Artist Otherwise Known As… Tom Murphy ’15

TomMurphy
Ron Swanson on TV’s ‘Parks and Recreation’ inspired Tom Murphy ’15 to take up woodworking. Jerry Li/Photo Editor.

Many of us use winter study as an opportunity to be as unproductive as possible. At first, during last year’s winter study, Tom Murphy ’15 was no different. However, as he was working his way through the TV series Parks and Recreation on Netflix, inspiration struck.
“I really liked [the character of] Ron Swanson and his woodworking stuff, and I kind of got interested in that way,” Murphy said. “So I ordered some books online and kind of set up a woodshed in my room. I went out and got tools from the hardware store. By the beginning of my spring semester junior year I had made a small box and a tool box, and it kind of turned into a thing.”
Murphy, following in the footsteps of television’s favorite bacon-loving, canoe-building government employee, has since become a prolific and accomplished woodworker. This past summer he made several end tables for family and friends. And though it was harder to further his craft during the fall semester as sports and academics heated up – he plays both football and baseball – he hopes to continue creating pieces throughout the rest of the year.
Hailing from Whitinsville, Mass., Murphy has some family history with carpentry, despite being entirely self-taught.
“My grandfather was a contractor,” Murphy said. “He built his own house in the Cape, and he helped us redo our basement. I was never part of that, I was too young, but I inherited some of his tools. Other than that, it was just me deciding to do it.”
Murphy grew to love woodworking both because of the useful and attractive products it yielded and because of the feeling of accomplishment that came with every finished piece.
“It’s a project-based thing, and I like the feeling of having finished a product and knowing you had a lot of investment in it,” he said. “Why woodworking? I have no idea why it turned out to be that specific thing, but I’ve always liked building things in general.” Though he has no fixed plans to make a career out of carpentry, he noted that he likely “could see [himself] doing any kind of trade like that, one that involves building things.”
Since he began woodworking last year, Murphy’s favorite piece has been a side table into which he was able to add his own original design after having mastered the bare bones look. He hopes to learn more about the craft from a local professional woodworker.
“I started talking to [the woodworker] last spring,” Murphy said. “Apparently he offered a winter study two years ago. I asked if I could do it, but his shop was changing places at the time. Hopefully I’ll talk to him after and he’ll give me some lessons.”
Working entirely independently has posed other challenges for Murphy’s progress in woodworking, he said.
“I’ve had to buy wood from the local hardware store, which really isn’t good for fine woodworking,” Murphy said. “[The local woodworker] gets big blocks of wood and makes his own pieces out of that. There’s a lot of woodworking that I haven’t even gotten into yet.”
Murphy, an environmental policy major, has many plans for future pieces. He hopes to make either a bookshelf or a shelf with hooks, as well as learn how to make a drawer, perhaps from lessons with the woodworker he’s in contact with. Unsurprisingly, family and friends have started to bombard him with requests as he has continues to working towards mastering the craft.
“Once I make something, everyone’s like, ‘Oh, how come I didn’t get one?’” Murphy said, laughing. “It’s been a good way to give gifts. It takes the thinking out of it.”
The College’s own baseball team is next in line for a Murphy original, as soon as the weather thaws out.
“I wouldn’t call this woodworking – it’s just regular carpentry – but I’m in the process of making a bullpen bench, because there’s no bench there for people who are warming up to pitch,” Murphy said. “All the wood’s in the dugout now, but I haven’t been out there since January since it’s been so cold.”

  • Jim Sherman

    I’m very proud of my nephew and I know that his grandfather is smiling at the thought of Thomas enjoying working with his hands.