Bones and Steel: Six Minutes with Sculptor Sam Spiczka

I met Sam Spiczka last summer at Duluth’s Park Point Art Fair. Many of the usual artists were there, painters and photographers and ceramicists… and then there was this captivating collection of radically cool sculptures that reminded me of the museum of natural history that I went to as a kid. As it turns out, this is exactly where his inspiration comes from, inspired collectively by natural bone forms, rural technology, and geometric structures. When you finish reading this interview be sure to visit his website and see the range and scale of his imaginative designs.

EN: Your work is distinctive. What are the materials you work with and how did you learn these skills?

Sam Spiczka: I work mainly with Cor-ten, weathering steel. It's an industrial material most often used on outdoor structures where low maintenance is ideal. Cor-ten steel rusts to a certain point and then stops, creating a protective layer without needing any paints or protective coating.

I grew up working with steel from a very young age. My family's welding shop was (and still is) about 50 feet from the house, so the techniques of metal fabrication became second nature. One of my earliest memories is learning to sweep the shop when I was 5 or 6. I first learned to use a torch around 9 and I was welding at 11 or 12.

EN: Your inspiration comes from nature. Can you elaborate on that?

SS: When you grow up in the country with the closest neighbor about a half mile away, you spend most of your time wandering around outside by yourself. At least I did. I collected all manner of bones, interesting seed pods and neat pieces of wood. I always found them fascinating, much more vibrant and captivating than most anything created by humans. Their forms took root in my own imagination, and have inspired me since.

EN: You could have "painted" these unusual forms, but instead chose to sculpt them. Were there certain sculptors who have ignited your imagination to turn your ideas into 3-D expressions?

SS: I began drawing as a small child, but quickly turned to making things as I got older and learned to use tools. I like the solidity and complexity of physical objects. They assert themselves in the world. There are of course other past sculptors whose work I admire, but I've never felt that my work was directly inspired by any of them. More often I'm inspired by the biography of past sculptors, by their actions and lives. Knowing that they even existed was in itself a revelation at times. Rodin was probably the first revelation to me, and I still love his work. Of course Michelangelo as well. And Henry Moore, whose work is probably formally most similar to my own.

EN: How do you decide what size you will make these pieces?

SS: First you have to decide what the context for the finished work is. Scale is almost entirely a matter of context and distance. Will it be going indoors, outdoors, in a large park, in an intimate garden? But after many years, I find myself coming back to the scale of an upright human adult and how they interact with a work. The detailed texture of my sculpture lends itself to close examination so, I want the scale to be approachable as well. For outdoor work, I tend to like something 8-10' tall. That's big enough to hold it's own in the landscape but still approachable.

EN: Your current show got some press in Art in America magazine. Where did the title of the show "Midwest Gothic" come from?

SS: Grant Wood, of course, painted the iconic American Gothic. I had in mind not so much the exact imagery of that work, but his larger goal in life to establish a mid-western aesthetic. He thought great art could emerge from the landscape he actually lived in, not necessarily coming out of a European or East-coast American tradition. I agree with that, and see that as a goal of mine as well. My work is rooted in the landscape in which I live, which I find to have more permanence and substance than an art of fashion or trends, which generally dominates what we think of as the "Art World."

EN: Where do you currently live and how have the places you've lived influenced your work?

SS: I live in rural Sauk Rapids, MN - a bit Northeast of St. Cloud and a little over 6 miles from where I grew up. My studio is at the house, so I leave the property as seldom as possible. We bought some land out here a couple years back and when I'm not making sculpture, I'm working on planting a food forest/sculpture park hybrid I'm calling PermaSculpture. My sculptures have always felt as if they could have grown up out of this landscape... now I am actually growing this out of the land as well.

EN: Will you back at Park Point Art Fair next summer? Where else can we see more of your work?

SS: I will probably be back next year, but the best place to see my work is at

EdNote: Be sure to follow the link to his website. His output and imagination are both impressive. And if you get the chance, don't forget to see Diggity Dog Days this weekend at Duluth's Play Ground. 

20/20 Hindsight 8th Grade Homeschool Year

I just finished going through homeschool papers for my older son's 8th grade year. I was decluttering files, tidying up records, and filing away what should be kept.

Looking at the year's paperwork with 20/20 hindsight I see things quite differently.

