Oral History Interview with Wayne Ferguson Part II

Kentucky Historical Society


Transcript Index

Search This Index
Go X

0:15 - Tour of studio / Explaining artwork

Play segment Segment link

Keywords: air force; Art Snake; clay mural; Cruel Sacrifice (book); folk art; Folk Art Museum; gun; Jill Carol; Jimmy Hoffa; Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft; Kim Jong Il; Mike Nelson; military; Morehead; mural; NRA; painting; Rodney Hatfield; Sears and Roebuck; self portrait; Shanda Sharer; University of Louisville; Watson Lane Elementary School


FERGUSON: The dirty room for cutting wood, storing boxes and keeping tools, so you know, I can, if I have to build something that’s not clay I’ve got pretty much everything I need to do it. It’s a mess . And then, this is my kind of recreational room that I, you know, if I need to make some slabs, or I need to hand-build something I’ll hand-build on this table. And this is a mural that I’m kind of, getting ready to finish of that was done by a bunch of 5th graders out at Watson Lane Elementary School, out on Dixie Highway. But, we didn’t have time to finish it so I’m kind of touching up the paint, kind of doing the background a little bit, and we’ll install it in a couple of weeks.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now, the kids themselves did these individual tiles?

FERGUSON: Yes, they did, every one of them. They made each tile is a kid’s.

WILLIHNGANZ: Did they put their names on them?

FERGUSON: I put their names on some of them but they stick initials on them. And so I took the liberty of writing some stuff on their shirts ‘cause some of them didn’t really get anything done. So I’ll go kind of touch a few things up. Put a little…get a silver magic marker and do some, kind of do some things that’ll make ‘em a little more exciting. We just didn’t have time. This was all we could do in the space of about eight days to get this done, ‘cause everything had to be dried out and fired, and then returned to school to be painted. Typically, you know, this, this is just acrylic paint and when it’s finished I’ll spray a clear sealer on it and it’ll, it’ll look almost like glazed.

WILLIHNGANZ: Some of these hadn’t finished painting.

FERGUSON: Right. Uh-huh.

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah. Okay, so, wow. Okay.

FERGUSON: That’s about it. This other room we don’t even need to go into. That’s just like a sink and a work table.


FERGUSON: And then of course the front room here, and this middle room, are just sort of like display areas.

WILLIHNGANZ: Maybe you could just sort of talk me through some of these.


WILLIHNGANZ: Not all of them necessarily but…

FERGUSON: Alright. This is an interesting one. There was a show called, ‘Bridges’ at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, and one of the theories about Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance was he was dumped down in the Keys off the seven-mile bridge. And of course they destroyed part of it and rebuilt it. So this is supposed to be Mike Nelson from Sea Hunt getting ready to find Jimmy Hoffa’s body, which was in that oil drum. You see the bones spilling out. So that’s kind of an interesting piece. And then, here we have a couple of Kim pieces. Get the price tag off there. Kim Jung Ill. We have, we have a comment on water pollution in a stream. This is called headwaters down here.

WILLIHNGANZ: Where is that?

FERGUSON: Down here. It’s called Headwaters and its water is being polluted as it descends down the mountain, and there’s the front of it is actually an Indian face in the rock who’s crying. I can rotate it if you want me to.

WILLIHNGANZ: No, that’s good. I can see it actually.

FERGUSON: The other side it kind of turns into a scene with a cup that say, ‘Baby’s first drink.’

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay. Now what is the little door down there?

FERGUSON: It’s like an access to a coal mine.

WILLIHNGANZ: Hmm, that’s interesting. Okay. Tell me about the next one over here.

FERGUSON: This one here. This is the…that revolved around the murder of Shanda Sharer over in Indiana about fifteen years ago, and four girls put her in the trunk of the car, and beat her up and burned her, pretty much alive, on the side of the road. And so that’s my comment on that. And it’s a gas can because that’s what they did. They had a can of gas in the car and poured it on her and, my daughter said she was so upset by this. At the time she was only twelve. The same age as these girls so I made this piece.

WILLIHNGANZ: Did it help your daughter deal with it?

FERGUSON: No. But it kind of helped me deal with it.

WILLIHNGANZ: Tell me about the figures on the back end here.

FERGUSON: Want me, want me to rotate it?


FERGUSON: Okay. So, these four girls…and you see there…I’ve made them look like feral coyotes or something because they were definitely operating on an animal level. And then the white bird, you know, that’s kind of Shandra’s spirit, kind of rising above all that. And Cruel Sacrifice is the title of the book that was written about this.

WILLIHNGANZ: Wow. That’s a great piece. So, tell me about this one.

FERGUSON: Ah, this one here. Oh, this is just kind of your basic, sort of NRA, AK-47, [unintelligible]. That’s a…I’ve done a series of nudes lately and…but that one there was just a little different.

