Duryee, Marjorie Ann (1913-1991)

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 11/28/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22615

Marjorie Ann Duryee was an artist and adventurer who pursued several careers in her lifetime – teacher, photographer, painter, poet, photo journalist – and achieved success in all. Born and raised in Everett, Duryee graduated from Everett High School in 1930, along with fellow classmates the future Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) and future actress Nancy Coleman (1912-2000). The three remained lifelong friends. Stepping up to serve in World War II, Duryee joined the American Red Cross and was stationed in New Guinea. Her writing skills landed her a position as an editor with the Red Cross magazine Boomerang, which took her to many locations on the Pacific front. Duryee displayed and marketed her photos nationally and internationally and took up painting, linking her closely to art communities at home and abroad. In the 1960s she began a series of poetry books titled The Image Collector. Through most of her adult life, she kept journals and drew on these to write her own biography in 1972. Her journal notes also have been used for insights and information on other artists. A selection of Duryee's photos were included in "Northwest Photography at Mid-Century," a 2016 display at the Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds.

Growing Up

Born on July 18, 1913, Marjorie was the second child of Daniel and Clotilde Robinson Duryee, when the family lived at 1316 Hoyt Avenue in Everett. Sister Clotilde was the oldest and brother Daniel Jr. arrived in 1916. The Duryees were prominent Everett residents from the city's beginnings; Schuyler Duryee, Marjorie's grandfather, was an officer with the Everett Land Company (incorporated in 1890), a development group tied to the interests of John. D. Rockefeller (1839-1937). Although Marjorie Duryee's 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" (Maureen Duryee interview).

In her young years, Marjorie was a sickly child. Following advice from her uncle Dr. Albert Duryee, she spent lots of time outdoors and soon excelled at tennis and golf. In 1918 the family moved to 501 Laurel Drive in Everett on Rucker Hill, the home Marjorie would call her own later in her life. Marjorie attended Jackson Grade School, North Junior High, and graduated from Everett High School along with lifelong friens Henry M. Jackson and Nancy Coleman in the class of 1930. 

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 then transferred to the University of Washington, graduating in 1934 with a B.A. in English literature. An additional year gave her a teaching diploma, and from 1935 to 1937 she taught English, World History, and Physical Education at Arlington High School. Throughout her adult life, she kept journals and, from her own journal comments, she expressed how bored and restless she was as a teacher, thinking she should have accomplished more by this time in her life.

A Life-Changing Event

Part of Duryee's restlessness set in after a trip to the Chicago World's Fair in 1934, which gave 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" (Duryee journals). The paintings inspired her to become an artist, and in 1937-1938 she began studying art at the Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland, which also gave her a chance to ski in Austria and visit a Paris Exposition.

On Christmas Eve 1937, she bought herself a gift, her first camera, a Leica. But Europe was in great political turmoil. In 1938 she was residing at the Halfmoon Chambers flat in Newcastle, England, worrying about the dangers of pending war. It was time to set sail for home, which she did on October 19, traveling out of Liverpool aboard the Aquitania.

Photography changed her life. She joined a local camera club in 1939 and won a Washington Salon Exhibit Grand Award that same year. To further her career as a professional photographer, she needed an agent, so she hired Monkmeyer Studio in New York, which began marketing her photos to magazines. In the following years, she won numerous awards at regional and national shows, displaying her photos done in both black and white and color transparency. By the early 1940s she had three passions: photography, tennis, and golf, excelling at all three. She competed in Everett and Seattle golf tournaments and tennis matches and continued to take pictures, printing them in her home darkroom. She was listed in Who’s Who in American Pictorial Photographers in 1942-1943. 

World War II and After

Wishing to help in the World War II effort, Duryee joined the American Red Cross and was stationed first in New Guinea. Her writing and photographic skills led to a job as an editor with the American Red Cross (ARC) magazine Boomerang, which over its lifetime would have five homes and five editors, including Duryee, who worked with the publication beginning in Brisbane, Australia, in October 1944 and moved to Hollandia (Netherlands East Indies) and then to New Guinea, Manila, and Tokyo in 1946. She photographed extensively, filing her best work with Monkmeyer Studio and assembling her best views in personal scrapbooks. For security reasons, she often was not allowed to take photos and so began to draw the scenes instead. When the war ended, she returned to Everett to visit and then went to New York to study at the Art Students League.

Duryee returned to Everett in 1947 to attend her father's funeral. It was at this time that she met Whidbey Island painters Peter (1890-1957) and Margaret Camfferman (1881-1964) and began to seriously study painting. The Camffermans were respected regional artists and educators and were prominent figures in an influential Whidbey Island art scene. Through them, Duryee's talents and contacts grew. In 1948-1949 she lived in New York, meeting prominent writers and artists while keeping in touch with old Red Cross contacts and her hometown friends.

