Kenneth Ferguson, noted ceramist, dies
Kenneth Richard Ferguson believed in the pureness of pottery, the ability to take a lump of clay and, using only your hands, turn it into something beautiful.
Ferguson's ability to do so earned him national and international recognition, both as an artist and as a teacher of other artists. His life's passion was summed up by his son, Charles Ferguson: "Wreathed in smoke and fire, he pulled clay from the earth and made works of art to challenge the terrifying abyss of time."
Ferguson, Professor Emeritus of ceramics at Kansas City Art Institute, died Dec. 30, 2004, at his home in western Shawnee.
Mr. Ferguson loved nature, jazz music and going to the movies, but his greatest love was his pottery. Russell Ferguson, his eldest son, described his father at an incredibly hard worker who created at least 10,000 pieces of pottery in his lifetime.
"He said that clay is one of the only things that you can look at an object that someone has made and know directly that their hand was on that material," Russell Ferguson said. "Everything else is created with a tool, a chisel or a brush, but clay is formed directly from the human hand."
Mr. Ferguson's work was recognized internationally, and he and nine of his students over the years have had pots placed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
"There were probably 12 famous potters, and he was one of them," Russell Ferguson said.
His son said he was originally a functional potter, in an early American and Finnish design. In 1980, he moved into gallery pottery, drawing inspiration from nature. Russell Ferguson said his father traveled the world to see beautiful works of art, making three trips to Japan, once at the rarely offered invitation of the Japanese potter's town of Shigaraki.
Mr. Ferguson also loved to pass on his knowledge of ceramics. For 32 years, he served as the chairman of the ceramics department at the Kansas City Art Institute, building up the department from nothing.
Milton Katz, humanities professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, worked with Ferguson for many years and knew his abilities in the classroom.
"He was a consummate teacher," Katz said. "He really, really loved his students; he loved mentoring them and seeing them grow and develop."
Katz said his colleague may have had a tough exterior, but on the inside, Ferguson was a very sensitive and generous man.
"We called him a Promethean figure, because he was truly larger than life, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually," Katz said.
Ferguson was born March 6, 1928, in Elwood, Ind., to Cecil Ferguson and Edith Izora Cockerham Ferguson. He studied art at Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, Pa., earning a BFA in 1952.
He served his country in the army with the First Calvary at Camp Sendai, Japan. He then studied under the GI Bill at New York State School of Ceramics in Alfred, N.Y., earning an MFA in 1958.
Mr. Ferguson managed the Archie Bray Foundation for Ceramics Arts in Helena, Mont., from 1958 to 1964. He then taught and served as chairman of the Ceramics Department at the Kansas City Art Institute for 32 years. In 1970, he built his home by himself in Shawnee.
He married Gertrude Elsie Houston March 1, 1952. She survives, along with their three children, Russell Ferguson, 49; Charles Ferguson, 45; and Emily Regis, 42. Also surviving are a brother Wallace Furguson, and his wife, Mona; a niece, Lisa Ferguson; and a son-in-law, Linas Regis. Private family services were held, and a memorial service will be held in March, with details announced at a later date.
The family suggests contributions to the Kenneth Richard Ferguson Foundation Fund, care of Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, 1055 Broadway, Suite 130, Kansas City, MO 64106.
Arrangements: Newcomer's Stine & McClure Chapel, 3235 Gillham Plaza, Kansas City MO 64109, (816) 931-7777.