In May 31 issue, Russell County News
By Derek Aaron
Russell County News Editor
Phillip Stapp, 63, is the kind of person that we all aspire to be. His kind and loving nature coupled with a desire to be everyone’s dear friend have made this local craftsman this week’s “Russell County Hero.”
Stapp, who has bladder cancer as well as an aneurysm, will have a singing and eating benefit on June 21 at 3 p.m. at the Russell Springs United Methodist Church’s “The Rock.” Painter Fred Thrasher, known for his many local paintings, is selling tickets, $1 dollar each or six for $5, on his newest print, “Nature’s Serenity” with all proceeds benefiting Stapp during his tough times.
Tickets can also be bought from any of Stapp’s family. Driven, the Robertson Family and the Mt. Pleasant Choir along with other local singers will perform. An auction will also be held that afternoon to benefit Stapp's medical expenses.
Stapp, though, is still laughing and living life to the fullest, as evident by the sparkle in his eye and the cheer in his voice. Stapp has painted oil paintings since 1980, after Thrasher taught him the tricks of the trade.
“He’s the one that helped me get into the print business when I started,” Stapp said. “Actually, he taught me how to paint, too.”
28 years ago Stapp visited Thrasher in Albany to try and sell him an antique car. After Stapp witnessed Thrasher, who now lives in Bronston, painting that day, his curiosity got the best of him.
“After I painted one or two, he’d tell me what I was doing wrong,” Stapp said. Stapp’s third painting, and his first to be printed, was of the locally famous Sam Coffey Swimming Hole in Russell County.
“Fred told me that people wouldn’t buy a picture with people in them but he’s got people in every one he does so I guess that was his way of telling me I couldn’t paint people,” Stapp chuckled.
Oscar Gaskins helped to finance Stapp’s first few pieces before he took off on his own. In all, Stapp estimated that he had more than 10,000 total prints in circulation over his 28 year painting career.
“I’ve done around 20 separate prints and I’ve done a whole lot of murals on 18 to 20 church walls, behind the baptistery … most of them were 13 feet by 16 feet,” he said. He painted one mural in a Bowling Green church.
“I camped out for two days in the church,” he said. “I slept in the pew.”
Stapp, a 46-year body shop worker and a 32-year employee of Lawhorn Ford, said he never really enjoyed painting but looked at it as more of a challenge among himself.
“I do enjoy it when someone tells me they like some of my paintings, I’ll have to admit,” he said. “Each painting is different but you do a whole lot of them in the same way … it wasn’t done at all like I thought it was when I first started.”
Stapp said the biggest part of painting was perspective, the appearance of things relative to one another as determined by their distance from the viewer.
“If you get that right it is the main thing, even if you have all the colors right if you don’t have perspective you can throw it out the window,” he said.
Besides the swimming hole print, Stapp’s depiction of the old Jamestown Nelson Mill near Lily Creek is a popular piece, he said.
“Everybody could associate with it because it used to be in Jamestown,” he said.
“A lot of people don’t have pictures of any of that historical stuff and that is why I was interested in painting them,” Stapp said.
The last painting Stapp completed was entitled “Hallelujah Valley” and he did it for his church, Hayes Chapel United Methodist Church, to go toward the funding for a new church building. He said he still had several prints available for sale of this piece.
Stapp has painted pictures of county schools and Wolf Creek Dam, among other things, and his thinking about starting another one, he said.
“I don’t know what it would be yet,” Stapp said. “But I’m thinking about it.”
Stapp also wrote a book entitled, “The Story of My Life.”
“My kids kept asking me what times was like when I was young and I got tired of telling the stories so I wrote a book about it,” he said. “I worked all summer on it.”
Stapp, said he wrote down from his earliest thoughts up until present day and printed off several copies for his family. Then, he said, other people in the community began to take notice of the book.
“I printed up a couple hundred of them and bounded them myself and sold them,” he said.
Also an expert wood carpenter, Stapp said he was a “jack of all trades and a master of none.”
For years, Stapp has liked to make things out of wood or metal. He has made toys, tables, clocks, more than 300 muzzleoader rifles and cannons, among many other things. He also made Model T’s from parts he would find.
“People tell me they know my name in Tennessee because of a gun I had made,” he said.
Stapp said he always thought that if someone else could make or paint it, so could he. He saw it as a challenge and one that he could master but claims the “hero” tag is a little too much, but his family thinks otherwise. Stapp now is focusing on his computer by matching photos to music, for instance, to help occupy his time.
Stapp’s siblings are Preston Stapp, Ellen Loy, Arvis Stapp, David Stapp, Dennis Stapp and Elaine Collins. His wife is Patsy Stapp and he has three children, Mark Stapp, April Robertson and Jason Stapp. He also has six grandchildren.
“I’ve found out I sure have a lot of friends,” he said.
June Brewster, a neighbor of Stapp’s, nominated him for this week’s “hero” and said he was one of the best neighbors in their close-knit Barren Hills neighborhood.
“He is talented and a good artist and he treats everyone great,” she said. “His artwork is perfect to me.”
She said she was deeply saddened when she learned of his health issues.
Stapp, who is a Christian and Superintendent at Hayes Chapel, said he has tried to live his life by telling people how much they mean to him or as he put it “giving them their flowers while they’re alive, and not after they’re gone.”
“I’d rather have friends than all the money in the world,” he said. “Friends will stand beside you when the going gets rough.”