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Storytelling Portraits


Shea Stanfield
Arts Columnist

In Michael Blake’s novel ‘Dances with Wolves’, the character Lt. John Dunbar wrote in his journal regarding the Native American people, “They were a people so eager to laugh, so devoted to family, so dedicated to each other. The only word that comes to my mind is harmony.” Since childhood, local artist Ken Ferguson has been fascinated by 18th and 19th century military history, as well as the ways of this continent’s “First People.” Both are “front and center” in Ken’s long legacy of work.

Ken began his imaginative, fact-based storytelling as a child. Growing up in the Chicago area, he spent long hours meticulously sculpting and painting toy soldiers, as well as drawing subjects from the natural world of interest to him. Fueling the fires of young Ken’s imagination were trips to Chicago’s Field Museum, where he recalls, “I found it to be a mysterious and wonderful place. The Field Museum was my first exposure to historic artifacts from around the world, including those of the North American Continent’s Native people.” His mother, an accomplished watercolorist in her own right, guided Ken through the basics of composition, drawing, and watercolor to bring his observations and fascinations with the past to vivid and colorful life.

The idea of pursuing art as a career path didn’t come together for Ken until college. While attending Northern Illinois University to complete a BFA in illustration, he took classes in the University’s art department. Here, he received encouragement and guidance in how to make it as a full-time artist. Ken also found art history classes of particular interest because they provided awareness of artistic styles and approaches used throughout history. To complement this historical knowledge the studio courses allowed Ken to experiment in a variety of mediums. He ultimately settled into his first medium of watercolor. Ken states, “I enjoy working from light to dark and watching the painting slowly evolve into life.”

Much as Blake is a storyteller with words, Ken Ferguson documents stories of those who have come before with his astonishingly provocative images. Regardless of the subject, ancient Puebloans of the American Southwest, a Dog Soldier of the Southern Cheyenne, or a Dragoon of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard, Ken’s characters come forth, from the surface, to meet us eye to eye in this century. 

Over the last 30 years, as a professional artist, Ken has developed his unique technique of using multiple overlays of pigment and controlled washes combined with dry brush and splatter. His use of contrasting techniques of tightly controlled areas juxtaposed with looser areas provides the paintings with a high level of detail and depth. The finishing touch is a clear archival acrylic varnish that eliminates the need for glass when framing the piece. Ken’s goal is to depict not only the individual in history but also include the objects of the era in proper context with his subject.  To accomplish this task, Ken is constantly researching firsthand pertinent collections, in museums, libraries, galleries, and private collections. He also has a personal library containing museum catalogs from around the world. This, in combination with historic site visits, provides the historic integrity for his work.

Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine honored Ken as a Master of the Southwest in 2014. His “storytelling portraits” are with private and corporate clients around the world. Throughout Ken Ferguson’s long career he has been honored with numerous awards and recognitions and has enjoyed the representation of notable galleries.  

View a complete list of Ken’s achievements, selections of his work, and exhibition schedule by visiting his Web site at Ken is exhibiting now through March 27 in The Celebration of Fine Art, now in its 26th year, located at Hayden and the Loop 101 in Scottsdale.

Contact Arts Columnist Shea Stanfield at