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Carving out a tiki tradition

For many people a visit to the Tiki Room in Disneyland is an enjoyable way to pass the time out of the sun, but for Vic Phillips it was a transformative experience that would later help awaken a creative streak in the Turlock landscape contractor.

“It had a big influence on me,” recalled Phillips. “That whole Polynesian theme was something different and something that stayed with me.”

The inspiration Phillips got from the tropical hideaway where “all the birds sing words and the flowers croon” would come out when he was looking to set himself apart from other landscapers, and soon enough Phillips was the go-to tiki carver in the 209.

“I felt like I needed to find another avenue to accentuate the landscape, so I got into carving,” Phillips said. “The first ones I carved I threw away they were so bad. It took a lot of patience and pushing myself.”

As an artist, Phillips has an unconventional toolbox to say the least. His canvas is often a big, bulky piece of a tree and he is much more likely to have a chainsaw in his hand than a paintbrush. He likes to figure out what the carving will be ahead of time and then sets out to find just the right piece of wood for the project.

The skill and perseverance Phillips has for his art form are reflected in the intricate details and three-dimensional designs of his carvings. A good majority of his custom pieces can be found in the backyard of Central Valley and Bay Area residents, but some are on public display at Minnie’s Restaurant at 107 McHenry Avenue in Modesto and at Central Valley Koi at 520 West Main Street in Crows Landing.

Phillips is a licensed contractor and the owner of Vista Botanicals/Tiki Jungle, a full service landscaping business in Turlock. Besides his tiki carvings, Phillips creates one-of-a-kind water features and is moving into carving western scenes.

“You really have to be diversified in the Valley,” Phillips said.

Whether he’s creating a haven in the tropics or an old west motif, Phillips has one overarching goal that he keeps in mind.

“I want to give them something that I would be proud to have in my own backyard,” Phillips said.