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Orange County Artists Guild draws residents to local art

Chapel Hill residents Bill (left) and Kathy Jones complete their purchase of a top-end Dan Murphy sculpture.
Chapel Hill residents Bill (left) and Kathy Jones complete their purchase of a top-end Dan Murphy sculpture.

“Two people bought more earrings than I usually sell,” Murphy said from his in-home studio. “Lucky break.”

But Murphy hopes to sell more than just earrings.

“I love selling the earrings and stuff like that, and it builds up and pays the expenses,” he says, “But during the recession, when I was doing shows, the jewelry would pay the bills and if I sold sculptures, I’d make money.”

On Saturday, the Orange County Artists Guild launched its 20th annual open studio tour, for which more than 80 local artists are opening their studios to the public for the first two weekends of November.

The Guild is a group of professional visual artists, and the open studio tour offers the public the rare opportunity to experience an artist’s work environment and see what lies behind the artwork.

Chapel Hill artist David Taylor has been a part of the Guild and the tour for seven years and is the current artists’ liaison.

Taylor said the artists pay fees to be a part of the Guild and tour. The tour offers local artists an opportunity to share their work with the public and make money off sales.

While the event is celebrating its 20th birthday, Taylor said not much has changed.

“I mean, it’s always different, but you can’t really predict why or how,” he said.

The Guild has been more successful than previous years in attracting audiences, and Taylor said the Guild is due to release an artists’ directory which will be year-round.

To help fund the event, the Guild sold more advertisements in the brochure this year and, because of this, he said they are breaking even.

“In the past, the tour has not paid for itself,” Taylor said. “The Guild has had to keep increasing its dues, so getting ads has been a big boost.”

Taylor primarily paints photographed local landscapes with oils or acrylic. Among his paintings are images of the last remaining building from the community that now rests beneath Jordan Lake and of Asheville’s Black Mountain.

He said he’ll have a successful tour if he sells five or six paintings.

“David does this for his own pleasure,” his wife Betsy Taylor said.

David Taylor said participants do not have to understand art to enjoy the tours, though appreciation of art is the primary reason people attend.

“Some of the artists are amazing,” Taylor said. “I’m just taken aback myself when I see some of the things that look to me like museum quality.”

Murphy is one such artist. Murphy has worked as a professional sculptor for over 30 years out of his large home-turned-studio in Chapel Hill.

He forms sculptures from stainless steel, aluminum and various other metals by bending them on a large swiveling worktop in the middle of his ground-floor workshop.

The studio is clean, organized and efficient. Various metals are lined up according to length and type and are kept in a room similar to a walk-in closet.

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“I’m a really intensely hard-working artist,” Murphy said. “The only real way I could have made a profession out of this is by dumping so many hours at it that I made a normal amount of money.”

Murphy works 70 hours a week, but doesn’t see that as a bad thing.

“It’s kind of blue collar,” he said. “It’s a fun life, and I like it, so that’s not a negative comment.”

Murphy began his sculpting career shortly after starting at the UNC School of Law. He built a lamp for his desk and, with the leftover metal, created his first sculpture.

“I never studied art,” Murphy said. “So I basically got to just be extemporaneous, not so channelled.”

Murphy sometimes finds his sculptures on television and in movies, including “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 2,” “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

“Sometimes I see them, and sometimes I don’t even know that they’re in a movie because nobody told me that they’d got it from someone else,” he said. “The whole thing is fun anyway.”

The tour is of great importance to the local artists who participate in it.

“There are very few of us that live by our art,” Taylor said. “But art is an important part of the community and for people’s lives, and we hope that what we’re doing is appreciated.”

Murphy said he supports himself with money from this tour and shows in New York and Florida, despite their unreliability. He said he has more freedom with his daughters grown.

“I don’t have to make money like I used to, so I can now do the shows that I’m doing,” Murphy said.

Bill and Kathy Jones, retired residents of Chapel Hill, then walked into Murphy’s studio.

“We’re very interested in sculpture,” Bill Jones said. “We have several pieces of sculpture in our house right now, so that’s what got us here.”

Kathy Jones said she had seen Murphy’s work in the lobby of an office building on Raleigh Road. They found the tour helpful because they were easily able to navigate their way around the artists’ studios that they wanted to see.

“We’ve lived in Chapel Hill for eight years, and we’re seeing parts of it that we haven’t seen before,” Bill Jones said. “It’s nice to get out and support the local arts community.”

Kathy Jones picked out one of Murphy’s top-end sculptures.

“We want this one because it’s different and horizontal and I just love it. I can’t stop looking at it.”

Within ten minutes, the sculpture belonged to the Jones.

To them, Murphy’s work is energetic, dynamic and full of motion.

“Life is real exciting to me, so I guess that it may show in the sculptures that I do,” Murphy said. “I don’t know.”

Once Murphy said goodbye to the couple, he exhaled, trying to contain his excitement.

“If I repeated this in each of the next four days, it would be the best Orange County Artists Guild tour I’ve ever had,” he said. “I feel great about it right now.”