The murphy family
2013 MV Medal Winners (from left to right):
Introduced by Nancy Cole
There is something special about Martha’s Vineyard that draws people to live here, for part or all of the year; its natural beauty and bounty, its community of people or maybe just its “islandness”, away from and different from communities on the mainland. Some people are born here. They may move off-island for a time and return, or they may spend their entire lives here. Some of us come from away, perhaps originally as summer kids or with their parents who moved here. Or as adults, recognizing the exceptional qualities of this island, feeling the draw, and choosing to make it home.
However they got here, some people truly embrace this place and give back to the community, in many ways and over time. It is my great privilege and pleasure today to introduce four people (2 posthumously) who have done just that, given back to the community in so many ways, helping to preserve the island’s history, arts and culture.
I live in West Tisbury and was acquainted with Stan from my years working at the West Tisbury Library, where he was regular patron and with Polly from around town. I feel that I got to know them better from their son David’s retrospective slide show presentation of Stan’s work last year. I met Chris soon after moving here in the early 80s at Vineyard Electronics, the Radio Shack Store in Vineyard Haven, another of my many jobs. Chris is one of those clever people who repairs things rather than buy new, and was a frequent customer. We got to know each other over switches and capacitors. Barbara, I knew of as a teacher at the high school, but really got to know her at the museum, when she comes weekly to volunteer in the archives. We talk about life, family, current events, politics, travel and of course the project at hand.
Polly and Stan Murphy, with their young son Chris, moved year-round to West Tisbury in 1948, after Stan’s service during World War II and a short time in New York City, where Stan attended the Arts Students League of New York. They both knew the island. Polly had spent summers as a child on West Chop with her sisters and cousins at her grandparents’ home. It seemed like a good place for Stan to work on his art.
In their early years here, they scraped by. Stan painted and peddled his art, sometimes door to door, offering to do a painting of people’s houses. Their family grew, as Kitty, Laura and David were born. Stan picked up various part time jobs to augment their income. They lived off the land and the sea. According to Sundy Smith, Polly’s niece, Stan loved the people here and loved learning about the island. I think his art is a reflection of what he saw here and his connection to it. His portraits present many different island people, young and old, and some of those portraits show us not only what they looked like, but what was important to them. His landscapes portray the stonewalls, meadows and shorelines that make up that beauty we all admire. Stan’s interest in hunting and decoys led him to collect decoys and write the definitive sourcebook on Martha’s Vineyard decoys, now out of print and quite valuable. (If you’ve got one, hang on to it.) He served on the Chilmark School Committee, and was an inaugural member of the West Tisbury Fire Department. Stan was involved with the museum (then known as the Historical Society) back in the 1980s. He was a member of the Board of Directors, and served as vice president for two terms. He did quite a bit of work with the collections, inventorying the portraits and the decoys. His careful work done 3 decades ago is proving to be very helpful as the curators today work to catalog all of our holdings into an electronic database.
Polly Woolcott Murphy was a writer, a cook and gardener. She cared for her family and managed Stan’s gallery. She began writing as a young girl. Some of her childhood poetry was published in the New Yorker. In her teens, she was a cub reporter for the Vineyard Gazette. As an adult she wrote the Gazette’s town column for Chilmark and later West Tisbury, as well as feature articles. Stan captured some of her beautiful flower arrangements in oil paintings. Polly was active in the NAACP and in 1963 joined four other Vineyard women in a North Carolina civil rights Mission to register voters. A plaque on the old West Tisbury Library, a stop on the African American Heritage Trail of Martha’s Vineyard honors Polly and her compatriots in that effort. Linsey Lee has preserved Polly’s memories of that experience are preserved in her oral history interview. Polly was also an inaugural member of the West Tisbury Conservation Commission. She was known for her wit, her openness and warmth. As her good friend Ruth Kirchmeir said, “She had a remarkable ability to make everyone who was around her feel special.”
