before becoming a professor of art history at Georgia State University, Atlanta. During her career, she was awarded numerous fellowships and grants, including an American Academy Rome Prize, a Getty research fellowship, and awards from the Georgia Humanities Council and Georgia State University. Maria was a founding member of ChiVAA (Chico Visual Arts Alliance) and was president until 2013. She served as secretary of the Chico Arts Foundation and was on the board of the Bidwell Mansion Community Project. She was awarded the Mayor's Art Award for the City of Chico in 2012. When Maria wasn't administrating projects or arranging exhibitions, she loved to paint. Most recently, she moved into a studio (the 2nd Street Studio, shared with artist Susan Matheson) in downtown Chico where she sometimes got to participate in the neighborhood ARTabout events she helped to found. Maria's love of place and history prompted her to live on two historic Butte County properties with her husband, Bob Klang, starting in 1990 one in Durham (affectionately dubbed the "Troxel House") and the other on Vallombrosa Ave. land which had belonged to Annie Bidwell. Retirement to Maria was just an excuse for a flood of activity. She, along with Giovanna Jackson and Dolores Mitchell, began Avenue 9 Gallery in 2004. Since it opened, more than 400 local artists have exhibited at the gallery, which for the last three years has operated as a guild with 18 members. In 2009, Avenue 9 Gallery and its founders were honored with the Janet Turner Prize for Excellence in the Arts. Known as a generous person, Maria enjoyed giving gifts of art to her children and grandchildren. She loved socializing: eating good food, drinking good wine and being with friends and family. She was literally in contact with multitudes of people involved in arts and the environment. One friend said, "She managed to get so much done with such warmth and kindness." Maria was adventurous. She and Bob made frequent trips to Mexico where Maria had once done a research project on ancient Mayan art. "We traveled the entire Yucatan taking photographs of ALL the ruins," Bob said. Every year, for many years, it became a ritual enjoying the beaches on the Caribbean south of Cancun in the Tulum region. Maria's energy and enthusiasm lead to creative exhibitions like the annual Chico Icons and the Snow Goose Festival Pacific Flyway Wildlife Art exhibit, Bidwell Park Centennial paint-out. She assisted a team of dedicated Chico folks to help keep Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park open to the public when it was threatened with closure in 2012 and got involved in many environmental issues including the prohibition to stop a gravel-mine development along historic River Road. "Where she got her tireless energy amazed me," said James Snidle of James Snidle Fine Art & Appraisals. "Her ability and drive to promote the arts in Chico was limitless despite her own health issues. Maria seemed to have come out of no where and became the guardian angel of the Chico art scene." Maria spoke four languages. She once wrote a letter to the Mayor of Siena, Italy, and invited him to the Chico Palio. He wrote back saying he had other obligations, but that was what Maria did, make things happen by simply approaching people. "Maria's genius involved inspiring others to exceed their existing limitations," said longtime friend and gallery partner, Dolores Mitchell. "She promoted art, I believe even in her sleeping hours," Snidle said. "She was a big supporter of our gallery. Her enthusiasm to help other art organizations besides Avenue 9 was always selfless and encouraging. She was always willing to get the word out about our shows and even got to many of our openings. To say that I will miss her is an under statement. Her sweet energy will always be with us." She is preceded in death by her mother, Elvira Granieri. She is survived by husband Bob of Chico; sister Silvia and brother-in-law Vincent Milosevich of Durham; daughter Susan Phillips and son-in-law Erik Blank of Los Angeles; daughter Jennifer Panucci and son-in-law Carmelo Panucci of Talkeetna, Alaska; daughter Tracy Graubart and son-in-law Dan Graubart of Portland; three grandchildren, Alexander Blank, Katherine Blank and Bodhi Panucci; and niece Kristen Lape and nephew Scott Lape. A private service and internment are planned. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Bidwell Mansion Community Project c/o North Valley Community Foundation, Butte Environmental Council, or Museum of Northern California Art.
Published in Chico Enterprise-Record on Oct. 8, 2014
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