Beginning in 1970, Jeri Ferris and her late husband, Tom Ferris made over thirty trips to the Soviet Union, voraciously acquiring items which, they felt, expressed the spirit and achievement of Soviet culture whether that be a coffee-table album celebrating Stalin, a survey of the Moscow metro, a cigarette-case, an abacus, a school uniform, a portrait of a Party leader, a porcelain figurine or plate carrying Stalin or Kirov, a KGB ID, a panorama of the Soviet army, a vintage photograph of Lenin, a partisan's how-to manual, a dissident painting, a caricature of Brezhnev, a money-box in the form of Gorbachev, etc.
Jeri and Tom Ferris set out to unravel the mystery of a nation and regime that dominated the political and social evolution of the 20th century and their extraordinary collection reflects this noble aspiration. The Ferris Collection constitutes a uniquely precious, unprecedented research tool: this vast assemblage of books, journals, legal documents, photographs, recordings, banners, and material items ranging from high to low culture provides rich and diverse data essential to a multifaceted and objective appreciation of what used to be the USSR.
In memory of her husband, and in deference to his wish to expose, research, and appreciate Soviet culture, Mrs. Jeri Ferris kept their immense collection intact precisely as a microcosm of Soviet social, political and cultural life. To this end, Mrs. Ferris chose not to sell the collection, but to donate it as a priceless platform for the academic study of the USSR. The result will enable scholars to investigate the social history and culture of one of the most powerful and yet most unsettling regimes of modern times: mysterious realities closed off to many who saw the USSR as an alien, unwelcoming place. It is Ms. Ferris’ desire that the collection be used for research: a curatorial approach that can provide the tools and vocabulary to help read and understand the images emerging out of the Russian milieu. Both the mass-produced ephemera and the lovingly hand made commemorations to Stalin send relatively the same messages to the public,: the values, ideas, and identity of the nation are contingent upon the creation of a new man. As in past revolutions, we see powerful images of national identity, unity, political and economic policy, tolerance and intolerance, among others.