Working where you live and create


Sarasota-based artist, actress, set designer, costume maker and teacher Karle Murdock wouldn’t trade her style of working for anything since it’s also her style of living.

Her home is her studio as well as her gallery. It’s furnished with a revolving art show as well as works-in-progress and a random collection of multi-period furniture that belonged to her mother or was given to her by friends. Some unusual pieces Karle found by the side of the road and took home to turn into art or original interior design. She currently has 14 outdoor chairs and admits she doesn’t need half that many.

Karle Murdock in the living room of her vintage Sarasota home, which is her live/work space as well as a gallery for her original art. (Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)

Karle Murdock in the living room of her vintage Sarasota home, which is her live/work space as well as a gallery for her original art. (Staff Photo by Thomas Bender)

“But, I have a tendency to see the art potential in nearly everything, including junk, so it’s hard for me to let anything go,” she admitted. “I watch those hoarder shows on TV every once in a while to make sure I’m not turning into one.”


Currently that “potential art” includes a dozen woven lampshades that her mother made along with boxes of hand-crafted clay beads and some art work that Karle did when she was a student at Ringling College. She graduated in 1983 with a Fine Arts degree in sculpture.

Newer pieces that could be called accessories include wooden bowls, trays, pillows, tabletop stone sculptures and a stuffed lobster whose body is Chinese red brocade. More than a decorative stuffed animal, Murdock designed and made the crustacean as an homage to Peter Strader, longtime artistic director of The Players.

“It was an inside joke at the theater,” said Murdock, who did sets and props for years at the community playhouse. “Peter used to hide a red plastic lobster in different parts of the theater and on the stage. He hid that lobster in every production he did and we all got used to trying to find it. I did this soft-sculpture version of the lobster in 2010 after he died, and I love having it around to remind me of what a wonderful man he was. I call the lobster Pete and he moves around the house.”

Murdock bought her home in Sarasota in 1996, but the 1,900-square-foot ranch was far from new new. It was built in 1954 and still retained its terrazzo floors (covered with orange shag carpeting) and plaster lath walls. The size of the house had been nearly doubled by a previous owner, a ceramics artist who added a studio in the back yard and enclosed the carport to make another studio. For an artist who wanted to work where she lived, the rambling configuration of the property was just what Murdock wanted.

But, immediate upgrades were imperative. “I had to redo the electric, plumbing, heating and air situation, and I repaired the metal roof,” said Murdock. “The exterior and the inside walls were painted turquoise and there were odd pieces of plastic fake stained glass in various windows. There was cheap ugly paneling in some rooms. I just painted everything white and added some floor-to-ceiling bookcases. I was divorced when I found this place, and my mom bought it with me and lived here until she died in 2009.”

Murdock’s daughter also lived in the house (she’s now in Vermont) and Murdock is storing some of her clothes and furniture. The house ostensibly has three bedrooms, but only one is actually used for sleeping.

“One of the bedrooms has been converted into my office and digital studio,” said the artist. “Another former bedroom is for art supplies and is gallery space for some of my large papier mache constructions of faces and hands. In my own bedroom I faux-finished the walls and treat the room as gallery space for more of my big papier mache pieces. The hallway is also a gallery for constructions I call The Wings, which were part of the scenery in a theatrical production.”

All the papier mache pieces, which look like giant puppet heads, have names based on characteristics or emotions that Murdock learned to explore and accentuate in acting classes.

“One is fear and another self-pity,” she explained. “Then we have guilt, anxiety, determination, ecstasy and so on. Only one has a different kind of name and that’s The Thinker, which hangs in the living room. That piece is a tribute to the famous Rodin statue.”

The papier mache pieces are about three and a half feet tall and are painted in acrylics. They retail for about $1,200.

The enclosed carport is Murdock’s painting studio and the connected studio at the back of the house is where the artist works on sculpture — stone, wood and papier mache — and it’s where she keeps her impressive assortment of power tools. There’s also a garden shed in the back yard (near Murdock’s vegetable garden) that Murdock calls her art annex — and it’s where she is currently storing a large number of tiles. When Murdock is creating and fabricating big props for the Sarasota Ballet (such as the motorized rat for the fight scene in the Nutcracker Suite), she spreads out in the living room and even the front yard. Her whole property is her workshop.

“This house is incredibly flexible for me,” said the artist. “I could never do what I do in a rented apartment or a condominium because I work at odd hours and sometimes the whole house is covered in stone dust and plaster. Here, I can spread out, be creative and work whatever hours I want. My art projects and my living arrangements are constantly adjusting to one another, but that’s my life.”


Marsha Fottler

Marsha Fottler has been a newspaper and magazine lifestyle, food and design writer since 1968 first in Boston and in Florida since 1970. She contributes to regional and national publications and she is co-publisher and editor of a monthly online magazine that celebrates the pleasures of the table called Flavors & More. (941) 371-8593.
Last modified: October 11, 2013
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