When Nathan Plung of West Richland was born, he suffered a brain bleed that led to a lifetime of cerebral palsy and seizures.
But instead of succumbing to the limitations of his affliction, he found a way to enhance his life through an art form considered unusual for men -- cross-stitching.
Plung, 32, dismisses the attitude, recalling some very macho men who have found joy in fiber arts -- such as Roosevelt "Rosey" Grier, the ginormous lineman who played football for the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams. Grier was known to dabble in knitting from time to time.
"You'd be surprised how many people think I'm gay because I do cross-stitch," he said with a laugh. "But the truth is, I love doing this and it really doesn't matter if people are wrong about that. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion."
Plung's devotion to cross-stitching, which he's been doing since he was 9 years old, paid off recently when six of his portraits were chosen to be featured next month at the Agora Gallery in New York City.
"I was thrilled when I found out my work was accepted for a show at the Agora," he said. "For the past several years, I've submitted work to the gallery, never really believing it would get anywhere."
Plung, the son of Vickie and Dan Plung of West Richland, prefers portraits rather than landscapes in his creations, he said. His subjects cover a wide range of people from the famous -- Frank Zappa, Winston Churchill, Louis Armstrong, Mahatma Gandhi -- to family and friends. He even did a self-portrait in cross-stitch, which was chosen by the Agora Gallery for the exhibit.
He and his family will attend a reception for the exhibition June 12 at the gallery.
Cerebral palsy limits his creativity, so his images don't evolve from his imagination, he said.
"To make up for that, I usually surf the Internet to find faces of famous people, or have photographs of friends and relatives to work from," Plung said.
Another advantage to cross-stitching is he's able to exercise his challenged motor skills on a daily basis and that is always a good thing, he said.
His mother said cross-stitching also helped her son adjust to his disability. Dan Plung works in the nuclear field and the family lived in many different countries.
"I got him a cross-stitch starter kit when he was about 10," Vickie Plung said. "But he got bored with that real quick. He needed more of a challenge and turned to the Internet for images he could copy."
He would then make a template of the image and Photoshop the print to add the deep shadowing his images required.
Plung's ultimate goal with cross-stitching is to encourage commissions from people who want a portrait of a loved one that has all the familiarity of a photograph but is expressed in a unique way, he said.
He works part-time for the Richland School District as a paraeducator for disabled children, so it takes him about three to four months to complete an 8 by 10 size, slightly longer for a 9 by 12 size. The portraits start at $1,000.
"I could probably finish one in a month and a half if I wasn't working," he said. "But I love teaching the kids too. It's a balancing act."
To see more of Plung's work, check out his web page at the Agora Gallery at http://www.agora-gallery.com/artistpage/Nathan_Plung.aspx
-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @dorioneal