She 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 (1908-1963) writing class at University of Washington, and in 1952 was able to meet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953), who came to read on campus. Duryee was awed by Roethke and wrote about hearing Thomas's performance. She sat up front, heard his muscular intonations, and saw how he swayed, vibrating from head to foot while he read. In her words, "every word seemed an echo" (Duryee journals).

Monkmeyer Studio continued to market her photos. One of special importance to the family was published in the November 1952 issue of Today's Health, a photo of newly-born niece Margaret Duryee, at the hospital meeting her older sister Maureen, with their happy parents watching. Boat trips, family outings, and other personal events became subjects for her photos, and she was able to publish them in various magazines. She presented a solo show at the Vera Tenney Art Studio in Everett in December 1951. The following year, she displayed photos in the Baltimore Salon of Photographs, and then took a freighter trip through the Panama Canal to Madrid. The Everett Herald published a feature on her trip on November 27, 1952. This would be an introduction to a travel series of 72 articles she would write for the Herald during a 10-month stay abroad. While in Spain, she continued taking photos, many of which were exhibited through the next decades.

In Touch with Home

When actress Nancy Coleman married drama critic Whitney Bolton, the couple moved permanently to Long Island, New York. The Boltons visited Duryee in 1954 when she was living in a cabin she had built at Priest Point on the Tulalip Reservation near Marysville. Following the visit, Whitney wrote a piece praising Duryee and her achievements, an article published in several newspapers.

Duryee spent the second half of 1954 in Spain, taking more photos. She continued to show her Madrid photos in 1957, some as slide shows. That year her mother died, followed by the death of Peter Camfferman. Duryee sold her beach cabin in 1959 and bought the Duryee family home at 501 Laurel Drive. At home again in Everett, she began a series of shows at Cuthbertson's Little Gallery at 2936 Colby Avenue, where gallery owner Tom Johnson gave her ample wall space to use as she liked. Her first show was in October 1960 and she continued to exhibit there, showing and selling paintings, watercolors, and photos.

The gift of a bicycle from niece Maureen Duryee led Duryee to take photos of her hometown. These were displayed locally and remain in the family collection. The Seattle World's Fair in 1962 inspired her. She made a journal entry 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!" (Duryee journals). And paint she did, by the following year exhibiting 14 monoprints and collages.

Poetry and Color Photography

In 1963 Duryee wrote the first of what would be nine books of poems in a series she called The Image Collector, published by House of Fairmount, Inc., of Portland, Maine. When Margaret Camfferman died the following year, Duryee handled her estate. Margaret's work was included in the book and traveling exhibit An Enduring Legacy: Women Painters of Washington, 1930-2005, published in 2005. Duryee's journal entries added insights on Camfferman's life and work.

Shifting now exclusively to using color film, Duryee abandoned her own darkroom processing, allowing her more time to paint. She exhibited at Black and King Gallery in Everett, continued to exhibit and won more prizes in 1965. She also received a generous 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" (Duryee Journals). She 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.

By the 1980s Duryee was showing signs of dementia. 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 an Everett waterfront series. She died in 1991 at Merry Haven Care Center in Snohomish, and the family home on Laurel Drive eventually was sold. Her photos were displayed in Northwest Photographers at Mid-Century, a 2016 exhibit at the Cascadia Art Museum in Edmonds.

Marjorie Duryee's writings, photos and paintings are cared for by the Duryee family. Niece Maureen Duryee said of her "Aunt Marge": "She walked or rode her bike down the hill to photograph the Everett waterfront. When she was home, Big Band music would blare from the open windows. She wore the same clothes, the same saddle shoes, for years. Instead, she would spend money on photo supplies and typewriters" (Gale Fiege).


Sources:

Allen Kolb, "Red Cross Doing Big Job in South Pacific Battle Zone," Seattle Sunday Times, February 27, 1944, p. 27; Whitney Bolton, "Looking Sideways," The Buffalo News, July 28, 1954, p. 33; Gale Fiege, "Everett's Own Marge Duryee Featured in Art Show," HeraldNet.com accessed November 4, 2022; Margaret Riddle, "Marjorie Duryee -- Everett Author and Artist," Snohomish County Women's Legacy Project, WLP Story #75, 2012, Snohomish County Heritage Organization's website accessed October 25, 2022 (www.snocoheritage.org); 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, in care of the Duryee family, accessed in 2009.


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