That year we did way too many outside activities with formal learning from three different homeschool co-op's. One I'd waited years to get into and it was a disappointment in reality. Another was a start-up with many close friends that I didn't want to miss out on. Another was a favorite thing with favorite people but some of the classes were fluff (fun but a waste of time academically).

A number of classes my son took were above grade level, now that I look back on it, and really there was no need for that. However being in co-op's they were not comprehensive enough to justify an entire course. Doing them as a class with little homework meant that at home the content was not being learned more in depth.

In 20/20 hindsight, if I remove emotions such as my son wanting to do classes with his friends for socialization, I would say now that we should have stayed home more and worked on two things: improving weak areas and putting enough butt in chair learning time to specific courses to get to mastery levels. However making plans solely based on ideal academic goals is unhealthy: a child is a whole person and various parts of their being need attention, such as socialization and fun extracurriculars and yes, sometimes learning things just for fun, not because they are on some list of essential things an 8th grader must learn in that exact grade.

Some things touched upon not thoroughly enough spilled over into challenges in grade 9 for mastery. I mean to say, that not covering a topic thorougly enough in grade 8 to gain mastery meant part of grade 9 was spent finally seriously studying those topics.

I see writing composition challenges that remain to this day. I wish we'd worked on them thoroughly back then so it would not be the focus in grade 10.

I see paper organization messes as I was letting my son work independently. His papers are all over and intermingled, subjects are mixed together and the nice folders are empty or barely used, while the loose paper stack is huge. He failed to learn how to do simple tasks like file completed work neatly away, to put notes in one notebook or to file loose papers in order in a three ring binder. I wish we worked on that back then. We are still working on that in grade 10 because it has not self-resolved. My an needs standards and rules imposed by me to put papers there and file in chronological order, date the papers and keep,books in an area so they can be found when needed.

There are gaps in the courses he took which remain challenging gaps today.

My son had some deep learning in certain areas that the schools do not always teach in middle school such as chemistry and physics optics. His prealgebra course wound up being weak and left him ill-prepared for Algebra I in fall of grade 9.

My son had some fluff courses such as how to do art like Leonardo da Vinci and he learned about medieval history through movies and about accurate medieval weaponry from a reenactment teacher/mom. No school would care about an 8th grader learning about medieval history by inspecting accurate weaponry and the different types, pros and cons of armor.

My son had deep learning and a fair amount of time at an observatory with an hobbyist astronomer/teacher. The group located a star that was in need of verfication with some astronomy group whose name eludes me at this moment. It was a big deal, trust me. The kids were trusted to use the expensive computers and the telescope themselves. It was amazing.

My son won, with his partners, the gold medal in Science Olympiad for the physics airplane model flying competition (Wright Stuff).

So you can see that my son had overtly strong areas of learning and also official accomplishments while also having too-light learning in some content areas. He also lacked some skills such as weak writing composition, was still struggling with spelling and needed great help in the area of pesonal organization of his school materials. Gaps! Yes, he had gaps! Quelle horreur!

Lest this sound too depressing I will share that his files were full of independently done art sketches and ideas of things that interested him. He made lists of things such as which Yu-Gi-Oh! cards would make an ideal deck and what he wanted for Christmas. He had ideas for a story he wanted to write. There was a rough draft of a fiction short story that was never finished. He made up his own secret code then wrote messages only he could decipher. He dreamed of one day building a Delorean that looked like the time machine in Back to the Future.

He also had a lot of time with close homeschooled friends and build strong relationships that continue to this day, even though we have moved 1800 miles away. He put a lot of time into Boy Scouting and had positive experiences with that Troop and made friends who he still keeps in touch with daily via text messaging. He had a lot of fun that year with friends and with family.

When all is said and done, despite the gaps and weak areas, I can only count that year as a success.

Death info on Georgiana L Fuller

Georgiana Lewis McClelland Fuller was one of Birda's older sisters.
She also went by "Georgie", "Georgia", and "Georgianna".
Photo from the personal albums of Bryce Merkley

According to this document (and family records) the following dates apply:
BIRTH: 12 July 1889/1890- Midway, Wasatch, Utah
DEATH: 10 Aug 1961- Oakland, Alameda, California
She was 71 years old when she died.