Chris Murphy grew up on Martha’s Vineyard after moving here with his parent from New York. After college at the University of Rhode Island, he joined the Peace Corps and lived in India. He and Barbara married in and they lived in Rhode Island, where their two daughters, Hope and Mary were born. They moved back to the island, where Chris fished out of Chilmark for many years. [clambakes?] Today, Chris serves on the Board of the Directors for the FARM Institute. He is on the Chilmark Zoning Board of Appeals and until recently was a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. He was vice- chair and later chairman of the Commission and in 2011 and 12, led it through the contentious round-about hearings and votes. I hope he is feeling vindicated as islanders sail through that former logjam. He certainly suffered many dirty looks and worse from that political brouhaha. At the museum, Chris is an important piece of the fabric. He is the volunteer captain of the Museum’s Catboat, Vanity. He guest curated the decoy exhibit last year, which included some of my personal favorite exhibit text—“How to Fool a Duck.” He chairs our programming committee and is a member of the planning committee for the Marine Hospital project.
Barbara Thomas Murphy was born and grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, daughter of Mary and Bill Thomas of Oak Bluffs. She went off-island for college to become a Spanish teacher, after which she and Chris married and lived in Rhode Island. When their two daughters were young, they thought of moving to Kuwait, where there was a job with fishing boats from the area in India where Chris had lived and whose crew was Spanish speaking. They didn’t get that job, so considered prospecting in Alaska. Luckily for us all, they moved back to the Vineyard, where Barbara taught Spanish at the high school. Since her retirement, Barbara keeps plenty busy volunteering in the community and with her grandchildren, as she says, “paying it forward”, for all the grandparent babysitting time she and Chris took advantage of. Barbara volunteers for the Meals on Wheels program and was recently named Volunteer of the Year from Elder Services. She has been a volunteer at the Museum since 2005. You’ll find her name on many finding aids for the archives and she has taken on the huge task of numbering and describing all of the photos for their inclusion in our collections database. The other day, I found her in the curatorial office scanning glass plate negatives. A little side story, earlier this year, as I was working with a group of former teachers to create activities for 1st and 2nd graders on life in the early 1900s, Barbara came in to volunteer. We had some photos of island school groups spread on the table. One was a fantastic shot of a classroom in Oak bluffs, with the children all seated at their desks bolted to the floor in straight rows. Barbara looked at the photo and pointed to the serious little boy in the front row and said, “Oh that’s my father!” The West Tisbury students were thrilled to know that that old photo, of a little bopy from long ago, was the grandfather of their assistant principal, Chris and Barbara’s daughter Mary.She and Chris are intrepid travellers, managing to get away at least once a year for some amazing trip. In the next year or two when I grow up, I hope to be like her.
Stan, Polly, Chris and Barbara Murphy to me epitomize people who loved and love this island, its history and art, culture and sense of community, and feel compelled to give back, helping to preserve what we all love and what draws us here. I am truly honored on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to present the Martha’s Vineyard Medal to Chris and Barbara and to the memory of Stan and Polly.
Chris and I thank you for this special honor, and we most happily accept it for Polly and Stan.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my in-laws and my parents and how the past inhabits and improves the present and the future. When we are living our lives we tend to focus on the realities of the time in which we live. It is only in looking back that we begin to understand what occurred then and how it influences us in our lives today. For instance, many times we unthinkingly took for granted what our parents did for us—whether it was baby-sitting, running errands, picking up children, etc. It’s only now as we are approximately the age they were then, that we realize how totally important they were to us, our children, and our lives then and now. That realization colors what we do now as parents, grandparents and citizens. Because they gave us such positive examples of how to act we try to emulate them as much as we can.
The way the past influences what we learn and what we do in the present is also applicable to the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. If we did not have its existence to remind us and teach us of what has come before, we could in no way learn so easily and well what to do now—or at least what possibilities can be explored and examined in our lives and in our community. We have been blest to have the Museum inhabiting our past, and we know that its presence certainly improves our present and also our future.
Having reflected on the past, now Chris will expand on the future! Again, thank you!
Growing from bits and pieces left in our attics into the Historical Society and eventually into the museum we know today our historical record has passed through many hands. Today it rests with us, with you and me, with this institution. We, as an extension of our community, have made the decision to build a bigger and better facility to house our artifacts and tell our story. I think it is wonderful. What a gift to ourselves, to our families and to our friends. What a great time to be involved with preserving our past by insuring our future.
I love volunteering here. The Museum nurtures me in ways I never expected. As we move forward on the grounds of the marine Hospital there will be a great many ways we can all be involved in growing a bigger, better and more inclusive community. Now is the time for everyone in this room to reach out to your friends and neighbors and get them involved--the Museum needs them, but not as much as they need the Museum.