Stephen Ferrell has been an advocate for the alkaline-glazed stoneware pottery tradition for almost forty years. Ferrell and his father, Terry, began collecting and studying alkaline-glazed stoneware in the 1960s and today their collection is one of the most extensive private collections in the country. Their collection includes examples from all the potteries in the Edgefield area, Landrum potteries in Columbia, several upstate potteries, and Native American pottery.
In 1976, Ferrell worked with the Greenville Museum of Art to curate the exhibit “Early Decorated Stoneware of the Edgefield District South Carolina.” This was one of the earliest exhibitions focusing on Edgefield pottery and it helped inform numerous research projects, including John Burrison’s seminal publication Brothers in Clay and the McKissick Museum exhibitions “Above the Fall Line” and “Carolina Folk.” Ferrell fast developed close friendships with scholars and potters alike – relationships that encouraged continued research from North Carolina to Texas. Most recently, he was a key consultant in the publication of Leonard Todd’s Carolina Clay, a book that has reached an international audience.
Ferrell assisted on the Alkaline-glazed Stoneware Survey, a project conducted by Cinda Baldwin that resulted in the exhibition and companion publication “Crossroads of Clay.” Because of his passion for Edgefield pottery, Ferrell was invited to become the potter in residence in downtown Edgefield in 1992. From the pottery’s location on Simpkins Street, Ferrell demonstrates traditional potting techniques and shares information about alkaline-glazed pottery to thousands of visitors every year. His knowledge of local geologic resources is based on historical records and his own explorations of the local area. An active member of the Edgefield Historical Society, Ferrell is also a partner with the Piedmont Technical College’s clay program.
Recently, he worked with other area potters to construct a community-based, wood-fired kiln near Pottersville. South Carolina Educational Television (SCETV) produced a website entitled “A Natural State” that features artists from around the state who use natural materials in their work. SCETV chose Ferrell to represent the pottery traditions of South Carolina. Through this website alone, which is directly primarily at the K-12 demographic, Ferrell has reached thousands of people. Largely through the advocacy efforts of Ferrell, examples of Edgefield pottery have found their way into some of the most important institutional collections in the country, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the High Museum of Art, in addition to the major museums within the state. Ferrell received the Jean Laney Harris Folk Heritage Award in 2012.