Dead Cat Museum

How an island boy’s curious business came to be immortalized by painter Jamie Wyeth.

By Diane Sternberg   Photo by Amy Toensing

“I actually did have a dead cat museum, but I called it a mummified cat museum because, really, who would be trying to sell views of dead cats? That is just disgusting,” Kyle Murdock says, laughing gently. We are looking at a reproduction of Dead Cat Museum, painted by Jamie Wyeth in 1999. Kyle, age ten, is the subject. “It’s all about the model, by the way. It has nothing to do with the artist,” Kyle adds with a smile.

In the painting, young Kyle is standing with his back to a window outside of his childhood house on Monhegan Island, off the coast of Maine. He is wearing a white-collared shirt with a brown necktie, a black cape, and no shoes. His shorts are the same color as the cedar-shingled house behind him: deep gray with hints of olive green and blue. He is pointing to a homemade plywood sign, which reads: “Kyle’s Dead Cat Museum. See the Cats 50 Cents, Lemonade 10 Cents. Nintendo (no accessories) $10-20.” His small body casts a shadow onto the sliver of door to his right. To Kyle’s left, a light blue sky contrasts with the earth tones used to illustrate him and his house. An American flag flies from the rooftop of the Island Inn in the distance, and nine colorful tourists are walking beside red flowering bushes on a path that winds away from his house.

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