Joseph Endicott Furey


created a dazzling painted and decorated mixed-media environment in his rented New York City apartment, located in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn. The polychromed walls and ceilings of all the rooms were enhanced with collage elements: paint-dotted clam and mussel shells; painted cardboard cutouts of hearts,crosses, and diamonds; bits of mirror; two large, scenic murals; as well as other materials, such as lima beans and plaster-of-paris birds. More than 70,000 decorative pieces were applied to the surfaces and organized into small, balanced, self-contained units, with a surprisingly coherent and harmonious total effect. Furey alsoconstructed a few small and idiosyncratic pieces of furniture.The environment was discovered in 1988, shortly after Furey moved out of the space he had occupied for half a century, to live with his son in Goshen, New York.Maintenance men, sent to work on the vacated apartment, contacted the owners, who subsequently were put in touch with the American Folk Art Museum.Born in Camden, New Jersey, Furey also spent time in Newfoundland, Canada. He worked as a seaman, had some success in his career as a prizefighter, and spentyears as a structural steelworker, with jobs on the George Washington and Golden Gate Bridges. Furey never considered himself an artist until museum professionalsidentified him as such.In the 1970s Furey began, with his wife’s approval, to tile the bathroom along with some kitchen cabinets, to which he applied small, multicolored tiles. His creativeefforts, however, intensified in 1981, after his wife, Lillian Barker, died. He had said that he was very lonely and “was looking for something to do to get over the grief.”Furey claimed that many of his design ideas came to him during the night. Otherwise generally impatient, he spent thousands of hours planning his designs, gathering hismaterials, and executing the work. Some early training in blueprint reading was useful in planning his designs and calculating the number of pieces required for filling inhis designs.Recognized as a work of art by both the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the American Folk Art Museum, the urban environment was razed when the subsequentoccupants of the apartment, Addison Thompson and Lesa Westerman, moved out. During the time they occupied the apartment, the couple was committed tomaintaining the aesthetic integrity of Furey’s creation.
See also

Environments, Folk; Furniture, Painted and Decorated
Kogan, Lee. “Living in a Brooklyn Apartment.”
The Clarion,
vol. 15, no. 2 (summer 1990): 51–55. ——. “Joseph Endicott Furey (1906–1990).”
The Clarion,
vol. 16, no. 2 (summer 1991): 14