Library volunteer works now on display
Elizabeth Purdum of Jamestown is considered to be the library’s historic archivist. Now the painter has archived some of her own history for an exhibition of her artwork that will be displayed for most of April.
Purdum was born in western Pennsylvania and majored in chemistry at the Pennsylvania College For Women in Pittsburgh. After marrying a career naval officer and having four children, she studied to be a medical technologist and found work in the field in Fairfax, Va.
Purdum’s life as a Navy wife took her all over the United States. It was while living in Connecticut and looking for new horizons that Purdum met an artist who suggested that the pair do watercolors together.
That is how Purdum’s life as an artist began.
After her husband’s retirement from the Navy in 1980, the couple moved to Jamestown. Purdum took art classes at the Newport Art Museum, as well as private instruction. In town, she studied plein air – “in the open air” – pastel painting with Evelyn Rhodes.
When her husband passed away in 1988, and with her children situated in their career paths, Purdum needed to find something that would keep her occupied. That was when she decided she would increase the amount of time that she devoted to her artwork. She entered shows and won awards in Newport, Wickford and Mystic.
“I was never the top dog, but I would get honorable mentions here and there, along with a few first places,” she said.
In 1990, Purdum realized that there were a number of senior citizens on the island who were looking for an outlet. She began conducting a weekly art class for them. The classes were held for three years in the basement at St. Marks Church. When the classes ended, Purdum began to do private lessons – she tutored children and adults individually.
These days she volunteers at the library doing book repair. Over the years she has also done some restoration work on the library’s paintings. All the while she continued to work on her own masterpieces.
“I never really settled on one media,” said Purdum, who is a member of the Newport and Wickford art associations. “I knew I wasn’t a water-colorist because I like to fool around with the paint and watercolor doesn’t lend itself to that very easily. It’s pretty much set in stone.”
When Library Director Donna Fogarty suggested an exhibition at the library, Purdum knew that much of her work was spread across the country. There were, however, some of her favorites that she kept in her home over the years. It is 18 of those pieces, in various sizes and arranged chronologically, that are currently on display at the library. The format of the collection ranges from pastels to mixed media to oil paintings. There is even a portrait of an unknown Navy wife in charcoal.
Purdum continues to paint outdoors on the island. Recently she started to use pallet knives in her work – three of the library pieces feature the style. The collection includes portraits, landscapes and still life. Most of the pieces were either started or finished outside at sites including Fort Getty and Sheffield Cove.
According to the artist’s statement that Purdum has posted at the show, she is a Navy wife, mother, grandmother, widow and painter. She found that putting marks on paper is a necessary expression of her life.
“That passion sporadically surfaced through the years. Rhode Island, and Jamestown in particular, offered vistas to fuel that passion. I will curb my inclination to make an art philosophy statement and simply say that I wanted to have a wall of my work to be seen. I tried many mediums over the years and couldn’t settle on one.”
Purdum said there is a certain oneness about really looking at a painting rather than just a casual overview of everything. She would like people to read the titles and think about the paintings in that light.
Fogarty said the library is a beautiful building architecturally, and that exhibits like Purdum’s add more depth to the building. She says both local and out-oftowners are enchanted by the library’s displays.
“When you get to be 80 years old, you need to have something that still makes you want to get up in the morning and try something new,” said Purdum. “If there’s anything that does that for me, it’s painting, drawing or putting a mark on paper.”