Seeing Is Deceiving

KNOXVILLE, Md. –– The master of disguise steps back from his subject, and cocks his head to one side.

He’s just applied spirit gum to the upper lip and cheeks of the man on the stool before him. Then he stuck on a false beard and grotesque nose, drew in wrinkles and veins and transformed the scrubbed face even further with a gross mole, gold tooth and eyeglasses.

It is warm and quiet in his whitewashed studio. Empty picture frames are propped in a corner. Books on van Gogh and Degas are piled on the floor. Some of the master’s own paintings hang on the walls, overlooking more books, about magic and makeup.

In his home next door, encased in a box lined with velvet, near the haunting posthumous portrait of his first wife, is the Bronze Star the CIA gave him for “courageous action” in Tehran 20 years ago.