Colleen Murphy: An intuitive ivory jewelry carver

Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2000

Inspired by ivory: Skagway resident Colleen Murphy carves ivory and antlers to create necklaces, earrings, barrettes and sculptures. The sculptures draw people into her Skagway shop, but jewelry is her bread and butter.

She doesn't plan her carvings, but works intuitively, responding to the shape and color of the walrus, caribou and woolly mammoth ivory she buys mail order by the pound. She lives with pieces of ivory scattered around her house, and waits until a piece inspires her before she carves it.

``All of a sudden, in my mind's eye, I'll see what I want it to look like. A picture pops in my head and I'll go forth,'' she said.

Like a candy Easter egg: As she carves away the brown exterior, it reveals the layers of cream, brown and even blue stain from minerals.

``I just love the fossil ivory. It's very tactile. It's like one of those children's Easter eggs. You see the sugar and icing, then you peek inside and it's all different,'' she said. ``It's like uncovering the little gifts that are in there.''

From hobby to profession: Murphy, 53, studied jewelry making and art at Clackamas Community College and the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts. She said ever since her first jewelry-making class in 1972, she knew she wanted to turn her hobby into a profession.

No Porta Potties:She first came to Juneau 25 years ago and worked as a carpenter, doing drywall, painting and interior work.

``When I started in '75 it was years before I saw another woman on the job site in Juneau,'' she said. ``They didn't even have any Porta Potties on the job site when I started.''

An injury from a 10-foot fall nine years ago cut short her construction career, and she decided to pursue art full-time. She studied jewelry making and art, including carving with Skagway artist Jack Inhofe. After years of selling her jewelry and carvings at craft fairs in Juneau, Murphy opened a shop in Skagway in 1993.

The beautiful abyss: She said she does the majority of her creative work in the winter.

``Time ceases to exist,'' she said. ``I kind of look at it as the beautiful abyss.''

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