Carroll County Times

Artistry on display

Wiley Purkey, of Eldersburg, is sharing his lifelong love of art with his community.

A number of Purkey's works are being shown at the Sykesville Gate House Museum of History through the end of 2012. The art on display is not for sale, but Purkey has four different prints available for purchase, with all proceeds going to support the museum.


The exhibit includes a range of works, from oil paintings to linoleum block prints to sketches to watercolors. "I've been doing it for 46 years, so when you get bored, you just move on to some other medium and keep on going," Purkey said. "I work on five or six things at a time, so if I reach an impasse about what I want to do and I'm not quite sure where I'm going, I take it off the easel or the table, and I grab another board or one I've been working on, and I just start working on that. I rotate through these panels until I get one finished and then another."

Purkey, 59, has sketched since childhood and started painting with oil paints at age 13. He said, "Being born in Ellicott City and then moving to Sykesville gives you an appreciation for history and architecture, and almost all of my work is architecture or garden."


Purkey credits the late Thelma Wimmer, of Sykesville, for inspiring his love of gardening, including a large triptych of her garden in the show done in oils. He remembered his friend: "She was an avid, avid gardener. She weeded it all the time; it was an amazingly weed-free garden. She had poppies, a cherry tree, wisteria, iris - endless iris. She was the creator of [the] museum in the Sykesville Town House, which became this museum."

Purkey gave credit to another woman, Claudia Purkey, his wife of 27 years. "She, in so many ways, is my secret weapon, because people say to me, 'How do you produce so much?' It is because she's active. She makes her own life, because she knows that, frequently, I'm going to be in the studio. And she's just so encouraging and supportive and takes up the slack, when I'm elsewhere. She knows that there's no one else for me, besides the art. She's the reason for me that I've been able to do so much for so long - 27 years of it, anyway."

Purkey puts a lot into his work. He described the process of creating a color poster of Sykesville's history. "That took me two years. I spent about a year doing research ... and doing the drawing, and the original is exactly as you see it. It took a year to color it all in. When I do watercolor, I sort of draw with watercolor like dry brush watercolor."

Purkey is still exploring new artistic avenues. He is currently working with the demanding skill of painting with egg tempera and is studying Japanese wood block printing.

Purkey enjoys using egg tempera. "I think sometimes when you get so confident with a medium like oil paint, you just sling paint, and you don't even question - you have a kind of a natural spontaneity that you work in, because you've done it so long - it just goes. But with tempera, you have to think about what you're doing, you have to think about how you're modeling the shapes, the forms, the drawing, the contours and all that. It makes me work for the money, but it's enjoyable," he said.

Of course, not all of Purkey's life has been in art. He also served two terms on the Sykesville Town Council, was one of the original founding members of the history museum, and served 16 years on Sykesville's historic district commission. "I created and ran two businesses for a total of 22 years," he said, "and quite a number of other things."

Many who hear Purkey's name remember his model train business in downtown Sykesville. "I did 10 years with the trains, which is something I always wanted to do. Glad I did it, but it was a detour. It put me off the track from painting. I built some really nice layouts for people, and I like to think that was a different way of using the art in three dimensions," he said.

Purkey also operated Craftsman Art Company, in downtown Sykesville, from 1988 to 2005. He is currently working with former Sykesville Mayor Jonathan Herman's construction company doing historical renovations.


Purkey lived in downtown Sykesville for 20 years. For about the last seven years, he and Claudia have lived in a house in Eldersburg with an acre of ground.

Purkey gave some advice to the young artists of today, saying, "I would say, don't ever allow yourself to be discouraged from pursuing drawing, painting, music - anything. Follow your heart; follow it all of your life."

He added this consideration: "You have to do something else, and I've been lucky in that I've always been able to have other work. I think every artist dreams of just doing nothing but that, and that's what I will do when I retire, because I feel, even after 46 years, I haven't even scratched the surface of the things you can do."

Purkey said, "See the joy in life and just paint it. I use it for everything, whether it's music or dance or whatever it is or writing. I do quite a bit of writing, too. I think that somebody who's bit by any one of the muses has a passion for a lot of things. It's something that crosses over into different fields sometimes, if you let it, but you kind of need to discipline yourself to one of them, because, even this one, I mean there's a hundred directions you can go into, and in 46 years of painting, I don't feel like I've really done enough."