Feb. 25 will mark the 113th birthday (1896) of Colorado’s greatest poet, Thomas Hornsby Ferril. He was with us for 92 years — a man who captured the West in his poems, and whose essays were read throughout the nation.
His poetry, which has been in the state Capitol Rotunda for 68 years, will still be there when I, you and other readers of this column, are long forgotten. Whenever you’re showing the Capitol to out-of-town visitors, be sure they spend time at the Rotunda looking at the art and reading the Ferril poem.
But this is not about Tom. This column is about Tom’s wife, Helen, and their only child, Anne, who grew up in Denver and who vividly remembered the electric fountain at what is now named Ferril Lake. Tom and Helen Drury Ray married in 1921. Anne was born Aug. 12, 1922.
Helen, who was married to Tom for 57 years, died in 1978. Anne Ferril Folsom died June 18, 2008, two months short of her 86th birthday. All three Ferrils will be remembered as artists: Tom for his poetry and essays, Helen for her prose — both satirical and expository — and Anne, who made her living in the visual arts.
Anne had two daughters: Cameron Olen and Dana Milton. Dana has three daughters — Anne’s grandchildren, Moria, Cameron and Morgan. Moria is Moria Perez, and her son, Pierce Perez, is Anne’s great-grandson.
Now that the genealogy is out of the way, we can focus on Helen and Anne, a mother and daughter team who combined their talents to produce wonderful satirical cartoons. Their success with The Indoor Bird Watcher’s Manual spawned The Second Indoor Bird Watcher’s Manual and was followed by The Complete Indoor Bird Watcher’s Manual. All their collaborations showcased a trait they shared: whimsy.
Helen (known to her friends as “Hellie”) explored all the frailties of humans — portrayed as birds — including the deadly sins, the moral breakdowns, the perils of living in close quarters and the continuous economic hazards. Hellie wrote the trenchant and whimsical captions for Anne’s equally whimsical bird cartoons.
One I captured from an ad in the weekly newspaper, The Rocky Mountain Herald of Oct. 2, 1971, was called The Soaring Index (Indicatae Inflationae):
“Female. Frontal head deeply lined. Plumage undistinguished. Observed generally throughout greater U.S.A. in search of food for fledglings. Distinguishing characteristic: Marked flatness in pocket section. (Bird) Call: “Maybe I could mix crackers with it?”
The illustration by Anne: A dowdy bird housewife in a dowdy dress with a few feathers sticking out from behind, the head bent painfully upwards, a prominent beak, eyes vainly searching for the cheapest groceries on the top store shelves, and not the few expensive food boxes on the lower shelves. Her head is covered by a scarf tied below the neck. Her hands hold onto the familiar grocery food cart handle.
The Rocky Mountain Herald was the burden and joy of Helen, who got the paper written, printed and mailed. It was read throughout the world for the Tom Ferril columns as well as Hellie’s writings, such as “Ask Gertrude Gotrocks,” a satire on advice to the lovelorn columns.
Anne and I had a correspondence going right up to the time of her death. Her good humor never slackened. Once, she sent me an envelope with nothing inside. When I mentioned it, she wondered who had received two misjoined letters and responded to my question with “Dear Jerry, You now have your foot in the door at Senility Manor.” It was signed “Ms. Nut Case.”
According to Anne’s daughter, Cameron, you never knew what artistic turn Anne would take.
“Anne’s creative life,” she explained, “was complex, disciplined and sustained.”
Anne was in her early 20s when she penned her first professional illustrations for her father’s book I Hate Thursday, a collection of Tom’s columns. Thursday was the deadline for The Herald, which was printed and published on Friday.
During her long career, Anne explored a wide variety of artistic media, including oil painting, jewelry design and — inspired by George Ricky, a renowned artist and friend — designing and constructing mobiles. Her illustrations were featured in The New Yorker magazine. In her later years, she took up writing and photography as hobbies.
Anne’s companion in her later years was Garth Hite, retired publisher of The Atlantic.
The Concise English Dictionary defines an artist as “one proficient in any art requiring skill, (one) who applies to craft the principal of taste; one skilled in the learned arts.”
All the Ferrils — Tom, Helen and Anne — were true artists. We were fortunate to have them with us from 1896 to 2008.
Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House, and for a period of time, had daily lunches with Tom Ferril at the Denver Press Club.