A Profile, by Suzanne Adams, Clay Elements
Wayne Ferguson does not sign his works anymore and does no marketing. Yet he is most likely the best known potter in our region.
Wayne calls himself a potter. Nearly all of his works are functional: bowls, pitchers, bottles, ocarinas, platters, and teapots. He roots himself in timeless traditions of ceramic technique and design.
When asked whether or not he is a folk artist, Wayne replied that early on he questioned that too and was advised by educators that, no, he was not, since he had taken some ceramic college courses. Wayne is so uniquely and presently in touch with his surroundings, and presents his ideas so illustratively, that I have to question this judgement about folk art.
How can it be that our own stories are told by works that are overflowing with details of Wayne’s own life and culture? I believe that it is because he puts us in places and times of fascinating peculiarity, and, by presenting just the right details, comes to the point of a grand idea.
Wayne’s earliest memories of working with clay are the times when his mother made clay of flour and salt so that he and his brother, Lemuel, could play with little soldiers. He went on to play with clay from the creek near his house in northern Kentucky.
Middle and high school years were tough for Wayne who matched adversity with youthful wildness. He and his brother did things that would have led to reform school were it not for the interjection of his high school art teacher, Eva Hinkle. She was able to convince Wayne that his future was with clay and art. He graduated with straight A’s and, as is well known by his friends today, with a generous heart.
A major turning point in Wayne’s life occurred when he witnessed Ladi Kwali at Berea, c. 1970. She made huge, symmetrical pots with clay coils. It was then that he decided that he would become a professional potter.
How does he make his pottery? Wayne is a hand builder who makes “hollow-work vessels”. He pinches, coils, and presses clay to make forms that he can combine with other clay forms and finish with carving and letter stamping. Words, stamped into pots are a centuries old form of communication.
Over fired white clays, Wayne applies colorful glaze washes, making sure that detailed texture is apparent. Colors are representative of the world around him. Glazes are low-fired in oxidation.
Wayne makes commemorative objects and effigies to remember personal, environmental, social, and political events.
He draws from other cultures and times. For example, he combines semblances of pre-Columbian stirrup-vessels with playful criticisms of political figures.
He places B-52 bombers atop delightful clouds and palm trees amid the skeletons of war.
He uses the timeless art of individually designed whiskey bottles to express his views on Mitch McConnell, for example. Many of Wayne’s most grueling commentaries appear to be toys. The irony captivates viewers and keeps them looking. And thinking.
Some of Waynes commemorative sculptures can be disturbing or highly politicized. Yet, he notes that the Mayans made pots depicting the beheading of captives. Wayne does not hold back on his views either: his views have lead to censorship of his works from some national exhibitions.