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A cashier draws colorful aliens in White River Junction. Now they'll appear in a NYC art show

A man behind a cashier counter is drawing on a small piece of paper with pen. He wears a green, red and black crocheted hat with black sunglasses rested on his head.
Nick Keating
/
Kishka Gallery & Library
Denver Ferguson draws portraits of fantastical creatures that often come to him in dreams. Next month, much of his work will be for sale at the Outsider Art Fair in New York City.

In the checkout line of the Upper Valley Food Co-op in White River Junction, you’ll often find Denver Ferguson sketching on a clipboard.

He draws colorful, bizarre creatures on the back of old scrap paper from the store.

Their faces are psychedelic and serious, like aliens posing for a mug shot. The images often come to him in dreams.

“I use metallic pens, along with my colored pencils so that brings out different dimensions to the art and show people what can be done with pencils and pens in small spaces,” Ferguson told me after a recent shift.

Ferguson liked art as a kid, but he only started drawing again after his daughter was born.

“From the time she was old enough to pretty much hold a pencil, she was already going for it,” he said. “That's kind of what got me deeper into it.”

Two portraits side by side drawn in colored pencil feature a big-like creature with sharp pointed teeth, blue eyes and antennae wearing a checkered shirt, and a human-looking figure with a purple face, orange hair, blue lips, pointed ears, and a third eye visible on their forehead.
Cooper Dodds
/
Kishka Gallery & Library
Ferguson often only works on his smaller pieces at the co-op. He'll visualize fully-formed characters before he comes to work.
Two portraits of creatures drawn in colored pencil side by side. The left is a snake-like creature with a split tongue, orange eyes with vertical pupils, link skin, and a cobra-head of colorful scales. On the right is a ferret-like creature with pink and orange fur, a green tongue, and a decorated shirt.
Cooper Dodds
/
Kishka Gallery & Library
Ferguson takes inspiration from Marvel Comics and growing up in the 1980s.

She’s 10 now, and lives with her mom in Tunbridge. Ferguson stayed there when he first moved to the area, from St. John in the Virgin Islands.

That was five years ago, after Hurricane Irma pounded the island.

Memories of the hurricane still show up in his art, like this character he calls Cyclone. He looks more human than a lot of the other figures Ferguson creates.

More from Vermont Public: This Vt. family is turning buildings into their canvas for bright and majestic community murals

In a recent drawing, Cyclone stands in the middle of a road with hands on his hips, wearing a top that’s a spiral of yellow and black. He stares ahead with his chin up as tornadoes whirl through the sky behind him.

“That's kind of like, my way of saying that I wish I was a protector like this guy, cause we didn't have that, we didn't have no one to protect us, any of that, from anything,” he said.

 A colored pencil drawing oriented vertically shows a man wearing glasses with a chiseled face standing in the middle of a road, hands on his hips, wearing a shirt that’s a spiral of yellow and black. 
He stares ahead, chin up as tornadoes whirl through the sky behind him against a landscape that looks like a farm of small trees. The word cyclone is written vertically in blue and yellow block letters inside one of the tornadoes.
Cooper Dodds
/
Kishka Gallery & Library
Hurricane Irma caused Ferguson to leave his home on St. John, in the Caribbean, and move to Vermont. Memories of the hurricane still show up in his art, like a character he calls Cyclone.

Ferguson had long planned to move to Vermont to be closer to his daughter. So when the hurricane ravaged his home in 2017, he took it as a sign it was time to leave.

On a trip to the state years earlier, he had visited the co-op in White River Junction. The store stuck with him. That’s how he came to work here now.

These days, a lot of his regular customers know him because of his artwork. They check in on his progress.

“That's the first thing they asked me, they're like, ‘Oh, what are you working on today?’” Ferguson said. “That's what I get almost every day now.”

Some have given him art supplies or look out for him in other ways.

Like, Ferguson doesn’t own a car. He takes the bus from where he lives now, in Lebanon, to get to work. But he said, just as often, someone he knows will offer him a ride.

A man with brown hands hold a small book open that shows black-and-white portraits done in pencil of four figures that look like aliens. Behind him are a series of colorful portraits in a similar style.
Lexi Krupp
/
Vermont Public
Ben Finer at Kishka Gallery worked with Ferguson to publish a small book of his drawings last year.
A man behind a checkout counter smiles at the camera. He's holding a pen above a clipboard that has a small piece of paper attached by a rubber band. In front of him is a case filled with different colored pens and colored pencils.
Nick Keating
/
Kishka Gallery & Library
A lot of Ferguson's regular customers know him because of his artwork. He calls the community encouraging and supportive.

One of the customers he befriended is Ben Finer. He co-owns Kishka Gallery & Library. It’s a short walk from the coop.

One day while Finer was getting lunch, he noticed what Ferguson was working on, and he liked what he saw.

At the time, Ferguson’s alien drawings were only in black and white. Finer worked with him to print a small book of the sketches.

Afterwards, Finer asked Ferguson to stop by the gallery with any new work. That’s when Ferguson arrived with color portraits.

“I keep telling people, Denver was sort of like, ‘Oh, if he liked those, I'm gonna really show him some good ones,’” Finer said.

That was over the summer and since then, Ferguson has been busy. He’s made nearly 60 pieces that he’s bringing to a show, along with Finer, called Outsider Art Fair in New York City that features self-taught artists.

Ferguson is looking forward to the trip. But for him, the show is just a bonus.

“As long as my brain is okay, and my hand is working, I think I’ll be working on art,” he said. “I literally fall asleep with pencil in my hand sometimes.”

“I think about it all the time.”

Artwork that's still in progress that shows the outline of a woman staring at the viewer with her arms outstretched. Behind her is an urban landscape interspersed with tropical plants.
Lexi Krupp
/
Vermont Public
On a recent visit to Kishka Gallery in White River Junction, Ferguson shared one of his drawings that's still in progress.

Lexi Krupp is a corps member for Report for America, a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and regions.

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Vermont is known for strong local communities, but it’s not cheap to live here. More and more, Vermonters are struggling to find affordable housing and child care — longstanding problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. I help you understand these issues and find people working towards solutions, especially in the Upper Valley and the Northeast Kingdom.

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