SOURCE: Oakland Tribune 1961, Aug 11, p.41E
Obituary transcribed:
McCLELLAND, Georgia L., at rest August 10, 1961, loving mother of Mrs. W.J. Amonio and Gordon T. McClelland; devoted grandmother of Lynne and Kerry McClelland.  A native of Utah; aged 71 years.  A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Friends are respectfully invited to attend the services Sunday, August 13 at 4 p.m. at the New Colonial Chapel, 2626 High Street.  Services conducted by the Second Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Entombment, private. (For further information please phone KE 6-5454.)

Photo from the personal albums of Bryce Merkley
Cropped from larger family photo
Georgia should have a death certificate available publicly, but because she died in California, it may be some time before I can procure it here.  Her birth date needs to be verified in some way, and her marital info could be clarified further as she was named in the newspaper as a McClelland but she had remarried a second time in 1949 to a Mr. Francis J. Fuller.  Why her Fuller surname was not used is a mystery.  I shall have to investigate...

Support Your Local Library

Chef Zander prepared a great spread.
From my earliest days libraries have been part of my life. I can still picture in vivid detail the library at my elementary school in suburban Cleveland. It was small by library standards, but I loved the books there. I took one book out so many times that I believe the librarian thought something was wrong with me. I still derive pleasure from re-reading favorite books.
I don't recall whether I was in fourth or fifth grade when my mother brought me with her to the Maple Heights Public Library. I was amazed by the quantity of books, as well as the narrow aisles between the ceiling high shelves. What a world!

We moved to New Jersey in 1964, and soon learned where the Somerville Public Library was. I also remember the exact location of the dictionary in my Hillside elementary school library where I looked up the meaning of an embarrassing word that was used to make fun of me, the "new kid."

Bridgewater-Raritan High School had a campus-style layout with nine separate buildings sprawled in a large arc. The library was in a building of its own. I was then of an age where I could appreciate and hone in on a specific author's catalog of works. I remember reading Pierre Boulle's Bridge on the River Kwai, finding it so gripping that I read all of his books that were parked there, which included Planet of the Apes before it became a film.

My dad was an avid reader, seldom without a book in his hand after dinner or when visiting relatives. My grandmother, too, was a reader and collector of books. Her science fiction collection was extensive and she let me read some of those books, many of which later became films after I'd read them, including Andromeda Strain and Fantastic Voyage. In their retirement home there were book shelves in every room, and one room downstairs that contained floor-to-ceiling book shelves on all four wall, all filled to overflowing.

My Scott Quad dorm at Ohio University was one of the closest on campus to the university library, a seven-story home for seemingly infinite quantities of books and magazines.  researched everything there from the Hatfield-McCoy feud to the varieties of modern artists.

All this to say that I appreciate libraries and what they are about. I've often heard myself say, "Libraries are the one thing I don't mind paying taxes for," and I meant it.

These memories are intended as an introduction to a few comments about a very special event we attended Tuesday evening called Libations at the Library. Now personally, I love our local library here in Duluth, and am also a member on the Superior side of the bridge. Not only do they house books, patrons check take out art for their homes or offices, magazines, DVDs and audio books as well as surf the internet and just plain hang out in a warm space all day. It's all free and free for all.

The invitation for the event read, "Join us for a glittering party of wine and hors d'oeuvres in support of literacy and lifelong learning! An after hours evening of fun at the library in good company--and with books!"

Naomi Yaeger-Bischoff with Dan D'Allaird.
The good company included all members of the Duluth City Council, members of the Library Foundation Board and friends of the library. It was the first time alcohol has been served in this space, with wine and even mixed drinks. (I had the Mayor's Manhattan, which I sipped while looking at books in the 300 section upstairs.

We usually are asked to be quiet in libraries. We learn the meaning of the expression "shhhhh" there. By way of contrast, Tuesday evening was anything but quiet. Very early on the string quartet had to be moved to a location right in the midst of the party because with all the chatter we were unaware that there was live music present. 

The food service was 4-star, prepared and presented by Chef Ryan J. Zander of JJ Astor, the restaurant with a view atop the Radisson across the street. This contribution and the wine were all served from the magazine section, another of my favorite spaces here.

