Edmonds arts legend Murphey dies

  • By Chris Fyall Enterprise editor
  • Tuesday, November 18, 2008 2:44pm

David Murphey, a fixture in Edmonds’ burgeoning arts scene starting in the 1960s, and the co-founder and long-time director of the city’s Sculptor’s Workshop, died in late October after a five-year struggle with cancer. He was 89.

For 40 years, Murphey guided the Sculptor’s Workshop as a teacher, an advocate and a mentor. The workshop offers cheap studio space to sculptors and potters, and draws artists from well outside Edmonds’ city limits.

Murphey was also a prominent artist, and his works have been exhibited and sold locally and nationally.

One of his pieces, “Salmon Country,” is part of the city of Edmonds’ Public Art Collection. Created in 1983, the piece now sits above the city library, in the entry to the Plaza Room.

Murphey never lived in Edmonds. He relocated his family to Mountlake Terrace from upstate New York in 1967, and lived there until 1990, when he and his wife moved again to Stanwood, before moving to Monroe last year.

But his role in establishing Edmonds’ reputation as an arts center was significant, friends said.

Starting in the 1940s, artists started to come to Edmonds in larger numbers, said Darlene McLellan, who is now the director of the Edmonds Arts Festival Museum, a board member with the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation and the curators of the city’s Centennial Collection.

While the local arts scene benefited from the influx of artists, its members didn’t really have a place to gel.

“For a long time, it wasn’t cohesive, and people didn’t know where to go to get information,” McLellan said. “But he helped say, ‘Let’s see if we can put something together and make it fly.’ And (the Sculptor’s Workshop) became a really strong place for three-dimensional arts.”

Around the same time, the Edmonds Arts Festival launched. That event is now one of the most popular arts festivals in the area, drawing roughly 75,000 people a year.

The Sculptor’s Workshop itself bounced around the city — from its early home at Firdale Village, to a temporary location at Perrinville Corner to its current location inside the Frances Anderson Center, where it has been since the early 1980s.

As with the workshop itself, Edmonds’ arts reputation now seems set.

That was never really Murphey’s goal, said his daughter Susan Murphey.

His work with the Sculptor’s Workshop was a by-product of his love for art, she said.

“He never did it for notoriety, or to make an impact, or any of those sorts of things,” Susan Murphey said. “He did it because it was something he found meaningful, and something he enjoyed doing.”

Certainly, David Murphey was an ever present friend, said Janet Still, a friend of Murphey’s for 17 years, and the current director of the Sculptor’s Workshop.

“He was so generous,” Still said. “Every time I had an art show, he volunteered to help set it up. It did not matter how far it was, or how big the pieces were, he’d be there.”

Murphy attended the Art Students League and graduated from the Franklyn Professional Art School in New York City. He worked for 15 years as a graphic designer in New York and 18 years in Seattle, taught at Seattle Central Community College, and has juried and participated in numerous sculpture exhibits.

An avid fisherman and outdoorsman, Murphey was also a lover of poetry, said his daughter Susan Murphey.

He served in the Army during World War II, spending most of his time in the Philippines in an administrative capacity.

But teaching art was one of his favorite activities, said Susan Murphey.

Keeping his own influence over his students to a minimum was a priority, he told the Everett Herald in 1985, when the paper wrote a story about him.

“I can’t avoid it,” he told the paper. “I remember we had a retired fellow (at the workshop) with no art sense and no faith in himself. But you can’t solve his problems or you’ll be stepping on him. Another guy wanted to carve a killer whale for his house on Whidbey Island. I just sighed, and told him, it’s going to be a struggle, but we’ll get there. That’s the story of my life.”

Murphey is survived by his wife, Nancy; his three children, David D. Murphey IV, of Kent, Sally (Murphey) Mokate, of Snohomish, and Susan Murphey, of Lake Forest Park; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

At his request, no services are being held. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the David Murphey Memorial Award for Juried Sculpture. Checks should be made to the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation, P.O. Box 699, Edmonds, Wash., 98020.

Reporter Chris Fyall: 425-673-6525 or cfyall@heraldnet.com

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