NEW LONDON — Thursday was too windy for artist Kat Murphy to place her “pop-up shop” sandwich board out on the sidewalk, but for the last month that’s what she’s done when she’s in her studio.
“Just having the sign out, I’ve had people say they say they see it and they drove over,” said Murphy, of opening her combination gallery and workspace at 94 Golden Street in New London to the public.
With its tall windows, Murphy’s studio is a presence on the street and in the neighborhood — and people are noticing.
“I have a timer on the lights. People have said thank you because it lights up the [street] space,” she said. “I want to show that there is something happening because I’m rooting for New London.”
Murphy, 48, is a longtime New London artist and a founding member and former Artist in Residence at Hygienic Art, which opened in 2000 at 79 Bank St. She said she’s seen progress in New London’s development.
“When we started out at Hygienic as residents or as hopeful residents, people were volunteering at the building and people were sanding doors on the street over the weekend, there was nobody around, but now that there are more restaurants, it’s busier,” she said.
In 2002, artist Greg Bowerman, a friend of Murphy’s, opened Golden Street Gallery at 94 Golden St. Murphy said kept the space open until 2009, just after the economic crash of 2008, and almost left but the landlord lowered the rent, which convinced him to stay. He closed the gallery and began sharing the space with Murphy until 2015 when she and her husband, Kirk Watrous, bought the building.
“It’s a very quiet part of the neighborhood because when I lived on Bank Street they had music going every single night in the summer. Younger people are like, yeah, let’s be in the middle of everything but it gets old,” she said. “It’s nice to know we’re in an urban environment but we’re on a quiet block.”
Murphy’s work ranges from fine art paintings and prints to 3-D prop sculpture and installations to interior design. After earning a degree in Spanish and art at Boston University, she said she followed her interests in decorative painting and sculpture.
“Then I went from there, I would paint furniture, did outdoor festivals, then went to London and did decorative painting, and then did interior design projects with Peter Carlson. I was an assistant in his design office about 15 years ago, sourcing fabrics and furniture, and now we’re putting together a furniture plan for a project,” she said.
Murphy said she also teaches an “art party” class at the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.
“I’m not exactly teaching art, I just bring art projects — it’s ‘art party-slash-art therapy.’ Each semester I have an eight-week course there and I’ve been doing that since 2014,” she said.
“I actually just got an email from one of my students last semester that said, ‘Thank you, I’m sitting in my dorm room, I have all the artwork that I made up on the walls and I just want to thank you for creating this environment.’”
She said many students have never used art supplies before because arts programming has been cut in the schools.
“It means a lot that art is still relevant, making things with your hands is still relevant,” she said.
Murphy said the Golden Street neighborhood is less noisy than Bank Street, which she likes because eventually she and her family, including daughter Greta, will move there full-time.
“I’ve been open to the community more in the last month, so it’s sort of like a reawakening of myself and being part of the community and I can’t wait to live here, that’s the goal,” she said. “My dream was to have a barn studio and now I feel like we have this fortress here. It’s sort of like a barn studio, only urban,” she said.
She said for some time the city has been on the cusp of progress, “always up-and-coming,” but she sees momentum.
“It’s a renaissance city that hasn’t hit the renaissance yet, I think someone else said that and I’m appropriating their words,” said Murphy. “I know a lot of people who live in New London and have been involved in New London and, you know, are rooting for New London. Everyone is always rooting for New London so I hope this is it, I hope we’re getting closer, I think we are. There’s a lot of progress.”
For more information, go to www.katmurphy.com