WILLIHNGANZ: What, what about this gun over here?

FERGUSON: Oh, okay, well, that’s…I did a series of guns for a [unintelligible] Model show because they were opening up the firearms museum. And that one is a replication of a gun that was made during World War II, and it was called a Guide and Lamp liberator. It was a pressed steal .45 that shot one bullet and they were airdropped to all the partisans. And what they were meant is, you had one bullet to shoot a German and then steal his gun. But that’s a Guide and Lamp Liberator so they were just the cheapest weapon possible. ‘Course if you ever find one they’re worth a couple, $3000. But I made a series of odd, recognizable firearms thinking someone from the firearms museum would buy one for the guy that owned the firearms museum but nobody ever did, so .

WILLIHNGANZ: What about the Jesus figure next to it?

FERGUSON: Well, that’s sort of interesting. It’s sort of like a combination of Jesus and [unintelligible] hippie fan. I did a series of sort of self-portraits and that was kind of one of them that I made him look like he had bleached hair with dark roots.

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah, these here…these self-portraits are these ones over here?

FERGUSON: Yeah. Those are all self-portraits and they range from my days as a little greaser to a…and its all about the hair, duck tail, flat top or fenders. Then it goes to your Beatle mania look, then it goes to your army crew cut, then it goes to your handlebar mustache…been there done that.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now, are these based on photographs of you or just how you remember yourself?

FERGUSON: Well, actually, how I remember myself. Which is kind of funny, because I did a series of heads of people I grew up with…from memory. Grew up in Northern Kentucky and had some of these people…they just couldn’t believe it. They’re going, ‘Man, I can’t.’ I said. Even then. It really looked like them. But they were from memory.



WILLIHNGANZ: And tell me about this one up here too.

FERGUSON: Well, that’s a comment, on the Danish cartoon that created a furor in Denmark. It was supposedly an image of Muhammad, which is strictly forbidden, and I went ahead and did some myself and its basically saying, ‘Who am I.’ Well, that could be any religious figure. It could be Muhammad, it could be Greek Orthodox, it could be Jesus, it could be a Southern Pentecostal preacher. It could be anything. But the main thing just is religious wars and religions crisis. They’re just like endemic and never ending and downright scary.

WILLIHNGANZ: Wow. How about the figure next to it?

FERGUSON: The figure next to it I saw a program on; I can’t remember. Secrets of the dead on KET and a few other articles about bog mummies and they look so clay like, and leather like, and I had this clay that just really responded well to being shaped like that and so I made a series. I only did about four of them, of these bog mummies and bog mummies in general were murdered and thrown into a bog. And a lot of people think that they were like criminals and they were very, the people were just, really wanted to be rid of them so a lot of times they had nooses around their neck and stuff like that.

WILLIHNGANZ: How ‘bout this picture over here. What’s this?

FERGUSON: Well, see now…that shows my sort of…my folk art kind of approach to painting. That’s supposedly Jill Carol, the Christian Science Monitor news girl who was captured by the Iraqis and held for about six months. And I saw this frozen photograph of her, like it was on Al Jazeera and so I, I kind of, kind of copied it a little bit.


FERGUSON: Doesn’t look anything at all like her.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay. I’m very interested in this particular piece here.

FERGUSON: Well, now that…let me if…let me see the other side here. Yeah, let me rotate it around. It’ll take a little doing.

WILLIHNGANZ: Again, this is at U of L?

FERGUSON: U of L. Uh-huh.

WILLIHNGANZ: What were they demonstrating?

FERGUSON: Yeah, we were demonstrating. So this was my demo piece, and of course, you know, it’s all about pottery. There’s traditional jugs and things, and so this is supposed to be like a kiln man, okay. So here’s the place where the damper is for the chimney and there’s smoke coming out of the chimney, and the little whistles [blows one] are the little whistles that I do, and its kind of like he’s made out of wood and he’s feeding himself to the fire a little bit at a time so, the title of the piece is called Hot Head. This is just a demo piece. It’s something that I did one of and probably could revert back to doing some pieces like that again, but maybe not.

WILLIHNGANZ: Are these paintings that you do up here?

FERGUSON: Yeah, those are just little drawings that I do every now and then, working with kids, so they’re…we just work with some of the easiest things that we can get: markers, colored pencils, paint, that dimensional fabric paint that you get that you squeeze out of a tube.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now, I’ve done some really intricate drawings and they revert a lot back to my sort of archaeological background, little hieroglyphs, sort of figures. They kind of had a meso-American look, some of them. I don’t do them that often. Actually I haven’t done a drawing like that in several years, but when I’m with kids…I really…we, actually like this one here…is just the design that we would do on our art folder. We always have an art folder so you can see it says A-R-T and then I just kind of work with them and we try to create something that’s got a lot of detail, and that way we can talk about, you know…some of the things that they’re learning about in school as far as geometric design and motif.