Eventually city councilors Dan Hartman and Linda Krug welcomed us, on behalf of the mayor who regretted his absence, and introduced Dan D'Allaird who spoke briefly about the achievements of the library these past few years, as well as the purpose of this event. Many of us were aware that library hours had been shortened for a while due to budgetary considerations, but now had been restored in all three library branches thus making the library more available and accessible. This past year the library added over 7000 new patrons as a result.

Libations at the Library was a brainchild of the Duluth Library Foundation, which was founded to help support the library and underwrite programs and support the libraries efforts to serve the community. Their current goal is to raise a million dollars to help further this mission.

One thing I learned Tuesday that I did not know before was this. When you give money to the foundation, they keep records and your cumulative giving accrues toward whatever your objectives are. That is, people who give $500 dollars become Emily Dickinson givers. This could be all at once or ten years of fifty dollar donations. The $1000-$2500 range is the Mark Twain level, etc. Evidently they want to make your giving fun, and associated with great literature.

The point of this little discourse is to encourage you, wherever you are, to support your local libraries. Libraries serve a great function in society, and taxes help lay the foundations, but opportunities exist to do much more, and many things require money. It's a great resource. Let's support it.

House in Lo Curro

House in Lo Curro Designed by Schmidt Arquitectos Asociado.Organized by a glazed central corridor, the proposal extended as a house on the ground that invites people to explore it and enjoy it. This idea was emphasized in order to articulate the house with the landscape project. The program will then be distributed freely along this route, from a atelier room on the outside, through the public areas to the bedrooms.


Unou house


The Waterhouse at South Bund


The Summerhouse


The Dialogue House

home 3c1 The Dialogue House by Wendell Burnette Architects


Dreams Pushed Away

A couple of weeks ago I was unpacking homeschool books, my own art and craft books, and art and craft supplies from the move. These were the low priority things that were not necessary for daily life. The homeschool books we needed to use had already been found or re-purchased.

At that time we were still in a negative place regarding homeschooling and dealing with slacker mentality with my older son. I started to get really ticked off.

I unpacked books about writing, writing children's books, collage, and knitting, and some specific art techniques that I have not done in over a year. I unpacked some of my art journals and sketch books and I was impressed with what I saw. Previously I thought I had barely any skill but I was wrong and had been too harsh on myself. These activities I had packed up for 18 months were all things that I have been supressing as I was tending to the family's top priorities: the long distance move, adjusting to the move, and homeschooling.

I realized I did that thing that everyone says women/mothers do. We put everyone else first. We make priorities and handle the top stuff. There is not always time left over to do the things that are not essential to life but which feed a creative person's soul. I had become a cliche. How revolting. I swore I would never let myself become THAT woman.

In the little free time I have in a day, in the last month, I have been spending time finishing unpacking, orgazining the house, and finally decorating it by placing wall art on the empty walls. I chose to do that as I felt the stress of living in rooms lined with cardboard boxes, or cluttered hallways, was negatively impacting me and my children. Clutter from moving boxes was #1 on my older son's stress list that he wrote a few weeks ago. I wanted to remedy that.

However since focusing on the unpacking, that meant that prime time for me going to the gym was not happening. I just can't seem to find time to pull it all off. So as I unpacked my arms jiggled and my back strained to lift heavy boxes of books. I moved boxes which smashed against my soft belly. My muscles are not strong. I have not been lifting weights consistently. After hauling stuff up and down the stairs I get winded a bit, my heart is not like it was when I was doing 3-5 difficult exercises classes a week as I was in Life Before Kids.

I want everything perfect all at once but I know it is impossible. I am human and flawed. I cannot do everything. I am trying to do what is most important. This fall has been a major focus on homeschooling then later a shift on repairing relationships in the family and getting back to the good place that we used to be in. There has been little time for relaxation. I became physically sick from stress. Something has to change. I am trying to handle the moving process with balance but the fact is that the hard job of unpacking is difficult for me to do alone and that is what I have here: me doing everything by myself.

I am so imperfect that it is ridiculous. Things are so stressful that some days it feels like I can barely keep my head above water. I keep trying to tell myself that there is no rush to unpack everything but the longer I put it off the more stress I feel from the undone tasks. I can't figure out how to get a decent balance. I am taking things one day at a time and that is all I can do.

In the meantime I hope there is time in the near future to pick up some of my old stress-relieving hobbies like sketching and painting and making mixed media collages. Then maybe when my oldest goes off to college or after I enroll my kids into school I dive into some things I always wanted to do like write children's books.

