Mike Ferree practices what he teaches. As lead instructor in Montgomery Community College’s professional clay curriculum, he teaches people how to make pots and how to make a living at it.
As a professional potter, he has participated in a number
of one-man shows and exhibited his work in several
He loves both aspects of his career. “One embraces the
other,” he says.
A native of Asheboro, just miles from the undisputed
heart of North Carolina Pottery Country, Ferree grew up
regarding Seagrove as “another small town on the way to
the beach.” Until he got to college, he had never seen a pot
thrown on a wheel.
“After that, I fell in love with it,” he says.
Ferree now loves everything about pottery and regards the
region’s professional potters as partners in the community
college’s clay program. He estimates that up to 50 percent
of them have studied there. He joined the school 31 years
ago when college-supported clay programs were few and far
between and when most of the students in the Montgomery
program came from outside North Carolina.
“About 80 percent of our students came from out of state
in the beginning,” he says. “Now they’re in-state and local.
The potters in Seagrove have done so much to support us.
They give us the good word and have been a key element
in encouraging our program.”
By hiring students from Ferree’s program, they also
continue a North Carolina tradition of potters helping
potters. “A lot of my students today may graduate from
this program and go to work for other potters and
learn additional information that they can’t learn in the
classroom,” he says.
Like dozens of other Pottery Country potters, Ferree
supports the Pottery Plus Auction, the major fundraiser for
the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation. As he has for many
years, he has donated a piece to be auctioned at the 2008 event
to be held Oct. 4 at the Country Club of North Carolina.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility,” he says. “Who knows,
I might be in a situation where I might need help, too, one
day. I want to use my training and God-given talents to
help others, and the auction is a great way to get people to
join together to help others.”
Ferree has a bachelor’s degree in art education from the
University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he took
his first clay course, and an MFA in ceramic design from
the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. At the
time, he says, “There weren’t too many jobs available for
He taught art in public schools for a while and heard
about the opening in the community college’s professional
crafts program from a friend. “I liked what the program
had to offer,” he says.
What he liked was that the fact that the program not only
taught pottery but also taught potters how to produce—to
turn out enough of their work to support themselves and
“We teach people how to make good quality pots and
duplicate the pots to help make a living at it,” he says.
Despite more than three decades in his work with
Montgomery Community College, Ferree is still energized
by the program that is now a two-year curriculum course
of study. Depending on the amount of time they want to
spend in the classroom, Ferree’s students can earn either a
certificate in clay courses; a diploma, which includes some
academic courses; or a college-transferable associate degree.
The program operates year-round with both day and
night classes and, in addition to the production-oriented
instruction, includes some design classes that Ferree added
to encourage creative expression.
“I really enjoy teaching,” he says. “I like working with
students and helping them learn to become potters.”
A potter at heart
Although kept busy by his teaching career, Ferree has
continued his dual role as a professional potter, working
from his home and turning out pots that are very much his
“A lot of what I do is like an abstraction of natural objects
that surround me,” he says. “I interpret these objects into
my own ideas in my pots. Everything is somewhat stylized
to create a design on the surface of the pot.”
Two of Ferree’s large clay forms are now on permanent
display in public buildings in Montgomery—one in the
Social Services Building in Troy and the other in the Mt.
Gilead Museum. Both were commissioned to showcase the
county’s natural resources.
Ferree also participates in a well-attended annual show
with old friend and North Carolina artist Lenton Slack.
Held each fall at Slack’s home in Asheboro, the show
attracts newcomers as well as longtime collectors of
Ferree’s pottery and Slack’s paintings.
Years ago, the two also began a tradition of donating
a collaborative piece for the North Carolina Zoological
Society’s annual auction.
Married and a father and a grandfather, Ferree believes
that he has achieved the perfect professional balance as a
potter and as a teacher of potters.
“I feel very fortunate,” he says. “I wouldn’t have it any