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FirstHealth of the Carolinas
Mike Ferree Leading a double life in pottery By Brenda Bouser

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 Eastern states.

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.”

Educating potters 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 ceramic instructors.”

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 their families.

“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 own style.

“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 other way.”