Coupeville artist Roger Purdue dies

Roger Purdue carves the salmon wheel, which was on display for years near the Coupeville Wharf before it was moved to the museum. Purdue died on Sunday. - Contributed photo
Roger Purdue carves the salmon wheel, which was on display for years near the Coupeville Wharf before it was moved to the museum. Purdue died on Sunday.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Roger Purdue, a popular Coupeville artist, educator and pilot, died early Sunday morning from complications related to Parkinson’s Disease.

Purdue, who once worked as a teacher in the Oak Harbor School District, was a prolific artist. His work can be seen throughout Central Whidbey. The salmon wheel at Island County Museum and the whale wheel at the Coupeville Wharf are among his creations.

Susan Berta, who helps run the Orca Network and organizes the Penn Cove Water Festival, started working with Purdue in the early 1990s. He started carving the salmon wheel a few years later.

“That project made it really clear to me how generous and dedicated Roger was,” Berta said.

Purdue donated his time to ensure the salmon wheel was completed. It stood for years near the entrance to the Coupeville Wharf, where people could stop and give it a spin.

The wheel was eventually moved to the nearby museum. The whale wheel, which Purdue helped design, is currently near the wharf entrance.

Berta said the whale wheel project speaks to the kind of person Roger was; it was a community-minded project; it reminded people of the Orca capture; promoted the Penn Cove Water Festival; and helps to keep the carving community alive on Whidbey Island.

In addition to the interactive wheels, Purdue also designed logos for the Penn Cove Water Festival.

Each year’s design had a Native American- inspired theme.

He presented the festival association with 15 years worth of logos when he was honored nearly a year ago for his efforts in supporting the event.

During a ceremony at the Coupeville Recreation Hall, he received a cedar hat decorated with an eagle feather along with a button blanket — both made by members of the Samish Nation.

Purdue’s work will be seen by festival goers for years to come.

He remained active in the arts community in recent years, helping a carver design a panel carving that will be installed at Island Transit’s new headquarters.

Berta said she wanted to tap Purdue’s skills for a kinetic sculpture that would have highlighted the dorsal fins of whales.

Purdue was born on Orcas Island in 1938. His son, Wilbur, said Roger spent his childhood hunting and fishing.

Roger’s father owned a service station in Eastsound and his mom ran a radio station for the airline that served Orcas Island at the time. Wilbur said that sparked Roger’s interest in airplanes.

Purdue graduated with a degree in art and a minor in education from Western Washington University before starting his career as a teacher in the Oak Harbor School District.

“He was always working on projects,” Wilbur said. Those projects included building and flying airplanes, rebuilding tractors, and his recent work as a carver. He started focusing on woodcarving in the mid 1990s.

Roger was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about eight years ago.

As his health declined in recent days, family and friends stopped by his home last week to visit.

“We had a really nice week as a family,” Wilbur said adding visitors got to share stories with Roger.

Roger is survived by his wife, Sara; son, Wilbur and his wife Julieanna; daughter, Grace; grandson, Henry; and sister, Jennie and her husband, Kelly.

A memorial to Purdue is posted at

People have commenting about Purdue’s death on the festival’s Facebook page.


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