No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” — Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson

  • Husband and wife artists, Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson, (who married at Burning Man in 2011) create detailed, tactile, often whimsical large-scale artworks, including the penny-covered grizzly bears, Ursa Major (2016) and Ursa Mater (2017). Learn more about No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man.

    MRS. FERGUSON: This is Mr. Ferguson.

    MR. FERGUSON: And this is Mrs. Ferguson.

    MRS. FERGUSON: We go by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Ferguson Art. We met in 2008 at Burning Man. I’m originally from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

    MR. FERGUSON: I’m a homegrown boy here in Hayward, California. The beauty of Burning Man is that they allow anyone and everyone to be an artist if they choose. We didn’t have any experience or training getting into this or doing artist’s work, but we saw other people doing it and we thought, you know, we’d like to try. We did some modest things and built up from there. We got more and more complex. There are definitely specific roles that we have found over time that work for us. Lisa, I would say, out of the two of us, is the real artist. She has the inspiration; she has the artist’s eye. I am the Mr. Practical.

    MRS. FERGUSON: The can-do guy.

    MR. FERGUSON: She has to tell me what she wants, and I figure out how to make it, and how to get it done, how to get it there, and how to get it home.

    MRS. FERGUSON: With our first project, we had some ideas of working with some materials that we thought might work at Burning Man. They were a little more difficult than they should. It seems that the only materials that work out there are steel and wood. By 2011, we built ourselves some steel roses, which worked well because Robert owns a welding shop.

    MR. FERGUSON: Yeah.

    MRS. FERGUSON: We got married under those roses at Burning Man to continue this romance thing. In 2011, we built a wedding cake.

    MR. FERGUSON: Yes, and that was fine, too. We were finding out what worked out there.

    MRS. FERGUSON: Before I left Canada for the United States to be with my husband, the Canadian government was terminating the run of the Canadian penny, so there was going to be a lot of them around in piggy banks and in people’s drawers. I thought, why don’t we grab all of those, or as many of those as we can, and make a tribute to pennies or use them as a material.

    MR. FERGUSON: Then, the other added attraction there was that we decided to make a goose, a Canadian goose, because it kind of symbolized Lisa’s journey from Canada down to California to come and live here with me after we had been married.

    MRS. FERGUSON: We found that with this Penny the Goose project, people enjoyed pennies. They had an affinity with it. Perhaps it’s because everybody has pennies in their pockets, and every penny has a story. Then we thought, let’s try a new way of presenting pennies and try a different animal, a new challenge for us.

    MR. FERGUSON: Right.

    MRS. FERGUSON: So, we worked on our first bear.

    MR. FERGUSON: With this new project, this new Ursa Major project that we embarked on, we actually stood the pennies on end to simulate the fur of a bear. It really worked well.

    MRS. FERGUSON: The big challenge that we had, really, was learning how to carve a bear. The two of us didn’t have any formal education in carving animals or carving much of anything. We cut Ursa Major into a two-dimensional form, stood her up, and looked at it and looked at it, and we were afraid to actually start cutting.

    MR. FERGUSON: At a certain point when I was about getting ready to say, “I have no idea what we are going to do from this point on,” Lisa picked up a small three-and-a-half-inch figurine, put it in her hand, and just started to carve.

    MRS. FERGUSON: Slowly, a bear was emerging, which was great. The penny placing was done with teams of friends, who we still can call friends, coming out on weekends and evenings. We would put down hundreds, sometimes thousands of pennies each session.

    MR. FERGUSON: My job was to mix up a batch of stucco for the penny placers to put the pennies in. I’d make a batch about two-foot by four-foot and lay that down almost like a cake, like a sheet cake. Then the placers would come in behind me and then would start laying the pennies one at a time.

    MRS. FERGUSON: That’s what we told people, that this bear was made one penny at a time, and that’s true.

    MR. FERGUSON: Yes. I think Ursa Major turned out better than we could have ever hoped. I mean, she looked wonderful out there. People were drawn to her so much.

    MRS. FERGUSON: There’s a little gag that happens to them, because they realize, oh it’s tactile and it’s made of pennies. Sometimes we stand back and we try to overhear what people are saying. It’s always the same thing. “This is made of pennies!” And they just keep touching it. It’s fun for them, because it’s tactile, and it’s absurd as well. The first question that gets asked is, “How many pennies are there?”

    MR. FERGUSON: About, plus or minus, 160,000 pennies.

    MRS. FERGUSON: But who is counting? The project you see here behind us, this is Ursa Mater. This is our 2017 contribution to Burning Man. We are quite proud of it. It’s not as tall as Ursa Major, but it’s wider and it includes two bear cubs this time.

    MR. FERGUSON: That’s right, more pennies.

    MRS. FERGUSON: We love mind trickery, we love texture, we love whimsical projects. We will keep taking those on as much as we have the energy and friends to help us. Will you help me make my next project?

    MR. FERGUSON: Yes, I will.

    MRS. FERGUSON: See, you have it on public record.