The Murphy Kid
The little boy can be found in almost every Dick LaBonte painting, his red hair and noseless, impish face peering from behind a beach towel or the folds of a woman's Victorian gown. A mystique has grown around him; rumors claim he is the artist's long-lost son, or the artist himself as a boy.
Dick LaBonte has heard all of them. The well-known Bay Head artist included the Murphy Kid in the first of his renowned Victorian folk paintings, placing him on a trolley car by Bay Head's Episcopal Church.
"The reason I put him in had to do with perspective and size," he says. "Then I put him into a painting of the Bay Head train station, up by the funnel of the locomotive. He's just a little mascot." He brushes aside any personal associations with the boy and points out that other painters often include signature characters in their paintings.
Murphy does have one secret that few people know: he didn't always have red hair.
"In the first painting I did, the boy was a blond," LaBonte says. The painting was sold to a local man, who bought it for his wife's birthday. For ten years the painting had the distinction of containing the boy's only blond appearance. Then LaBonte decided it was time to rectify matters. "When his wife was away once, I went to the house," he says. "Her daughter-in-law let me in, and I took down the painting and painted Murphy's hair red, so it would match the others."
Such antics seem perfectly in line with LaBonte's lively mascot. In fact, it's almost believable LaBonte could have been that small impish boy himself.