by Margaret Riddle
Artist, writer, photographer and world traveler Marjorie Ann Duryee kept journals during most of her adult life and wrote her own biographical sketch in 1972. Born on July 18, 1913, she was the second child of Dan and Clotilde Robinson Duryee, when the family lived at 1316 Hoyt in Everett. Sister Clotilde was the first born, with brother Dan, Jr. arriving in 1916. The Duryees were prominent Everett residents from its beginnings in 1892. Although the Duryee parents were a quiet couple, they raised their children to be free spirits and, as family remembers, each sibling’s personality was enough to “fill a room.” Clotilde was expected to dress and behave like a lady, but Marjorie was given more freedom since she was a sickly child and, under advice from their uncle Dr. Albert Duryee, she spent lots of time outdoors. She soon excelled at various sports.
In 1918 the family moved to 501 Laurel Drive in Everett. Writing about the family’s early years in this Rucker Hill home, Marjorie recalled Monday wash days—the hand-crank wringer, the bluing used to brighten white clothes, the starching and the gas stove. At this time, the Duryee’s extended family numbered eight. Marjorie attended Jackson Grade School, North Junior High and graduated from Everett High School with the class of 1930. Two of her classmates were the future Senator Henry M. Jackson and film and stage star Nancy Coleman. Both remained her lifelong friends. Marjorie Duryee
While the 1930s Great Depression was hard on young dreamers and many had to put their plans on hold, the Duryee family had the means to pay for Marjorie’s freshman year at Mills College in California. She transferred to the University of Washington and graduated in 1934 with a B.A. in English Literature. A “horrible fifth year”, as she described it, gave her a teaching diploma. From 1935 to 1937 she taught English, World History and Physical Education (one year) at Arlington High School. But she was bored and wrote in her journals that she had hoped to be away from Everett at this point in her life. A trip to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1934 had given her a taste of the life she wanted. In her words, “I saw the paintings exhibit at the fair and have never been the same since.” They inspired her to become an artist.
Marjorie spent 1937-38 in Europe studying at the Institute of International Studies in Geneva, skiing in Austria, visiting a Paris Expo and, on Christmas Eve 1937, she bought her first camera — a Leica. But Europe was in turmoil and in 1938 Marjorie was residing at the Halfmoon Chambers flat in Newcastle, England, worried about the situation with Hitler. She set sail for home on October 19, traveling out of Liverpool aboard the Aquitania.
Marjorie Duryee, Photographer Photography changed Marjorie’s life and she set out to become a professional photographer. She joined the local Camera Club in 1939 and won a Washington Salon Exhibit Grand Award that year. To further her career, she needed an agent, so she hired Monkmeyer Studio of New York who began marketing her photos to magazines. In the following years, she won many awards at regional and national shows, her work done in both black and white and color transparency.
By the early ‘40s she had three passions, photography, tennis and golf. She continued to take pictures, printing them in her own home darkroom and in 1942 was on the Ladies Handicap Golf Committee. Marjorie was listed in Who’s Who in American Pictorial Photographers in 1942-43.
American Red Cross
It is clear from Marjorie’s journals that one of her happiest times was working as a journalist for the American Red Cross during World War II. This was her chance to combine writing, photography and travel. She served as editor of the ARC magazine Boomerang which, over its lifetime, would have five homes and five editors, including Marjorie Duryee, who worked with the publication beginning in Brisbane in October of 1944 and moving to Hollandia (Netherlands E. Indies) then to New Guinea, Manila and finally Tokyo in 1946. During this period, she photographed extensively and assembled her best views in scrapbooks. For security reasons, Marjorie often was not allowed to take photos so she began to draw the scenes instead. When the war ended, she returned to Everett to visit and then went to New York City to study at the Art Students League.
The Painting Years
She returned to Everett in 1947 to attend her father’s funeral and it was at this time that she met Whidbey Island painters Peter and Margaret Camfferman and began to seriously study painting. The Camffermans were highly respected regional artists and teachers. Through them, Marjorie’s talents and contacts grew. From 1948-49 she again lived in New York City, meeting lots of interesting writers and artists yet keeping in touch with old Red Cross contacts and her Everett and UW friends.