And I do keep trying to feel grateful each day for the good in my life instead of thinking about what I lack or being upset that I can't do everything I want. It is hard sometimes though to keep denying the reality that I have been helping others too much and am neglecting myself and can't find a balance.

Billie Louise Morris

Billie Louise
Morris, 88, of Wister, OK passed away Tuesday, November 27, 2012 in Fort Smith,
AR.  Billie was born in Wister, OK
on January 15, 1924 to Charles A. & Irma 
I. (Brown) Reed.  Billie was a
homemaker.  She was a member of the First Baptist
Church in Wister since
1957.   She was preceded in death by her
parents; husband, Wilbert Morris; sons, William Charles Morris and Martin
Morris; daughter Shannon Kitchens and
granddaughter, Stephanie  May.

Survivors include
her children, Irma Morris and Kevin Morris of Wister, OK; grandchildren, David
Martin Morris, Casey May, Tara  Ollie,
Jessica May, Brittany Morris, Desirae Morris; great grandchildren,  Ransom May Rogers, Maylei Rogers; sister,
Lila Bruce & Tatema Armstrong; other relatives & loved ones; many
beloved friends.

Services were 2 pm,
Wed., November 28, 2012 at First Baptist Church
in Wister, OK with Rev. Keith Stewart and Bro Gary
Ollie officiating.  Interment will follow
in Wister City Cemetery.

Wordless Wednesday: B&W


Summit Housing Sales Center


Akiyo Housing

222 6b Akiyo Housing by Matsuyama Architect


A House in Kisami


Yao Residence


Timeline Machiya


G House


No More Guitar

My younger son wanted to learn guitar. We could not afford it at first.

Finally he got his acoustic guitar and lessons. I said if he was serious and learned to read music and to play then after that he could have an electric guitar. It took a year to get fluent and he then received that electric guitar. Lessons continued and he played nearly every day for fun and to practice. I did not push him to practice, he did it on his own and loved it.

When the job was lost the lessons stopped, there was no money in the budget. My son stopped playing. Then we moved and had no teacher. My son did not resume playing.

It has been exactly two years since my son stopped playing guitar.

We have the money for lessons now but he has not asked to take them.

So, four years ago he started guitar, and two years ago he stopped.

I am sharing this story as further proof as to why my younger son would never make it as an unschooler. He thrived with the regularly scheduled lessons. He likes a deadline. He likes to know he will have to perform by a certain date. he was inspired by the live teacher who knew him as a person. Left to his own devices he does not practice to keep the learning going. Without the lessons he does not go to YouTube to find lessons he could do on his own (as some homeschooled kids we know on tight budgets do on their own).

So, my son is a failure as an unschooler. I love the idea of unschooling and mourned the loss of that educational method when we quit it. This guitar situation that is happening here and now is further and more recent proof that my younger son is just not cut out for unschooling. I am trying to be happy and grateful for the good in our lives instead of feeling negatively about things that don't work out, like unschooling.

But I do wish the kid would play guitar was nice to see him happily doing something that was "just his own" and that did not involve staring at a screen. He was building skill and having fun. Maybe I need to offer up those lessons again...

Update 11/29/12: I wrote this post about two weeks ago. Over the weekend I offered the lessons again. I explained I have a good referral from a friend of a cool and nice teacher who comes to the house, just like the former teacher did. My son said he does not care anything about playing guitar now and is "over it". At present the guitars are on display in his bedroom, all ready to use, not just for decoration. He asked if he could sell them and keep the money for himself since the stuff belonged to him. My husband (who was present) and I did not respond. Frankly after the over a thousand dollars we spent on the guitars (and we got some of it at 50% off!), the speaker, the Cry Baby, the replacemnt strings, etc. and the about three thousand dollars on lesson fees I'd like to put the money into the family's fund. I didn't want to get into a debate over it.

Asher & Birda serve a mission

Asher and Birda Merkley served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Texas from 1963-1965.

