Muriel Nezhnie Helfman (February 28, 1934 - April 9, 2002), known professionally as Nezhnie, was an American artist, primarily weaving large tapestries throughout 1956–1992. She gained international attention in the late 1980s with a series of six tapestries, Images of the Holocaust, completed between 1979 and1989. They were first exhibited as a series at the “Sazama-Brauer Gallery” in Chicago in 1988. Their imagery and texts are based on historical photographs of victims of Nazi persecution, such as ones by Mendel Grossman, and other materials that Nezhnie collected from the Library of Congress, National Archives, the Pentagon and the Yad Vashem Archives in Israel. The majority of commissioned work she produced is religious in nature and predominantly Jewish in theme. One notable exception is Imprints, two large curved tapestries that hang suspended above the stairway of the University City Library in St. Louis, Missouri, completed in 1971. She also did a wide range of private commissions and experimental pieces that feature portraits or animated figures often discarding the conventional rectangular format.
Nezhnie was the child of non-practicing Russian Jewish immigrants, and identified fundamentally with photographs of persecuted European Jews published in the daily newspapers. She showed an aptitude for painting very early. While in high school during the late 1940s, she traveled to the Jefferson School of Social Science in New York City on Saturdays for art lessons. Later, in art school at The Cooper Union, she was thwarted from pursuing portraiture and chose to get a degree in graphic design. She discovered that tapestry was still a viable contemporary art form by chance on a trip to Paris while her husband, fellow art student Sheldon Helfman, was stationed in Germany. She enrolled at a craft school, Offenbach Werkkunstschule in the Frankfurt suburb of Offenbach am Main. It was her only formal training in weaving.
The Helfman family moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1960. In 1964, Nezhnie was one of six founding members of Craft Alliance Gallery in St. Louis. In 1992, Nezhnie was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts for her contribution to art from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. She was already suffering from Alzheimer's disease and the honor coincided with the end of her career in 1992.
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See also the Constance Urdang Papers
Preferred Citation:Name of the Collection, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections
Collection Material Type: Manuscripts
Other Note: Located in vertical manuscript files oversize