The following essay first published in Tapestry Topics, Vol 31 No 3 Fall 2005, describes details about finding the owner and tapestry, "Dr. Richard Ferry," after the book was published.
Portrait of Dr. Richard Ferry
In the fall of 2003, I spent a considerable amount of time trying to locate the owner of the Ferry portrait described in my book, NEZHNIE: Weaver & Innovative Artist. I called all the local numbers, although generally was only able to leave messages, then sent out many inquiries through national listings from sites recommended by genealogy enthusiasts, all to no avail. In January of 2005, I donated a book for the raffle at the winter luncheon of the Missouri Mycological Society because I had met the graphic designer for the book on a mushroom foray and thought members might be interested in this joint effort by two members. The man whose name was drawn discovered the image of Dr. Ferry in the book as he sat down to have it signed. He exclaimed, “Oh, that was my partner; we shared an office!” and was able to give me the contact information for his widow, who is still here in the area. Thus, long after the fact, I can finally describe one of Nezhnie’s most skillful weavings in detail and accurate color.
I am compelled to begin by describing the tapestry technically, especially because it relies on her subtle skill in color selection and her understanding of how individuals process what their eyes observe. The description will be far clearer when looking at the color images on the ATA web site, but because computers vary so much in how colors look, it is essential to use qualifiers like green gray or light blue gray in the discussion.
The portrait is made up of a series of two-color patterns. Each pattern is essentially consistent wherever that combination occurs. The predominant color is a medium value blue, somewhat greener than pure hue. The following colors are used in various combinations: 2 blacks - a 3-ply wool and a thin cotton carpet warp; 2 grays – a light blue gray and a greener gray; 2 tans – an orange one and a grayer tan, verging on taupe; purple; plum or red purple; and cream. Pale lavender is used in two small areas in combination with plum.
I will only elaborate on a few of the patterns and how they are used. The granular quality of the highlighted areas is formed by following two passes of cream with one pick of orange tan then one pick of blue gray. Thus, the cream yarn goes over and back twice before the row of tan and gray. I am fascinated by the ability of the gray to visually blend in with the cream to create a subtle vertical ribbing at the same time that it unite with the tan to form a more definitive wavy horizontal stripe. This texture alludes to the coarse, weathered skin of a mature adult. It makes me smile, thinking of Chuck Close's image, "Keith," that reveals all the pores in the massive face.
The combination of purple and teal is particularly recessive, providing a deeper shadow than when the purple is used with black. What appears as brown in the hair is really teal and plum woven as pick and pick. This pattern is also used to create the brow and also in the eye socket juxtaposed with the purple and thin black cotton combined as one yarn. Some portions here are also teal and purple pick and pick, effectively separating the brow from the recessed area just below it. The number of pattern changes in this area, and in the hair, is astounding. It seems very daring to even attempt to simulate three-dimensional form with multiple patterns in such a confined area yet Nezhnie attains very convincing eyes.
Besides being used with purple as a single yarn, the thin black cotton sometimes alternates with either the thicker black wool or tan yarn used in a modified pick and pick patterns in the border. Since the thin yarn cannot cover as much surface area as the thicker yarn, small specks of warp color show through. Nezhnie chose to use six colors for warp. (See the online color photo of the reverse side.) She played with which colors would show within a specific pattern. In some areas of the border, one color warp consistently shows through and at other times which color comes through is random. When alternated with the black wool, she often used two picks of wool to one pick of thin cotton that produce alternating pinpoints of many warp colors. The manipulations are very subtle elaborations that do not have a major effect on the image. What they do accomplish is that they give the viewer the opportunity to come into the tapestry for an intimate discovery of the yarn's path.
By giving the face a decided textural quality, Nezhnie achieved a surprisingly life-like image. Having a patterned border probably serves to balance the unrealistic nature of the face, an ingenious choice. Dr. Ferry looks vital, alert, and maybe a bit challenging to those around him. There is a sense of quick-witted intelligence in his eyes. His widow maintains that Nezhine capture his inner self and his "larger-than-life" personality. His medical partner saw his sense of humor showing through. I see the portrait as Muriel's need to satisfy her own complex vision even in commission work. I am in awe of her commitment to discovering new ways to manifest that vision.