Photo from the personal albums of Bryce Merkley
Newspaper notice:

SOURCE: Vernal Express 1962, Dec 27, p.4
Newspaper notice transcribed:
Missionary Farewell Testimonial Sunday for Asher & Birda Merkley
Asher and Birda Lewis Merkley will be honored at a missionary farewell testimonial at Vernal's 5th Ward Chapel, Sunday at 5 p.m.
Opening prayer will be offered by their son, Douglas L. Merkley.  Speakers will be Harold E. Hullinger, President Wm. B. Wallis and LaMond Tullis.  A response will be given by the missionaries, Asher and Birda Merkley.
Special musical numbers will include a duet by Tamera and Edwin Hacking, and an organ solo will be played by Mable Stagg.  A duet will be sung by Pat Stewart and Virginia Hacking.
Mr. and Mrs. Merkley have worked in the LDS Church for many years.  They both have served stake missions.
Mrs. Merkley has worked with the children in Primary, Sunday School and Mutual.  She has also been in a stake capacity.
Mr. Merkley has worked mainly with the young men in the priesthood.
The Merkleys will enter the Mission Home January 7.  Their mission address will be Texas Mission 5514 Caroline Street, Houston 4, Texas.

Texas mission photo, taken 8 Jan 1963
Asher and Birda are on 3rd row, 7th and 8th from right
Photo from the personal albums of Bryce Merkley

The following are a handful of letters Birda wrote home to her family, from various dates.  I include them here because they may be of interest to her posterity, but because they are personal letters, I am not transcribing them.  Click on the images for a better look at them, and good luck reading them as her writing has faded a bit and scanning could only pick up so much.  You can zoom in a little, but it takes some work to decipher the text.  From these letters I learned that Asher was called to be a Bishop while serving in Texas, something I would not have known otherwise... so preserving these letters has proved valuable, and I'm glad to have them here.
All letters come from the personal albums of Bryce Merkley.

Asher & Birda on 14 Nov 1965
(after their missionary service)
Photo from personal albums of Bryce Merkley

Amy Childs

    Amy Lynn Rains
Childs, 40, of Ft. Smith, AR passed
away Thursday, November 22, 2012 in Ft. Smith. 
Amy was born May 12, 1972 in Kansas City, MO to Kerry & Connie
(Branch) Rains.  She was a CNA.

 Survivors include
her husband, Ron Childs of Ft. Smith, AR; 2 sons, Christopher Gandee and
Christian Jacob Gandee of Red Oak, OK; daughter, Angel Childs of Ft. Smith, AR;
father, Kerry Rains of Simms, AR; mother, Connie Long of Ft. Smith, AR; 3
grandchildren, Taliyah Blount, Kiahre Kursh, Alasia Kursh; brothers, Vincent
Rains of FL, Brian Rains of Ft. Smith, AR, Michael Long of Alma, AR, Derrick
Long  and Charlie Thornton both of Van
Buren, AR; sisters, Jodi Rains of Chester, AR, Christie Long Palmer of Oklahoma
City, OK; other relatives & loved ones; many beloved friends.

Services will be 2
pm, Friday, November 30, 2012 at Evans Chapel of Memories in Poteau, OK
with Rev. Jim Cook officiating. 
Interment will be in LeFlore Cemetery, LeFlore,
OK.  Pallbearers will be Michael Long, Derrick
Long, David Wells, Charlie Thornton, Seth Kursh and Terrance Smith. 

The family will be
at the funeral home on Thursday evening from 5-7 pm to visit with relatives
& friends.

Joseph E. Murray MD, Transplant Surgeon, Performed First Successful Kidney Transplant, 2012

New York Times | Cornelia Dean
Dr. Joseph E. Murray, who opened a new era of medicine with the first successful human organ transplant, died on Monday in Boston. He was 93.

He died at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he performed his first transplant, said Tom Langford, a hospital spokesman. The cause was complications from a stroke he suffered on Thursday, Mr. Langford said.

Dr. Murray’s groundbreaking surgical feat came in 1954, when he removed a healthy kidney from a 23-year-old man and implanted it in his ailing identical twin. Dr. Murray went on to pioneer techniques that over the years changed the lives of tens of thousands of patients who received new kidneys, hearts, lungs, livers or other organs after their own had failed.

In 1990, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

As director of the Surgical Research Laboratory at Harvard Medical School and at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, which became Brigham and Women’s, Dr. Murray was a leader in the study of transplant techniques, the mechanisms of organ rejection and the use of drugs to thwart it.

