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Broken TV tube & trip to Eds TV planted seeds for Phillips passion
Ernestine Phillips, left, is assisted by her daughter, Diane, in helping set up her exhibit at City Hall in Manteca. The display will be open for public viewing during regular business hours through the end of September. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
Ernestine Phillips is your classic traditional farmer’s wife.

When she married her almond grower husband, Richard, 58 years ago, she took to the job like duck to water and worked side by side with him, matching him toe-to-toe on any challenging chore in the dusty orchards while still holding the fort at home. Her better-half and five children can attest to that.

She drove the tractor. She operated the pick-up machine during the harvest season. With a trusty pick-up truck, she zipped through the rows of almond trees as effortlessly as a seasoned ATV driver as she delivered to her hungry family working in the fields the scrumptious food that she somehow managed to prepare in between her own chores in the fields.

When something needed to be fixed at home, she relied on her own brains and brawn and her generation’s strong can-do attitude to take care of the problem – one less thing for her husband to worry about while he was hard at work in the orchards.

And when her only daughter, Diane, built her two-story home a few years ago in the family compound on North Union Road, the already sexagenarian Phillips had a hand in it, too.

“My mom painted the whole inside of the house,” daughter Diane proudly proclaimed.

“My mom can fix anything with WD-40 and electrical tape. She does everything,” she further crowed with admiration.

But there was another side of Phillips that she has nurtured, albeit in a quiet way, for the last 45 years that even many of the family’s friends and acquaintances were kept in the dark about it. And that’s Phillips, the accomplished artist.

Broken TV gets her hooked on painting
The septuagenarian mother and grandmother laughed with mirth when she said Ed Cardoza, the Manteca businessman who owned for many years Ed’s TV in downtown Manteca, had everything to do with her serendipitous foray into the world of art. Well, perhaps not entirely, because before Cardoza came into the picture, there was the broken tube of their television set which started it all. Cardoza was asked to fix it for them. The Manteca businessman countered that he would do it if Phillips attended an art class being held at his house. Phillips said Cardoza had invited a friend in San Francisco to teach him how to paint.

“So I went and I’ve been painting ever since,” Phillips said with her high-wattage smile that brightened her Hawaiian-motif floral blouse even more.

“When I started painting, I used oils,” she said.

But ever the ingenious person, Phillips tried other mediums as well including acrylic, watercolors, and the latest – stained glass.

One of her earliest oil paintings is a colorful clown. It’s one of her roughly two-dozen paintings that are currently on display in the Council Chambers at the Manteca Civic Center on West Center Street. It is the only human face in the collection whose subject matter is mostly nature scenes spanning the four seasons. About four of the paintings are of her favorite subject – butterflies. How much does she love butterflies? So much that during a recent trip to Reno, she had a tattoo done on her right leg just above the ankle. It was just a faux tattoo, she explained with a laugh.

A very unconventional painter, Phillips used just about any material with a surface to create visions that originate in her mind. Two of her art pieces on exhibit were painted on old cabinet doors. Others are on masonite boards. One of the largest paintings – a butterfly theme – was painted on the other side of a canvas with a painting done by an artist who simply signed her name as “Nita.” But the majority of her paintings are of the miniature kind, with sliced rocks as her canvas. The largest of these is hardly six inches wide, if that.

And no plein air painting for Phillips. She does all her painting at home, never outdoors.

These days, Phillips is branching out into another medium for her artistic talents. She and her daughter have taken stained glass classes and are creating what they call “Stepping Stones” that can be used as decorations in the garden or inside the house. They have several of these for sale at Ed’s Rockery on East Lathrop Road just off Highway 99.

Business runs in the Phillips family
One would think Phillips – who also responds to the nickname Ernie – would not have any more time left to help in the almond business for the amount of painting and stained glass creations that she is churning out. She and daughter laughed as they both said, no such thing. She continues to work in the family orchards – they farm several hundred acres of almonds all over Manteca and surrounding areas - alongside her husband Richard who is part owner of the P & P Almond Hulling located in the family compound on North Union Road, and next to her sons, Mike, who works at Sandia Lab in Livermore, and Ricky Jr., who followed in his father’s footsteps while being a reserve firefighter with the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District. Both sons are part owners of P&P Almond Hulling. Diane, who was one of the first female letter carrier in Manteca, has owned DADS Hot Dogs in Stockton for more than 30 years. The hot dog had its own 15 minutes of fame when the comedian Bill Cosby ordered a food there and gave it a plug during an appearance in Stockton several years ago.

Business runs in the family. Ernestine Phillips, at one time, also owned a hot dog restaurant in Manteca called The Mutt Hutt. It only enjoyed a five-year run.

Her sports involvement had a longer run. She bowled at the now-defunct Manteca Bowling Alley for 45 years and pitched softball until she was 69 years old. In fact, during her last softball season, she had her daughter and three of her granddaughters playing with her. Their team was called the Phillips Orchards.

You can catch Phillips’ exhibit at City Hall during regular business hours. The show will run through the end of September.