Starman celebrated as an inspiration | July 10, 2009 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - July 10, 2009

Starman celebrated as an inspiration

'I love life and life loves me - everything is as it should be'

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The only thing missing from the celebration of life for Philip Hellsten last Thursday afternoon at Peace Lutheran Church in Danville was the Starman himself, although a death mask of his likeness covered with his symbolism peered over the crowd. He died, unexpectedly in his home June 24.

The artist was eulogized by the Rev. Steve Harms, who quoted from the Christian and the Tibetan Bibles to conjure up a portrait of the artist as a different but creative and giving man, who enlivened the streets of Danville for many decades as he walked about his business.

"He brought out the starlike beauty in each one of us," said Harms. "Phil was quirky ... He was a rare breed but had a zest for life. ... He taught us to see in new ways, and he looked for the best in people. He was a freethinker who made people happy."

When he died, the book "I am the Door" was on his nightstand, and many passages were underlined, said Harms. One was: "Work that is not joyful to you accomplishes nothing."

"Star man has become star dust," he added.

The church was filled with hundreds of friends, old and new. Works of art created by him and inspired by him filled the vestibule. He was described as a muse for artists, poets and musicians.

"Phil took what he liked- from art, religion, astrology- and created his own system," recalled fellow artist Bill Carmel, who created the death mask. "On his birthday in 2003, he told me, 'I love life and life loves me- everything is as it should be.'"

Stephen Sanfilippo, who saw Phil several times a week, recalled that he might be planning on any given day to get some paint from Kelly-Moore, to download photos on the computer, or perhaps to take over the Internet.

"I loved escaping with him," said Sanfilippo. "He was playful and confrontational. He said something was not done until it was overdone."

Sanfilippo said that Hellsten taught him to be tenacious, which led to the opening of the Pioneer Art Gallery on Hartz Avenue.

"Who thought you could ask someone to use their building for free and they'd do it?" said Sanfilippo with a laugh.

"What a loss I have felt this week without Phil," he continued. "And his loss is so much more; there were so many ideas he left on the table."

Another friend looked out at the crowd and said, "This is his masterpiece, all of you who are here."

One woman talked about how Phil owned nothing and yet he had everything, as people seemed to just give him food, drink, paper, paint and whatever else he needed to live well and create.

"I didn't know what he was talking about most of the time- but he was an inspiration to me," said Patricia Dillon, co-owner of the Kevin Milligan Gallery in downtown Danville.