Thomas Paul Durnell, 59, a lifelong artist and Director of Facilities at the Woodmere Art Museum for 34 years, died August 6 at his home in Germantown of cancer. He is mourned by his four sisters, a brother, and their spouses, his nieces and nephews and a close circle of enduring friends in Germantown and Chestnut Hill.
He was born February 22, 1959 in Saint Mary’s, Ohio, a small town in the west central part of the state. He was the son of Thomas Allen Durnell, a jeweler, and Doris Jean Inderrieden, a hospital laboratory administrator. Both are deceased. He was one of six children.
He was a 1983 graduate of the Stella Elkins Tyler School of Art of Temple University with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts, majoring in sculpture. He commenced his college education at Tulane University, and then transferred after two years to Tyler, having chosen to pursue art over medical studies.
“Tom was a timekeeper,” said his next-door neighbor and long-time friend, Michael McGeehan. Tom’s assemblage art, sculpture, drawings and prints were suffused with commentary on the passage of time. No ironic detail of life escaped his notice, as represented for example in the shiny mobile homes he sculpted and soldered which, to him, transport occupants ‘into nature’ together with all the comforts of home.
Since 1986, he made his home in the Ulrich Podmer House on East Haines Street, Germantown. Podmer was a carpenter who emigrated from Germany around 1746, the same year that the first parts of the house were constructed. Durnell once found a musket ball buried in his back yard. He also put some of his backyard finds into an assemblage of fragments of everyday life spanning the house’s long history.
As Director of Facilities at Woodmere, Durnell was responsible for the management of the historic 1850 home-turned-museum and its grounds. The museum also acquired two pieces of his art for its permanent collection.
Mr. Durnell was a long-standing member of Our Mother of Consolation Catholic Parish in Chestnut Hill, where he served as an usher for the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass for at least 15 years.
He is survived by his five siblings: Catherine Durnell Cramton of Bethesda, MD; Colleen Durnell Gilmour of Dallas, TX; John Nicholas Durnell of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA; Maureen Frances Durnell of Seal Beach, CA; and Bridget Durnell Mauro of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. He is also survived by a sister-in-law, three brothers-in law, four nieces and three nephews.
Details concerning church and memorial services are pending but they will be held in the Germantown/Chestnut Hill community sometime after September 1.