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Volume 40 Issue 16 • August 19-25, 2010
now in our 40th season

Pursuing Her Passions

by Chris O'Day

Claire MurrayFollow your passion, trust your instincts, believe in your dreams, and success shall follow. A sentiment often admired throughout our culture, but not often followed.  We fear failure, fear leaving our old lives behind, and we are scared of just putting ourselves out on the line with no safety net.

One woman, whom most of Nantucket—perhaps much of the coastal United States—knows Claire Murray, left her life in New York for an island she had never even visited before. She not only embraced the unknown and went after her passion on Nantucket Island; she ended up owning her own island because of it.

After being a victim of a mugging in Central Park, Claire Murray knew she wanted to leave the city.  She had a young daughter to raise and wanted her to grow up in safe surroundings.  She searched around and settled on visiting Nantucket.  Once here, she instantly fell in love with the island and bought an inn.

Murray had always been an artist, but she had never thought of relying on her artistic skills.  She said, “I was a print maker.  I was into sculpting and wood cuts mostly.  I became a quilt maker in New York.  I loved working with my hands.”  While operating her inn on Nantucket, she took up the art of making hand-hooked rugs.  Much of her inspiration came from her coastal living, and she began depicting stunning scenes of ships and floral patterns. People loved her rugs and she began to teach seminars to women from all over the world.  Then suddenly she found herself at a crossroad.

Nantucket Needleworks, where Murray got her yarn supply, was going to be sold.  The store imported their unique wool yarn from New Zealand.  Traditional hand-hooked rugs were made from wool strips, but it was the wool yarn that allowed Murray to make rugs with intricate scenes and vivid detail. So she was faced with a choice, either lose her supply or jump in and buy the shop.

Claire Murray once again followed her instincts and bought the store.  It was a choice she would not regret.  Now with a retail store to showcase her rugs, the designs began to captivate local islanders and summer residents, who particularly liked the stunning images of old time Nantucket whalers and sailing ships.  Soon her rugs became a must-have for Nantucket year-round and summer homes — people purchased them as fast as she could hook them.  With her rugs in such high demand, Murray expanded, opening shops all over Cape Cod and islands.  Business continues to grow and Murray now owns stores up and down the East Coast, from Nantucket to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

All of the success came as a surprise to a woman that just wanted to escape the city for a quiet place to raise her daughter.  She said, “I believe that you have a lot of forks in the road as you go through life. A lot of decisions are made by mistake.  When I left New York City I didn’t know what life was going to hold.  It’s not that easy to live as an artist. I had a small daughter to raise. I thought I’ll find an inn to run and I stumbled onto Nantucket. I fell in love with it. I ended up there and creating things for that inn. I wasn’t really planning on relying on my artistic skills. I bought Nantucket Needleworks because I was going to lose my yarn supply. Not because I wanted to become retail.”

One reason for Claire Murray’s success is she never lacks for inspiration. She has already designed more than 65 new rugs so far this year.  She said, “Like most artists, I am inspired by everything around me.  The new rainbow fleet rug came from watching the Opera Cup Race.  I couldn’t believe all of the sails.  I had seen sails of different colors before, but now they have ones with stars and stripes, ones with polka dots.  I thought it was amazing as soon as I got back to my studio I designed the rug.”  Murray also has found inspiration from the places she travels such as Portugal and Spain and often from dreams, which fellow artist Bill Joel also credits as his source of inspiration.

Hand-hooked rugs put Claire Murray on the map, but her product mix offers a wonderful array of colorful items.  She said, “Rugs, for the first year or two it was what my company was.  I then made bedding to coordinate with the rugs.  I went to Italy and designed dinnerware.  In Spain and Venezuela I designed furniture.  It keeps growing and growing each year.  I have designed spa lines, and have also done shoes and apparel.”  In addition she runs her own magazine, La Vie Claire, which celebrates women living the creative life.  Also, Murray has written two books:  Nantucket Inspirations and Women and the Sea.  The latter book is about women like Murray who have pursued their passions by taking inspiration from the sea.

The success of her stores, boutiques, books, and products has given Claire Murray a life she could have only imagined.  She now owns her own island off of Georgian Bay in Lake Huron.  Her house is surrounded by water on all sides, which gives her a quiet place to work and be inspired.  She essentially followed her passion on a small island which led to her owning her own.

Even now, with stores all over the country and another island she calls home, Nantucket holds a special place in Murray’s heart.  She said, “When I sit down to design there’s always some element from my Nantucket Experience.  It is so ingrained in my work.”

Interestingly, Murray is about to journey down to New Zealand, the source of her wool.  New Zealand is also the location where Nantucket whalers would often go on their journeys.  Murray says that the old time whalers fascinate her, and she designed a line inspired by a mix of Nantucket and the Bay of Islands, bringing the two locations together.

Claire Murray has lived a life fueled by her passions that has allowed her to achieve her dreams.  She said, “Follow your dreams.  Do it.  It’s not easy making a living as an artist or musician—it’s usually just something on the back burner, but life moves pretty fast.  You should go after your dreams.  If you follow your passion instead of just going after financial ends, you’re going to be a lot happier person.”

You can visit the Claire Murray’s Nantucket store at its new location at 16 Federal Street.

 

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