Wayne Ferguson, Ceramic Humorist

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.

Tiles-Dixie
Stories from American life.

 

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.

Ladi-Kwali-photos
Wayne holding pictures of Ladi Kwali at Berea.

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.

Wayne-Studio
Wayne in Louisville, Kentucky studio.
Wayne-working
Wayne using letter stamps.
Sorry-Bout-That
Pottery with stamped letters.

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.

Medger-Evers
James Meredith, civil rights activist.
B-52-Canisters
War Canisters

He draws from other cultures and times. For example, he combines semblances of pre-Columbian stirrup-vessels with playful criticisms of political figures.

Sturip-Vessels

He places B-52 bombers atop delightful clouds and palm trees amid the skeletons of war.

B-52

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.

Old-Turtle-Boubon
Old Turtle Boubon bottle
Toys
Donald Trump effigy

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.

Bourbon-bottle

You can see Wayne Ferguson’s work, uncensored, in Frankfort this fall. Visit his upcoming show at Capital Gallery of Contemporary Art; 314 Lewis Street; Frankfort, KY 40601. Opening date: Oct. 26, 2018.

Clay – Why Do We Love It?


Clay
blankets our earth’s surface with tiny particles of weathered granite.

Wet clay is strong and malleable. Dry clay holds its shape and can be hardened through heating to extreme temperatures.

“If one takes any finely grained non-clay mineral and mixes it with water, a crumbly mass will be produced with almost zero formability. If the same is done with clay, however, there is produced a mass that is readily formed into any desired shape and, most interesting of all, it will retain that shape under the force of gravity. In other words, the clay mass has three unique properties; first, it may be deformed without cracking; second, when the deforming force ceases, the shape will remain fixed; and further, when the clay mass is dried, it has considerable strength.”

Studio Potter, Volume 4, Number 2 (Winter 1975/76)

Clay has strength because many extremely fine particles can be tightly packed in a clay body.

It’s plastic because its molecules are shaped like dinner plates, with an average diameter of one micron (one millionth of a meter). When wet, the ‘plates’ slide against each other due to thin sheets of water between them. The presence of water allows clay particles to move against each other and change the clay form without breaking.

Pull, pinch, slice, carve, stick, roll, press, twist, and squash!
We can form almost anything out of clay.

A clay object can be hardened through firing at high temperatures, such as 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be coated with specific clays (glazes) and fired again to make an object that is impervious to water.

Once high-fired, a clay object can never disintegrate into its original molecular structure. This is when we call it ceramic.

As early as 24000 BCE people were making figurines for ceremonial purposes. Functional pottery flourished when agriculture became prevalent around 10,000 BCE.

Venus of Dolni Vestonice                        Ancient Mesopotamia pottery
(26,000 – 24,000 BCE)

Wallace and Gromit is a British clay animation comedy series created by Nick Park of Aardman Animations. circa 1990.