The First-Person Project

Jim Murphy ’80

Keene, NH

Oncology and Hospice Nurse / Visual Artist / Musician

I have always been grateful for having a few very strong interests and passions. I am just now understanding how they are all connected. Keene State and my liberal arts education was an important part of my journey linking my love for the visual arts, music, and caring for others.

Back in the second grade, in Long Island, New York, my class went on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I don’t remember anything about the trip except upon entering the museum being transfixed by a painting by Monet – Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies. That seemed to set me off on a lifelong quest to learn how to paint. I’ve gone back many times since then to see it. It had a big impact on me. It somehow resonated with me. The colors and the light, the almost textual feeling of the canvas, the way impressionist paintings capture a feeling and an experience. I started painting around then and have continued to paint, especially since I graduating from high school.

I wasn’t ready after high school to go to college; I tried one time and my mind wasn’t there. So I went to Keene State as an “older” student – I had three kids by then – and I did very well. I’d always wanted a liberal arts education, and I wanted to study art. I studied under some wonderful teachers such as Nick Isaac, who became a friend, Henry Friedman, a great art history teacher, and also Jack Marshall, who taught sculpture and how to tap into my creativity. So for me, three strong teachers. Painting and the visual arts in general still hold an important place in my life. I paint often. I exhibit in galleries and shows and I’ve done fairly well selling my work. I have also done some related projects like book illustration and teaching, and at one time had my own art gallery.

And then there was music. My family home was often filled with music. My father would blast away the sounds of Glenn Miller Trio, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra as he tinkered and designed and built a grand sound system in our house. And then came rock ’n’ roll. There was Elvis, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and then Motown, and then the British Invasion with the Beatles and the Stones. So much was happening creatively in our society and in New York where I grew up. And then I got the blues. My older brother started playing guitar and collecting records by country blues and Chicago blues artists. Major influences of mine were John Lee Hooker and B. B. King. Blues continues to be woven into my musical vocabulary and language. In my early teens the Beatles and many other bands and performers opened up a new world for me. Music was everywhere. I’d see people like Jimi Hendrix when he first came out. Simon and Garfunkel, Sam and Dave, Dylan and Joni Mitchell, to name a very few. So many of the greats from that era. I would go to clubs in Greenwich Village on the weekends. I went to Woodstock when I was 18. Going back a little, I’ve been playing guitar since I was twelve, when I started a band with my friends. We played for school dances and events, and we had regular daytime weekend gigs at a club not too far from my home called The Mod. Billy Joel used to play there, as did the Rascals and the Left Bank.

After I graduated from high school, I moved up to Putney, Vermont, with my oldest brother, who was just back from Vietnam, and his wife. We opened a craft store on Main Street. We had a nice run. The area was beautiful – farmhouses, babbling brooks, railroads, fields, and lots of woods to hike in. It was a wonderful time in my life. So a while later, after the store closed, I left the area and eventually met my wife, Diane, in Ohio. We decided Keene would be a great place to raise a family.

So after I graduated from Keene State, I found it difficult to make a living and raise a family just as an artist. I went to school while I was working and got an RN from Excelsior College in Albany. Nursing attracted me because I don’t like sitting in the same place all the time; I don’t like routine. I like working with my hands, and I like working with people – and I’ve always had an interest in the medical field. It was a good choice, and I’ve been a nurse for a long time now. I worked for many years at Cedarcrest, a residential center for severely and profoundly handicapped children. When I left there, I was looking for something else, and somebody recommended to me that “you should do oncology.” So now I’ve been an oncology nurse for many, many years. Now I work outpatient oncology at Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough as a chemotherapy/biotherapy nurse. I also work as a Hospice nurse at Home Healthcare, Hospice and Community Services. You get to know the people really well. It’s intense but not always heavy and depressing. Lots of good times shared with others. It’s corny, but I get as much from other people as I give to them. Every day I come back home and I’m like, Wow! It’s just amazing. The people I meet, and the stories. I’m really loving my nursing jobs. I’m also loving my art and music as much as ever.

My kids are grown now. The youngest, Jeff, owns a Main Street café, Brewbakers, and a coffee roasting business, Tera Nova, with his wife in Keene. He’s a musician, too – when he was old enough, he started playing bass. I used to take him on school nights to the Rynborn, a legendary blues club in Antrim. Jeff and I played as a duo professionally in the area, and then in 2003 we started the band I still have – Murphy’s Blues. My daughters both live in Minneapolis; they own houses right next to each other. My daughter Emily Murphy Bicking is a potter with a really well-known blog. She does very well selling her work and also teaches pottery making. My daughter Nora has a Ph.D. in evaluation and conducts evaluations nationally and internationally for foundations, community organizations, nonprofits, and government entities. I’m still married after all of these years. Lots of grandchildren and brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces. We are all close. Life couldn’t be better.

Going back to my music and art: over the last five years I have been honing my songwriting abilities, and last year I put out an album that was all my own songs. I also produced it. It was a major accomplishment for me. I attended five Vinx De’Jon Parrette Soul Kitchen Writer workshops. I met and worked with many semi-professional and professional musicians and songwriters from all over the United States and Canada. It gave depth and breadth to my music world. I’m having fun with my music. My band is a seven- to nine-member band. We are booked up into 2017 with clubs, parties, festivals, fundraisers, dances. So much fun (and work). And able to make some money. I pinch myself every time we perform. I’m still doing it. Bringing smiles to people’s faces. With my artwork, I concentrate on painting impressionist landscapes. Living in New England and all of its changing season with their colors and textures.

In some ways the pursuits of all of my passions are not all that different. They’re all dealing with emotions. As my friend and teacher Vinx has often said, “As artists, we are experts on how things make us feel.” It’s also the same thing with nursing, especially with oncology and hospice work. You have to be open to emotional connections with people. You need to be in touch with your own to be effective as a visual artist, a musician, a writer, and a nurse.