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Friday, March 11, 2016


Phil Sumpter and his son--Center City

Sculptor Phil Sumpter and his son. I ran into Phil by chance today. I hadn't seen him since 1999. Phil had me over for Thanksgiving a couple of times, and I have never had better mac and cheese. Phil's been living in Puerto Rico, where his wife is from, but they're thinking of moving back to Philly.

Phil was in town for Joe Tiberino's funeral. I've known the Tiberino family since 1983. I mention Joe's son, Raphael, in my "Pope Francis in Philadelphia."

Wild West, In Living Color A Kid At Heart At 63, Artist Honors Heroes
Joe Clark, Daily News Staff Writer
September 21, 1993

Philip Sumpter couldn't read, couldn't write. But he could draw lines. Could make dots and fancy curlicues, too. And when he put them all together he had a smiling, button-nosed little cowboy.

It wasn't much, but to Sumpter's 4-year-old son it was like magic. "I thought it was great that my father could do something like that," Philip Jr. said.

One night, Sumpter, who labored in a Pittsburgh steel mill, sat little Philip down at the dining room table and taught him how to draw the cowboy. Over and over the youngster drew lines and made dots "until I made that cowboy to my father's liking.

"I guess you can say he was my first teacher."

Philip Sumpter Sr. taught his son well.

Philip "Boots" Sumpter Jr., 63, is still drawing cowboys. Sketches and sculpts them, too. Some are on exhibit in the gallery of the Free Library on Logan Square.

Only Sumpter's cowboys aren't the kind he usually saw in those 10-cent, Saturday afternoon shoot-'em-ups at his neighborhood movie house in West Philadelphia.

Sumpter's exhibit is titled, "The Black Cowboy."

It portrays the real thing, too.

"I have a nose for authenticity," he smiles.

Before putting his hand to clay, brush and pencil, Sumpter researched his subject for more than 10 years. "I must have read a good 150 books or so about the West in general," he said "I'm still reading."

"I'll tell you something," he added. "If I wasn't an art teacher, I would have been a history teacher."

But Philip Sumpter Jr. was an art teacher. Before retiring last June, he taught art in the Philadelphia school system for 29 years. For nine of those years he taught in the same classroom where he once sat as an art student, at Sulzberger Junior High, 48th Street and Fairmount Avenue.




Chuck Olroski said...

Linh: Thanks for this picture! Phil and son look very cool... I love how Phil sketches and sculpts black cowboys!

This past Wednesday, I was assigned an extra P.M. school bus run, and about 50 rather wild elementary kids from South Side J.F.K. elementary came aboard, hollering and anxious to get home. For a change, I placed an Allman Brothers Band C.D. in the player, and put "Rambling Man" song volume on high. Upon dropping the kids off at Skyview, one (7th grade) boy asked, "Hey, Mister, was that country music?"

Given TV shows like Gene Autry & Roy Rogers, 1950s American kids (like me) took to cowboys and the Wild West, and all wanted to own a horse like "Hi ho Silver!" Quite a change in comparison to the Super Hero idols at J.F.K. elementary today?

Is rather interesting to know how American companies originally took to cows, cowboys, and railroads. In 1867, a cattle trader from Chicago, Joseph McCoy, looked at a map of the Great Plains and the railroad. McCoy realized there was lush grassland all the way to southern Texas, and he got a grand idea. What would be simpler than to hire cowboys (originally known as "Land Pirates") to stave off Indians, roundup & drive longhorns to a railhead, and destination at McCoy's Kansas-based stockyard. McCoy evidently paid the cowboys a "living wage" to start journey from Texas... I'll say he became Great Father to Cargill Corporation, and came to be known as "The real McCoy."

I'd really love to see example of Phil's black cowboy sketches. For better or worse, their image took on a unique meaning in the great film "Blazing Saddles. Is it possible, Linh, to post an example of Phil's work?

Linh Dinh said...

Yo Chuck,

Phil has his art up at his website. These are some his cowboys, for example.


Chuck Olroski said...


What a wonderful talent, thanks for posting examples.

In my comment above, I made an error, and after having listened to Allman Brothers Band songs for about 10-minutes, the 7th grader asked, "Hey Mister, was that COWBOY music?"

Interesting how Phil plans to possibly leave Puerto Rico and return to Philly. Must leave right now for busing at Revival Baptist Church, and listen to passenger "praise music." Thank you!


About Me

Born in Vietnam in 1963, I came to the US in 1975, and have also lived in Italy, England and Germany. I'm the author of a non-fiction book, Postcards from the End of America (2017), two books of stories, Fake House (2000) and Blood and Soap (2004), six of poems, All Around What Empties Out (2003), American Tatts (2005), Borderless Bodies (2006), Jam Alerts (2007), Some Kind of Cheese Orgy (2009) and A Mere Rica (2017), and a novel, Love Like Hate (2010). I've been anthologized in Best American Poetry 2000, 2004, 2007, Great American Prose Poems from Poe to the Present, Postmodern American Poetry: a Norton Anthology (vol. 2) and Flash Fiction International: Very Short Stories From Around the World, etc. I'm also editor of Night, Again: Contemporary Fiction from Vietnam (1996) and The Deluge: New Vietnamese Poetry (2013). My writing has been translated into Italian, Spanish, French, Dutch, German, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic, Icelandic and Finnish, and I've been invited to read in London, Cambridge, Brighton, Paris, Berlin, Leipzig, Halle, Reykjavik, Toronto, Singapore and all over the US. I've also published widely in Vietnamese.