Whidbey lost a masterpiece this week.
Coupeville’s Roger Purdue, a popular artist, educator and pilot, died early Sunday, Jan. 19 from complications of Parkinson’s Disease.
Purdue, who enjoyed a career as a teacher in the Oak Harbor School District, was a prolific artist. His work can be seen throughout Central Whidbey Island. The salmon wheel at Island County Museum and the whale wheel at the Coupeville Wharf are just some of his creations.
Susan Berta, who helps run the Orca Network and organize the Penn Cove Water Festival, started working with Purdue in the early 1990s and when 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 of the salmon wheel. Purdue donated his time and talents to make sure the salmon wheel was completed. It stood for years near the Coupeville Wharf where people could stop and give the wheel a spin. The wheel was eventually moved to the nearby museum. The whale wheel, which Purdue also helped design, is currently standing near the Coupeville Wharf.
Berta said the whale wheel project speaks to the kind of person Purdue was. It was a community-minded project; it reminded people of the Orca Capture; promoted the Penn Cove Water Festival; and helps keep the carving community alive on Whidbey Island.
In addition to the wheels, Purdue also designed the logos used for promotion materials for the Penn Cove Water Festival. Each year had a different, Native-American inspired theme to it.
He was honored nearly a year ago for his efforts in supporting the festival. During a ceremony at the Coupeville Recreation Hall, Purdue received a cedar hat decorated with an eagle feather along with a button blanket — both of which were made by members of the Samish Nation.
Though he is gone, his work will be seen by festival goers for years to come. During that event, he presented the festival association with 15 years worth of logos.
He remained active in recent years, helping design a panel carving that will be installed at Island Transit’s new headquarters. Berta wanted to tap Purdue’s skills for a kinetic sculpture that would have highlights the dorsal fins of whales.
Purdue was born on Orcas Island in 1938. Wilbur Purdue said his dad spent his childhood hunting and fishing. Roger’s dad 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 an art degree 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.
Purdue was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about eight years ago. As Roger’s health declined in recent days, family and friends stopped by his home last week to have a friendly visit with the artist.
“We had a really nice week as a family,” Wilbur said adding visitors got to visit and share stories with Roger.
Purdue is survived by his wife Sara; son Wilbur and his wife Julieanna; daughter Grace; grandson Henry; and sister Jennie, and her husband, Kelly.
A celebration of life will take place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Sunday, March 2, at the Coupeville Recreation Hall. Wilbur said it will provide a chance for people from parts of Purdue’s life as an artist, an educator, pilot and residents to come together to enjoy the celebration.
A memorial to Purdue has already been posted at www.penncovewaterfestival.com and people have been commenting about Purdue’s death on the association’s Facebook page.