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Rochester writer completes art exhibit following nephew’s suicide



Rochester, New York – In July, the Joy Gallery on West Main Street in Rochester was home to a writer who is looking to honor her nephew who she lost a few years back to suicide.

For 27 years Barb Murphy taught writing at Finger Lakes Community College, and when she decided it was time to retire, she put her passion and newfound free time to good use. “I called up my nephew, Joe Ripperger and I said, ‘Hey, you want to do a project together?’” Murphy said.

Murphy was interested in creating ekphrastic poems when an artist examines a piece of art and writes a poem in response.

She found her nephew Joe, who was a Rochester area photographer, to be the perfect partner. “We started going back and forth emailing and he approved of the first ones that we did,” Murphy said, “We met in this neighborhood because Joe lived at the Carriage House apartments over on Litchfield Street. We also met at the 1872 café, often times walking around this neighborhood.”

Joe had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at 16 years old and struggled with his mental health for years. “Sometimes we were going to meet and he’d call and say, ‘I have to meet with my counselor,’” Murphy explained.

Joe lost his life to suicide in June of 2019. “We were all devastated but I had to keep working on the project. It was for him. But it was as much for me because it was really a way to grieve, and to keep the promise,” Murphy said.

The completion of “Keeping a Promise” became Murphy’s mission from then on. Not only to honor her nephew but to also spread mental health awareness. “A mental health problem is just a part of some people’s lives and it should be accepted,” Murphy said, “I just want people who have mental health issues, not to be ostracized, to get the help that they need, and I also want people to know about places the Mental Health Association of Rochester.”

When Murphy began looking for an opportunity to showcase her and Joe’s work, she contacted the Creative Wellness Opportunities Program at the Mental Health Association of Rochester.

The exhibit was put on display at MHAR’s space on North Goodman Street in June. “The outpouring of support and just respect for Joe’s work was so satisfying, and heartwarming,” Murphy said.

Owner of Joy Gallery, Luvon Sheppard then picked up the exhibit for his own gallery which is located in Joe’s old neighborhood. “This is special in its own way because this is Joe’s old neighborhood. It’s just been a really wonderful journey in spite of the sadness,” Murphy said.

Joe and Barb’s art exhibit is free and open to the public at the Joy Gallery on West Main Street.

On Saturday, July 30, from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the final showing will be taking place.