Philip C. Curtis was born in Jackson, Michigan in 1907. The son of an attorney, he graduated from Albion College and attended the University of Michigan Law School. After the first year Philip realized he did not want to be a lawyer and quit his studies.
In 1932 he began formal training at the Yale School of Fine Arts, where he got a four-year degree. As part of the Yale curriculum Curtis spent his last college years in New York and began working for the Works Progress Administration project. He was initially employed in the murals division of the WPA, then was sent to Phoenix, Arizona where he founded and served as Director of the Phoenix Art Center, predecessor of the Phoenix Art Museum.
He subsequently started a similar project in Des Moines, Iowa. Curtis returned to Arizona in 1947 to paint. In 1960 Lewis J. Ruskin created the Philip C. Curtis Trust through which $25,000 was loaned to the artist. This freed him of any work except painting. This period of concentration led to successful exhibitions and sales in New York and Europe.
In 1995 the Phoenix Art Museum opened The Philip C. Curtis Gallery a permanent display of the artist’s work. His work is also a part of the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington. D.C.
A member of the Royal Society of Arts, many have considered him one of Arizona’s art treasures. In his Scottsdale studio he continued to paint every day, even into his nineties.
Three books are uniquely dedicated to describing Curtis’ work. Most recently one was produced in 2007 to accompany an exhibition titled Philip C. Curtis Sound and Silence. Another was published in 1999 titled American Dream: The Art of Philip C. Curtis. Curtis received the Distinguished Achievement Award and was elected to the National Society of Arts and Letters.