Made In Chicago: Phil Rowe – Sculptor, Jewelry Designer, Painter

CHICAGO (CBS) — Jewelry, paintings, metal sculpture, barroom and restaurant design — Phil Rowe’s done it all, and at 81, he’s still doing it.

“I’ve never has anything brought back to me to redo or anything,” Rowe said.

Phil Rowe is hard put to remember when he wasn’t an artist.

“I always painted since I was 7-years old,” Rowe said. “So I was born an artist.”

WBBM’s Bob Roberts reports, it is all designed and made in Chicago.

Realism or abstract, at age 81, he can paint it. Rowe has painted since age seven, learned welding from a friend and was a dental technician until he figured making jewelry would be more lucrative and more fun. He can sculpt old gears and gages into a robot. He crafts custom jewelry and he’s designed memorable bars such as the Snuggery and Shenanigans. Rowe was literally on the ground floor of Old Town’s rebirth in the ’60s.

“I moved there in 1959,” Rowe said. “There was no stores. There were a couple bars. And I got hooked up with a guy who owned a building, he said ‘I’ll rent you the storefront for $200 a month,’ and I said ‘wow I have to grab that.’”

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Phil Rowe sculpture “Adam and Eve” (WBBM/Bob Roberts)

Soon famous people brought their ideas to his shop. Singer Connie Francis commissioned a sculpture made from her gold records. That was far from the strangest commission.

“The ward in the Statesville prison – that was the best one they gave me,” Rowe said. “All the guns to do and weld into something that he could put on his desk and he loved it. He also gave me a lot of the keys from the cells and I welded those together, too.”

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Phil Rowe’s “Rowe-Bot” (WBBM/Bob Roberts)

Rowe has relocated his gallery several times since, now it is located at 2936 North Damen, dominated by his two Rowe-bots, sculptures made from old gears, pipes and gauges.

“I work every day, sometimes two hours sometimes 10 hours, whatever I have to do,” Rowe said. “If I don’t work I feel bad. I have to do it.”

Rowe will be showing his paintings, jewelry and metal sculptures April 21 at the Zhou B Art Center, in Bridgeport on 35th Street. You can see his art online at prowe.artspan.com

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Phil Rowe’s “Rowe-Bot” (WBBM/Bob Roberts)

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