While it may seem like it’s in the middle of nowhere, Oxford Treehouse Gallery is only six miles from Oxford’s historic square. Serene, picturesque and relaxing, it’s the ideal place to showcase art by an artist who takes her viewers along on her journeys.
Vicksburg artist Martha Ferris, this year’s recipient of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Visual Arts, will feature new work in the gallery’s first solo show, slated for the month of November. An opening reception will be Friday at the Oxford gallery.
“What I love about Martha is her sense of place,” said Vivian Neill, who owns the gallery with her husband, Walter. “She travels extensively and the way she depicts the places she’s been allows those who see her art to feel as if they get to tag along with her on her travels.
The couple first met Ferris at the very show that landed the artist one of the state’s highest honors for the arts, which she received in June at the Mississippi Museum of Art.
“We went to see her exhibit, “Foreign and Familiar Places” at Fischer Galleries in Jackson in October of last year and we were so impressed,” Neill said. “Marcy Nessel, the owner of Fischer Galleries, introduced us and not long after that we went to visit Martha and her husband, Kos, at their home outside of Vicksburg. We visited her studio and it was so awesome to see her body of work. Martha is such a versatile artist.”
“It was a great show to prepare for,” Ferris said. “Marcy hung it perfectly. It was such a beautiful experience. She told me I needed to look into the Oxford Treehouse Gallery; she said it would be a good fit for me. That’s the thing about Marcy, she’s an arts nurturer. She will do anything for her artists and her clients.”
Neill invited Ferris to come visit the gallery in Oxford.
“I really felt comfortable right away with Vivian and Walter,” Ferris said. “They are great folks. The gallery is a magical place, and even more impressive is that Walter built it by hand. He is an accomplished blacksmith and wood worker, and he also has a workshop on the grounds. One thing I didn’t do was meet their chickens, but I’ll do that when I go hang the exhibit.”
“Paintings and Drawings: Black and White in Color,” Ferris’ upcoming exhibit at Oxford Treehouse Gallery, will feature several of the artist’s encaustics, which involve using melted beeswax mixed with color pigments.
“I had done a lot of that in the past, but not for a while,” Ferris said. “I will have eight encaustic pieces in the show.”
A variety of the artist’s recent works will also make up the one-woman show, including a few pieces that have never been shown.
“I’ll also have some large drawings and something new I’m doing — silver ink on black paper,” she said.
Ferris didn’t study art, although she always enjoyed drawing and painting as a child.
“I was the kid who did the murals for prom and that kind of thing,” she said.
She majored in art history in college and later taught.
“But I really wanted to be an actress,” she said. “I was so serious about it that I moved to Los Angeles.”
It was in L.A. that Ferris met her husband, Kos Kostmayer, a writer from Queens, N.Y. It was also where she got her feet wet with art again.
“While living in in L.A., I signed up to take a continuing education class at UCLA in painting and dyeing on fabric. I loved it. That started me on the path to doing art with fabric,” she said.
The couple moved to Vicksburg in 1990 to the farm where Ferris grew up on the banks of the Big Black River. Since then, she has had an illustrious art career with some high-profile commissions, including the McRae Children’s Fountains at the Mississippi Museum of Art’s art garden. Her inspiration for the fountains was a Mississippi pond, rich with life, including frogs, turtles, snakes and alligators.
“It was a wonderful experience working with (MMA director) Betsy Bradley, as well as the architect, Madge Bemiss,” Ferris said. “It was really fascinating to see the whole process. When I realized I would be doing it, I decided to do the fountains in mosaic. I was inspired by the sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle and his work in the Tarot Garden in Italy.”
Ferris worked with a mosaic company in New Hampshire and, despite having a great team, they struggled with the Mississippi heat and humidity.
“But we got it done,” she exclaimed. “We are so lucky to have that art garden and to have a treasure like Betsy Bradley.”
Ferris is always experimenting and trying new mediums.
“Martha is a very intelligent and warm woman and that really comes through in her work,” Neill said. “I’m so thankful that Marcy introduced us.”
The exhibit showcasing Ferris’ work will open Friday with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m.