(Pottery by Eleanor Murphey)
After more than four decades as a professional potter, Eleanor Murphey is still excited about her job. Her colorful American Craftsman and Art Nouveau style pots are enjoyed by customers all over the world, she says, and their letters and emails inspire her to keep on creating her art. Murphey’s work is showcased at Red Chair Gallery in November.
“I call my style contemporary Craftsman,” Murphey says. She has always loved to work with natural motifs such as flowers, vegetables and sea life. “I like the organic feel of natural items,” she says. Even though she may use the same theme, such as sunflowers, again and again, it is always unique. “Everything I do is one of a kind,” she explains. “I make the design to fit the piece.” This means that the sunflowers on separate pieces may be yellow, red or cream and they will twine or bunch or weave around each bowl, vase or plate differently. Murphey believes that every piece should combine function and beauty.
She started out in 1976 as a potter in La Jolla, California, joining Sunstone Gallery and Pottery Studio and becoming the owner years later. It was there that she began selling her pots to many people who still collect her work and have given it as gifts to friends and family. Eventually, she decided she didn’t want to operate a retail business and looked for a more affordable place to live than Southern California. She moved to Bend in 2003 and set up her studio in her home, keeping Sunstone Pottery as her business name.
After throwing her stoneware clay into shapes on a wheel, Murphey bisque fires them in an electric kiln. Then she decorates the surface with a wax resist technique. She uses a brush to apply wax to create the surface design. Finally, the pieces are fired again in a gas kiln at 2380 degrees. Her gas kiln is her pride and joy. It is called a car kiln because it rolls into her studio on tracks for loading and then can be rolled out again for firing. She recently had it rebuilt so it’s as good as new after many years of use.
During the last 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Murphey admits to experiencing some “black days” where she lost motivation. (And who didn’t?) Now, however, she is re-energized by the feeling that we may be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. “It feels really good to be inspired again.”