WILLIHNGANZ: How ‘bout these pictures over here. These are--

FERGUSON: Now, these are my four paintings that I did for a folk art show. That’s class of ‘65. Anybody who refers to themselves as class of ‘65 was probably very concerned they were going to find something in their mailbox that was from the Selective Service System and so here’s this young guy, you know. He’s got, he’s got his letter probably saying, report for a physical and you can go to exotic places and meet exotic people and kill them.


FERGUSON: And this is my brother and I. When my dad was in Germany, with my Aunt Audrey down in Williamsburg, Kentucky, in a little coal camp, and we literally went to a two-room schoolhouse. They had a coal stove, a bucket and a dipper and an outhouse. And my brother and I, we would always bring fried bologna sandwiches or biscuits and apple-butter for lunch. And one day this kid brought some sardines and the teacher just hated that ‘cause they smelled. It just wasn’t the thing to bring. So this is kind of a memory of that. Then of course then there’s all the carvings on the bench. ‘Ronnie is stupid.’ That’s my cousin. ‘Diane loves Lem.’ That’s my cousin and my brother. ‘Melvin is a Commie.’ That’s my cousin. Orville, that’s my father. So. ‘How to Spell,’ by R. Hatfield. Rodney Hatfield, otherwise known as Art Snake. I’d get digs in on him all the time. All the time. So. And then that one, that’s my brother and I. Went over to where the neighbor’s goat was and I don’t know why we did this but we cut the beard off the goat with a pair of scissors. No, it was a pocketknife, but I had painted scissors on there. Anyway, but we cut the beard off of this Billy goat and put it under a rock and it was like, this thing that’s stuck in my mind, you know, and we were only like eight years old and sort of, I don’t know, it was like a mischievous thing we did, almost kind of ritualistic thing that we did. Probably nobody even noticed it, and the goat didn’t care. But, I just painted that, you know, so it’s got the corncrib in the background. And, we always got our school clothes from Sears and Roebuck. We’d look at a Sears catalog and my mom would go, ‘You want these flannel shirts and these jeans.’ So, they would come in a box and, so that’s from Sears and Roebuck, going to, to my dad’s address in Williamsburg, Kentucky. So, like I said, I violate every rule of good painting . You know, outline everything in black. I paint ‘em the way I would paint a platter if I were using ceramic materials. That’s a, the comment on the folk art phenomena…the dealers flashing their money around and, I’ve got a friend who used to be a potter named Adrian Swain, and he’s the folk art curator at the Folk Art Museum at Morehead. And so he’s supposedly in there. I’m not gonna point him out and so then you got the, the guy carving the figures as fast as he possibly can. So.

WILLIHNGANZ: Tell me about this piece down on the floor. This really kind of amazes me.

FERGUSON: Well…that I’m into military stuff. I’m into old military rifles and this particular piece there’s a saying, ‘There are no atheists in a foxhole.’ And there are pieces that are created by these guys in wars, you know…that are, you know…that are done, you know…to kind of…its like, you know…if you don’t believe, you know…believe while you’re here, you know what I’m saying. Your odds of surviving may be increased. So that’s kind of what that is, its pieces of old military gunstocks and, and bayonets and spent cartridges and this little wire Jesus. I used to do this little wire Jesus’ when I was in high school and so I just decided to do one of these things here. It’s like, you know, there are no atheists in a foxhole. So.

WILLIHNGANZ: Were you ever in the military?

FERGUSON: Yeah, I was in the Air Force, so. The good old Air Force.

WILLIHNGANZ: Anything else you feel moved on…?

FERGUSON: No, no. I think we’ve covered it all. You’ve done a great job.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate it.

FERGUSON: So, I guess when this is edited down you’ll have, will you like, do a CD, or…

WILLIHNGANZ: Yes, I will do a DVD and I will send you a copy.

FERGUSON: This is gonna get archived then?


FERGUSON: That’s great. How many, how many have you interviewed so far?

WILLIHNGANZ: About 22 people.

FERGUSON: Oh, my god.

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah, I’m not done yet…

FERGUSON: Wow. Well, who do they, how do they determine who does it.

WILLIHNGANZ: They have a committee.

FERGUSON: Now, here’s some of the work that I’ve done for my retrospective. There’s little Ennis. You know who he is?


FERGUSON: He was a left-handed, upside down guitar player in Lexington. And a lot of the art department people used to go over to Boots’ Bar and Grill and hang out with him. So, a really interesting character. So.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, anyway, nothing else. You’ve given me a trove of…

FERGUSON: Well, listen, I appreciate it…

WILLIHNGANZ: interesting characters.

[End of Interview Part II]