Among other procedures, he performed kidney transplants involving more than two dozen pairs of identical twins. He recorded the first successful transplant to a nonidentical recipient, in 1959, and the first using a cadaver kidney, in 1962. And he trained doctors who became leaders in transplantation around the world.

Though Dr. Murray devoted most of his career to reconstructive plastic surgery, he was most famous as a transplant surgeon, especially after receiving the Nobel. He shared the $703,000 prize with Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, a pioneer in bone marrow transplantation. The award was unusual in that the Nobel Committee typically honors researchers rather than clinical practitioners.

Joseph Edward Murray was born April 1, 1919, in Milford, Mass., the son of William Murray, a judge, and Mary DePasquale Murray, a schoolteacher. He attended the College of the Holy Cross and Harvard Medical School, from which he graduated in 1943. After an abbreviated internship at Brigham, he entered the Army Medical Corps in 1944.

It was his experience as an Army doctor, especially using cadaver skin to treat burned soldiers, that led him to both transplantation and facial reconstruction, Dr. Murray said in an interview in 2001. Though the transplanted skin would survive for only 8 or 10 days before it would “begin to melt around the edges,” Dr. Murray recalled, the experience taught him that tissue from one person might survive for a time in another and that it might be possible to use “tissue from a dead person to save a human life.”

So when he returned to civilian life and began practicing as a plastic and general surgeon at Brigham, he joined colleagues in investigating the possibilities of organ transplants. At the time, he recalled, organ transplantation was considered such a wild dream that a medical school mentor advised him to abandon the idea as a clinical dead end. At Brigham, the work “was considered a fringe project,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Surgery of the Soul,” published in 2001 by History Publications/USA.

But he and his colleagues began testing surgical techniques with dogs, removing and reimplanting kidneys. Then, in October 1954, Richard Herrick, a Massachusetts man dying of chronic nephritis, a kidney disease, was admitted to the hospital, and his doctors referred him to Dr. Murray as a possible transplant recipient. The man’s identical twin, Ronald, was willing to give him a kidney. Would Dr. Murray perform the surgery?

It was a daunting prospect. Dr. Murray worried about “taking a normal person and doing a major operation not for his benefit but for another person’s,” he said in the 2001 interview.

“We were criticized for playing God,” he said.

After consulting with clergy members from a range of denominations, and comparing the Herricks’ fingerprints to be sure they were identical and not merely fraternal twins, Dr. Murray and his colleagues decided to go ahead. They first practiced their surgical techniques on a cadaver. The donor kidney “was the only kidney in the universe that was compatible,” Dr. Murray said, “and I did not want to goof it up for technical reasons.”

The surgery took place on Dec. 23, 1954. As Dr. Murray wrote later, “There was a collective hush in the operating room” as blood began to flow into the implanted kidney and urine began to flow out of it.

Richard Herrick, who later married one of his nurses, survived until 1962, when he died of a recurrence of his original disease.

In 1971, Dr. Murray resigned as chief of transplant surgery at Brigham to concentrate on plastic surgery — a field, he often said with regret, that had become wrongly associated with mere cosmetic procedures.

In this country and abroad, he treated hundreds of children and adults with congenital facial deformities, survivors of drastic surgery for head and neck cancers, and patients with injuries or other problems. He often used techniques pioneered by Dr. Paul Tessier of France to treat Crouzon syndrome, which produces congenital facial deformities.

In 1945, Dr. Murray married Virginia Link, an aspiring singer he had met at a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert while he was in medical school.

In addition to Mrs. Murray, known as Bobby, survivors include three sons, Richard, J. Link and Thomas; three daughters, Virginia, Margaret Murray Dupont, and Dr. Katherine Murray Leisure, and 18 grandchildren.

Dr. Murray, who lived in Wellesley and Edgartown, Mass., was for many years a prominent summer resident of Chappaquiddick Island, off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where he and Mrs. Murray bought a plot of land in 1970 and camped on it with their family until they could build a house there.

Dr. Murray was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. A Roman Catholic, he was also a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which advises the Vatican on science issues. He donated his share of the $703,000 Nobel award to Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital, where he had also treated plastic surgery patients.

After he retired, he remained in high demand as a speaker, mostly addressing medical students and telling them to “keep your eye on helping the patient,” he said in the 2001 interview.

