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Joseph Endicott Furey

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  • Location:

    New York, New York, USA (Map)

  • Status:

    Non Extant

    This environment no longer exists. Free-standing pieces created by Joseph Furey collected by the American Museum of Folk Art.

  • Artist:
  • Built:

    Vast majority created from 1981-1986

  • Materials:

    Adhered to every surface except the floor: painted clam shells, painted cardboard cut-outs in the shape of hearts, crosses, and diamonds; tiny birds made of plaster; mussel shells; color tile; chips of mirror; glass beads; lima beans; collaged pictures

About the Artist/Site

Joseph Furey was born in Camden, New Jersey, but soon after, his family returned to Newfoundland, Canada, their ancestral home. In his youth, he was a light-heavyweight boxing prizefighter, and later became an ironworker, helping to build bridges in San Francisco and New York. By the 1940s he had moved with his wife, Lillian, and their children into a five-room rental apartment in Brooklyn, New York.

In 1981, Lillian died, and the friends Furey used to gather with in nearby Prospect Park—fellow unionists with whom he talked and played cards—had also begun to pass away. His life had changed dramatically, but the 75-year-old retiree did not want to leave the railroad apartment he had shared with his family for more than forty years.

He began to transform his surroundings. Working every day for six years, Joseph Furey covered every surface in his apartment (except the floors) with brightly painted cardboard appliqués, shells, lima beans, colored tile, glass beads, collage, and tiny plaster birds.  He dedicated his work to Lillian.

Few people saw his art environment until he moved out in late 1988 to live with his son. He had been attacked and robbed twice in the apartment. The second time drug addicts broke his fingers trying to steal his wedding ring.

Once they saw Furey’s art environment, the building’s amazed owners agreed to preserve it and rented the apartment to two photographers, who became live-in caretakers for four years. New owners took over the building. When the photographers needed to move, they offered the new owners names of sympathetic artists willing to replace them as tenants and preservationists. But the new owners were uninterested in preservation. Two days after the former caretakers moved out, they gutted the apartment. 

~Holly Metz

SPACES Archive Holdings

1 folder: clippings, correspondence, images

Map and site information

447 16th St
New York, New York, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 40.660875 / -73.980835

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