Ken Ferguson (1928-2004) began as a strictly functional potter. Now, forty years later, his work is still rooted in utility, but his platters, teapots and jars have evolved into new beings entirely. Teapot handles soar vigorously upward, thick platters blossom with gestural drawings, and jars slump and stretch, melting out of their utilitarian past into a new dimension. These dynamic forms are complimented by Ferguson’s exploration of figurative elements. Hares arch through basket handles, foxes perch on the lids of jars, and mermaids sprawl over the surfaces of plates and platters. In all this work, Ferguson draws freely from the forms and motifs of potters throughout history, using ceramic tradition to enhance and enrich a body of work that is uniquely his.
Born in Elmwood, Indiana and raised by two hardworking factory laborers who encouraged him to get an education and leave factory life, Ferguson has always had a strong work ethic.While studying for his MFA at Alfred University, he was known for his prodigious output. Arriving each day in the studio with a list objects he planned to make, Ferguson would spend the day churning out baking dishes, mugs,bowls, cookie jars, pitchers, tureens, and vases, checking off each piece as he finished it. This energetic attitude allowed him to master the technical elements of his craft but left little time for exploring new opportunities.
Working at the Archie Bray foundation after graduation from Alfred, Ferguson continued his high output while also beginning to experiment with new elements of decoration and form. After attending a Bray summer workshop with Toshiko Takaezu, he increased his range of glazes and began to draw and sketch on the surface of his platters. Exposure to new work by Peter Voulkos lead him to consider his own ties to functionality, and what other possibilities might exist. When he left the Bray in 1964 to take a job at the Kansas City Art Institute, he still adhered to functionalism, but he was searching for a looser, less controlled approach to his craft.
Ferguson’s time at the Kansas City Art Institute, where he worked as the head of the ceramics department for 32 years, was an important period of his career. He found he was well suited to teaching, and that students responded to his dedication and enthusiasm.By the time he retired in 1996, he had made the Kansas City Art Institute into a center for ceramic art and had given flight to a diverse generation of new ceramic artists.
During this period he also found and refined his own method of working. In his early years at the Institute, he struggled to free his forms, working with huge volumes of clay that forced him to sometimes lose control as he was throwing. By the 1970’s, he was able to work more slowly and deliberately, and his forms began to loosen. In the early eighties he made the first of his Slump Jars, finally reaching the loose, physical ease of form he had been seeking. Over the next decade, he embarked on new explorations of form and glazing, incorporating the first hares into his work and refining his scumbled, cracked surfaces.
Now, after four decades of evolution, Ferguson’s work has come of age. It has reached an intriguing point of balance, where awkward grace and deliberate spontaneity play off each other. Each piece finds its own equilibrium as Ferguson successfully melds figurative and vessel elements into a unified whole. His newer pots, while they respect their functional roots and draw on ceramic tradition, have flair and dynamism all their own.
Ken Ferguson (1928-2004) was a ceramicist best known for creating vessels with animal or anthropomorphic qualities included in the form. “Rabbit Cup” subtly alters the dynamics and flairs of a traditional cup with the addition of a rabbit’s head, the motif transforming the curvature of the handle to suggest a larger figurative outline. A dipped green[?] glaze has the object accrue a rough patina and hints at other decorative motifs — the simplicity and elegant coarseness of the cup indicative of Ferguson’s legendarily prolific output, often fashioning a sizeable quantity of work in a single day.
Title: Triple Udder Mermaid Vessel
Artist: Ken Ferguson
Ken Ferguson (1928-2004) was a ceramicist best known for creating vessels with animal or anthropomorphic qualities included in the form. ‘Triple Udder Mermaid Vessel’ hybridises several figural and animal quantities into the body of a pouring jug, the inflated stature of the feet shaped to reflect breasts or udders and combining with the mermaid handle as a symbol for mythic or folk-like femininity. The vase is covered with a verdigris and gray dead-matte volcanic glaze that adds solidity and a sense of rough, earthy tactility.