Bird box: Retirement brought out the artist in Susan Murray

June 2021 Posted in Arts, Culture & History, Community

By Melissa Wagoner

Artist, Susan Murray, with her bird boxes and garden art at Finds that Shine in Silverton



Susan Murray hasn’t always been an artist. In fact, she spent the majority of her life working in higher education, first as an instructor and later as Executive Dean of Academic Advancement at Chemeketa Community College. But, upon her retirement from academia six years ago, Murray needed a hobby.

“I really didn’t know what in creation I was going to do after I retired,” Murray laughed. 

A common problem amongst recent retirees, Murray came up with an unconventional answer – she took
up welding. 

“I do these ornate garden flowers and garden art,” Murray described. “I do some out of tin cans. It’s almost like a puzzle, where I think – what can I do with that? I want them to look rustic.”

Then she took up painting. 

“I’ve always painted a little but I’ve never taken any classes,” Murray confessed. 

But that didn’t stop her. An avid gardener, Murray began painting the birds she saw visiting her plants, initially as a way of learning their names. 

“Painting helps me remember,” Murray said. 

Fond of painting on wooden surfaces – possibly due to an earlier hobby in furniture restoration – Murray took to painting her birds on some old cigar boxes she had laying around. Later, she made a deal with a friend who sells cigars. It provides her with an endless supply of canvasses and him with a recycling opportunity. 

“It’s almost like the bird chooses the box,” Murray said of the assortment of birds and boxes, in various combinations of size and shape, that she has amassed in the past five years, which she estimates to be around 1,000. “If it doesn’t work, then it’s not the right bird.”

With so many boxes piling up, Murray has taken to selling her creations at Finds that Shine in Silverton. 

“But I don’t paint them for the selling of them,” Murray said. “I paint them for the painting.”

And she doesn’t take commissions either, although she has attempted them in the past. 

“People say, ‘Paint me one like that,’” Murray said of the requests she receives to replicate certain popular birds. “But I can’t because they’re all different.”

Her creations are popular. Both her garden art flowers and bird covered boxes are prominently featured in the windows of Finds that Shine, garnering more than a little attention from passersby, many of whom purchase the boxes as ornate containers for gifts. 

“They’re easy to send,” Murray explained. “And that’s another reason I do the birds on boxes, it’s useful. Who doesn’t need
a box?”

Now, Murray is spending plenty of time in her garden, watching for inspiration to land and, when it does, learning its name. 

“I enjoy the quiet in my garden,” Murray confirmed. Adding, “Now I can say, ‘That’s a lesser goldfinch instead of a goldfinch.’” 

The true mark of success.


Finds that Shine

Home décor, jewelry, antiques as well as Susan Murray’s hand-painted bird boxes and upcycled garden art

204 North Water St., Silverton Thursday – Monday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

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