Bringing it all together
Marjorie attended Robert Frost’s Breadloaf Writers Conference in Vermont in 1950 and the following year drove across country to study art at the Jerry Farnsworth School in Saratoga, Florida. Back in Puget Sound, she attended Theodore Roethke’s writing class at UW and in 1952 was able to meet Dylan Thomas who came to read on campus. Marjorie was awed by Roethke and wrote about hearing Dylan Thomas’s performance. She sat very close to the front, heard his muscular intonations and saw how he swayed, vibrating from head to foot while he read—every word seemed an echo.
Monkmeyer Studio continued to market her photos. One of special importance to the family was published in the November issue of Today’s Health in 1952—a photo of newly-born niece Margaret Duryee, at the hospital meeting her older sister Maureen, their happy parents watching. Boat trips, family outings and other personal events became subjects for Marjorie’s photos during this time and she was able to publish them in various magazines.
Marjorie presented a solo show at the Vera Tenney Art Studio, Everett, in December of 1951. The following year, she displayed photos in the Baltimore Salon of Photographs, then took a freighter trip through the Panama Canal to Madrid on what she dubbed a “slow boat to France”. The Everett Herald published a feature on her trip on Nov. 27, 1952 as an introduction to a travel series of 72 articles that Marjorie would write for the Herald during a 10 ½ month stay in Spain. During this time, she continued taking photos which she exhibited through the 1950s.
Actress Nancy Coleman had married critic Whitney Bolton and the couple moved permanently to Long Island, NY. The Colemans visited Marjorie in 1954 when she was living in a cabin she had built by hand at Priest Point (Tulalip). Following the visit, Whitney wrote a piece about Marjorie and her achievements. Marjorie spent the second half of that year in Spain, taking more photos. She continued to show her Madrid photos, some as slide shows in 1957. That year her mother died, followed by the death of Peter Camfferman. Marjorie sold her beach cabin in 1959 and bought the Duryee family home at 501 Laurel Drive. At home again in Everett, Marjorie began a series of shows at Cuthbertson’s Little Gallery at 2936 Colby where gallery owner Tom Johnson gave her wall space to use as she liked. Her first show was Oct. 1960 and she continued to exhibit there, showing paintings, watercolors and photos.
The gift of a bicycle from niece Maureen led Marjorie to taking photos of her hometown. These remain in the family collection. But the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962 inspired her. She made an entry in her 1962 journal that reads: “Marge, don’t you play golf anymore?” She answered herself, “No, not since the Seattle World’s Fair and seeing the painting exhibit there. It made me want to stay home and paint!!” And paint she did, by the following year exhibiting 14 monoprints and collages.
In 1963 she wrote the first of 9 self-published books of poems in a series she called the Image Collector. When Margaret Camfferman died the following year, Marjorie handled her estate. Margaret was included in a traveling exhibit celebrating Washington Women Painters in 2005 and Marjorie’s journal entries and art collection contributed to the exhibit.
Shifting exclusively to using color film, Marjorie abandoned her own darkroom processing. This gave her more time to paint. She exhibited at Black and King in Everett, won more exhibits and prizes in 1965, received a royalty check from Monkmeyer Studio for her photos taken in Spain and in 1967 had a one-person show at the Monroe Fair where she received special recognition for her work, judges noting the “excitement inherent in her color and content.” Marjorie continued showing at local and regional galleries throughout the 1970s, published Image Collector 9 in 1972, traveled to England for the wedding of her niece Maureen in 1976, then stayed in Oxford and London the following year.
Sadly by the 1980s Marjorie was showing signs of Alzheimer’s. Her last art show took place in fall of 1986 at the Snohomish County Arts Council Gallery in Everett, a collection of her paintings, poetry and photos, including her Everett waterfront series. Marjorie Duryee died in 1992 at Merry Haven Care Center in Snohomish and the family home at 501 Laurel Drive eventually was sold. Her life’s work is cared for and shared by family members.
Margaret Riddle conversations with Maureen Duryee (niece of Marjorie Duryee) who shared memories, insights, scrapbooks of news clippings and a wealth of photographs, 2009-2012;
Marjorie Duryee diaries/journals, 1930s to 1970s.
Photographs and access to unpublished diaries and journals courtesy of the Duryee Family
© Margaret Riddle 2012 All Rights Reserved WLP Story # 75 ~