“It’s the best time ever to be a doctor,” he would tell them, “because you can heal and treat conditions that were untreatable even a few years ago.”

Impromptu Happenings

Photo by John Heino
One of the criticisms leveled against social media was that it would leave us all isolated from one another as we interacted via Facebook and mobile devices rather than face-to-face. Two recent experiences, however, showed me the power of social media to create impromptu happenings and grassroots cultural experiences in ways that did not happen before.

Back in the 60's and early 70's the scene was always at a place. I remember a coffee house in Morristown, New Jersey, probably echoed and re-echoed throughout the country, where people gathered to listen to folk music, hear poetry, get together and share the spirit of the times. You met people there, or went there with friends.

Today, with social media, I get the impression that place is less important. Here are two examples.

Coffee and Cigarettes

The invitation read like this:

Bring your favorite coffee cup and blanket, wear your pj's, and smoke your smokes if you so choose.

We will be brewing up some Duluth Coffee Company beans, enjoying the solo acoustic tunes of many different artists. Join us for this living room experience. Nappers are welcome.

If you would like to be added to the lineup, just comment on the event. There will be a PA (sam hagen thank you) for vocals and plug in guitars if you wish. Each act plays a few songs (originals preferred).

Lee Petersen, Mary Bue, Gabriel Moll, Christopher Bruhn, Daniel Rosen, Ryan Lane, Sonja Bordal, Hattie Peterson, Abraham Curran, Ariane Norrgard and Gaelynn white, Matt Palmquist and Jared, Jay Benson, mark blom, Nate Holte, Emily and Terry, Max Ripley, Aaron Gall (sugar ray), Savannah Villa, Dan Dresser, Amy Lynn (Poetry), Nick Pascuzzi (Poetry)

invite your friends if you wish. bring food if you wish.


Two different friends invited me and though I had a fairly packed schedule already this past Sunday, I made up my mind to check in and check it out. Brought my sketchbook and even brought a poem to read if the opportunity should arise. (Which it did.)

I was hesitant at first because of the name of the gig. When I was in high school I went to a party once in which I counted 28 people in the living room, all puffing on cigarettes. My friend Tom and I were the only two of those 28 who weren't smoking. The air was dense and we left soon after we arrived. But Coffee and Cigarettes was just a mood-title, I think. I saw no one smoking. The only thing being inhaled was the music. Not sure if I saw any blankets either. It was a warm space, made warmer still by the music-energy in the room and the feeling that everyone was welcome. And I didn't see any candles, though I saw lots of coffee. In other words, it was a good vibe.

The gathering was a mix of people from a range a spaces in their life journeys, mostly younger but many quite seasoned. Couches and chairs lined the perimeter of the room and all were filled. There were books here are there, and guitars. I saw respect for one another, and pleasure taken in the creative expressions of the various musical artists. The singer/songwriters had been encouraged to perform original music and not covers, and it was apparent that is a lot of latent talent in this town.

A few of the people I heard were Emily Hart, Terry McCarthy, the consummate showman Eric Gall and Brooke Hamilton, who began by doing an interesting version of Dylan's To Make You Feel My Love, a personal favorite.

I wished I'd been able to stay for the poets, but Amy Lynn, who teaches writing at two of the colleges here in the Twin Ports, did let me read the three pieces she'd assembled that morning for the occasion and I was reminded once more of how deep and strong the talent pool is in this town. Impressed is an understatement.

Live Painting @ Bev's Jook Joint

A month ago this event did not exist. But a lot of Superior businesses are staring at hard times ahead with the planned tearing up of Tower Avenue next year. Bev's Jook Joint, next to Goin' Postal, has already seen a thinning patronage, so Andrew Perfetti and friends decided to put an event together "to put a smile on her face." Three bands, four artists, Saturday Night Live, November 17.

By means of Facebook and social media, a really great party ensued. Dusty Keliin and I setup easels, Becky Brandt brought her charcoal and paper, and a fourth artist stepped in as I was cleaning up near midnight.

The music was great, as there seems a remarkable abundance of talent in this community. Crowds gathered and good times were shared all around.

What impressed me most is how fast the word can get out using these new communication tools. Instead of isolating us, it is powerfully effective for bringing us together.

Music and art, Live at Bev's. Photo by Tal Lindblad.

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