Saturday, July 21, 2007
ferguson: part two
The first time I went to Ferguson’s place, his wife Gertrude greeted me kindly at the front door and ushered me into his office. Ken left me waiting for a good fifteen minutes.
The word was that he was a crotchety guy. He lived up to my expectations of crotchety pretty quickly – within our first few minutes together he was complaining about this and that. I remember him immediately calling out to Gertrude for a cup of tea. After she delivered it to his desk, he proceeded to give me a ten-minute lecture on how a mug handle should feel in one’s hand. Most mug handles were dismal failures, according to Ferguson.
I could tell after about an hour that he was testing me. He said a few not-so-nice things about some people we both knew, railed against various politicians, used a lot of profane language and scrutinized me fairly intensely by asking a lot of hard-hitting and direct questions about my work, my family, my religion, my education and my feelings about the way things are in the art world, the world at large, etc. With a harsh edge to his voice, he wanted to know about books I read, music I listened to, movies I’d seen and artists I admired. He challenged my opinions and tastes and wanted to see if I could back up my stances. I guess he wanted to know whom he was dealing with… where I stood. More accurately, I suppose he wanted to know if I KNEW where I stood.
I think he also wanted to see if I would leave in tears. But I didn’t. I held on and calmly just started making pictures.
Ferguson was a big man. And he didn’t just talk – he BELLOWED. It took awhile before he looked me in the eye. He called himself a “blue collar potter.” He took pride in the fact that he didn’t come from much and that he had worked hard his whole life doing what he felt was significant. When we went out to his studio, he showed me a couple of pieces he was working on and said, “Not bad for a potter from Kansas, eh?”
He had an old beat up TV in the studio. I learned that first day that he never missed an episode of Jeopardy, and that if I planned to come out to make pictures during the time Jeopardy was on, well, I would just have to wait.
The walls of the studio were plastered with postcards and snapshots people had sent him over the years. There was an amazing assortment of images and messages, and as I pored over them, he spoke proudly and affectionately of his relationships with good friends, artists, collectors and students and of his love of art in general. There were notes and phone numbers scrawled on the walls. Here and there were sketches and photos of pieces in progress. The phone was caked with clay.
The more time we spent together, the more I could see past that rough exterior of his. It turns out that he was a kind man who cared deeply about people, art, politics, nature, music, friends and family. It took us a while to get on the right track with each other, but I think that’s just how it goes with a guy like that. He wasn’t about to let it unfold easily. To Ferguson, every encounter offered up a puzzle to be sorted out, an occasion to mentally wrestle, a chance to teach something and a chance to learn something.
When I first showed him the contact sheets of the stuff I’d been shooting of him, he seemed pleasantly surprised that this soft-spoken GIRL had indeed created some decent work. He raised his wild eyebrows and actually tossed a couple of compliments my way. When I responded with “Not bad for a photographer from Kentucky, eh?” he finally looked me in the eye and smiled, and I think it was from that moment on that we had some sort of an understanding of each other.
After he had spent some time looking at the contact sheets, he cast a look that could kill towards Gertrude and huffed, “Dammit, Gertrude, why didn’t you tell me I’d gotten so old?”