Note: This offering is the latest of a series of artists’ profiles presented in partnership with Vashon Island Visual Artists (ViVA). But this one is special. It celebrates the splendid adventures in life and art long shared by well-known local artists Larry Muir and Penny Grist. Larry Muir, born April 16, 1943, died on April 1, 2021, at the age of 78.
By Christine Beck
For Vashon Island Visual Artists
Larry Muir was at heart a native Washingtonian who, having fled North Dakota in the second grade, graduated from Foster High School in Tukwila and then moved academically to Harvard and Johns Hopkins.
Meanwhile, Penny was growing up in Philadelphia and embarking on an early career with Time life. On a 1972 visit to Seattle to one of Penny’s friends from junior high school, she was introduced to Larry and Team Grist/Muir was formed. One can’t talk about them individually because they were so intertwined with each other’s life and art.
By this time, both Penny and Larry were jewelers, with Penny leaving the East Coast and Larry leaving an unsatisfying career in biochemistry. Penny had studied in New York and then the Factory of Visual Arts and UW in Seattle, while Larry worked at Cornish in metal-smithing from 1974 to 1975.
And then came Vashon in 1976, after only a one-time visit. They fell in love with the island. Penny recalled that “we bought property and set up a studio in a dilapidated bungalow on Quartermaster Harbor”.
Shortly thereafter Penny’s eyesight began to fail, and she could no longer see well enough to solder. She went back to art school to learn to paint and draw, and Larry began his very rewarding 30-year career teaching at the Bush school. While teaching chemistry, he managed to fit some jewelry classes into the Bush curriculum.
Throughout her career, Penny continued to explore just about every medium there is — including woodworking sculpture, bead and chain jewelry, mosaic, back again to painting, and now a venture into basketry and glass, constantly amazing friends and customers with her versatility.
For most of the early years, Penny sold her work at art fairs and Larry supported her all the way. He drove her to the fairs, helped her set up and break down the booth and helped sell the work. Larry called this supportive role “art husbandry” and throughout his life relished the team they had created.
Forty-plus years later the team continued to live and work in the now not-so dilapidated bungalow that they had transformed over the years to a delightful cottage on a spectacular property filled with indoor and outdoor art, stunning gardens and studios. Their art is everywhere on that land.
When Larry retired in 2008, he set up his studio again and the team spent their days making art. Penny said “First thing in the morning we would bike or kayak or walk and then he would go to his studio and I would go to mine. We met for lunch.”
Penny was one of the instigators of Vashon’s Art Auction and, as usual, Larry was there to donate work and time with Penny to help make it happen. For years, the two participated in the Studio Tour together and had a booth at the annual Strawberry Festival. Many friends bought Larry’s beautiful jewelry over the years and those treasures are now his legacy.
Penny reflected that she “will, of course, continue making art. It’s what I do. But it sure was fun having Larry by my side and working together with him.”