Philippe Guillerm: Living the American Dream with a French Twist

Philippe Guillerm: Living the American Dream with a French Twist

When Philippe Guillerm sailed into Florida, he assumed it would just be another temporary home for his family, his boat, and his art. But four years later, they’re all still in Florida and Philippe has made a name for himself with his wonderful wood sculptures. With a flair for texture and color and using mostly hand tools, Philippe makes the wood swirl and arc in dramatic and beautiful constructions. He’s created everything from playful kittens and leaping dolphins to his recent dramatic monument to the September 11 attack.

Since Philippe’s command of English is not strong, his wife, Jacqueline, described her husband’s work and the course that brought the family to Florida.

The native Parisian majored in mechanical engineering in college, but after graduation took up drawing and sailing. His solo adventures took him along the coast of Europe into the Mediterranean and finally across the Atlantic and around the world. In each port along the way, he picked up work in construction or decorative painting. But during a visit to French Guyana, Philippe was struck by the beauty of the local wood and of one of the local residents, that’s where he met Jacqueline, who would soon become his wife.Deciding to continue sailing as a family, they next arrived in Tahiti. Finding the French Colony very supportive of art — no doubt a legacy of Paul Gauguin’s celebrated residency on the island – he decided to take up a new calling. He met with the mayor and persuaded him to commission a sculpture for the courthouse.

The family soon grew, and with their two children, the Guillerms continued to sail the world and Philippe continued to find an enthusiastic audience for his work in places like New Caledonia, Brazil, Argentina, even back in Paris. It’s not surprising that they got the same reception when they docked at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Two years ago, seeking a larger workspace, the family moved down to Fort Lauderdale.

“We didn’t plan to stay so long, but things went so well and Philippe was able to obtain an artist’s visa.” Jacqueline recalled.

They like living in Florida and want to see more of America. After being home schooled on the boat for years, the kids are now in high school and are becoming Americanized. That’s fine with the Guillerms.

“It’s good for them to learn about America firsthand,” explained Jacqueline, “rather than seeing nothing but television shows and movies like most Europeans.”

As they did in the rest of the country, the events of September 11 had a deep impact in the Fort Lauderdale community, with some people panicking and keeping children home from school.

“We thought, well? we’d better go now. We’ve lived in places where there were wars and when people are frightened, art is the first thing they stop buying. We’re used to leaving.”

Demand for Philippe’s work, however, did not decrease, and he decided to create a September 11 monument that he intended to send to New York. But when the locals heard about it, they wanted it to stay in Florida, so it will eventually be displayed in Fort Lauderdale.

Philippe likes to create things that relate to what’s happening around him. When the local classical station went off the air, he began a series of cellos and violin sculptures to show people how important it was. “Philippe’s day is like a hurricane,” related Jacqueline, “He starts early and spends his whole day designing, sketching, and sculpting. Philippe is dedicated to his art. ”

“He has no formal training,” Jacqueline explained, “And that’s disappointing for some people, because it means he doesn’t fall into a category. He is unique.”

But with his background in engineering, construction, and design, he can put his ideas into drawings his clients can understand.

How long will they stay in Florida? That’s uncertain, but the family is now on its fifth boat — and Jacqueline hopes it’s their last.

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