When Ciera Holder’s grandfather gave her the advice to do what makes you happy, she took it.
Being the first in her family to graduate college, Holder now works at the Times-Gazette circulation all while carrying on a ceramics side business, one she hopes to continue growing and one that began with her grandfather.
“My grandpa was firm in a way that taught you the lessons you needed to learn in life. But he was still grandpa—like I couldn’t wait to jump up in his lap,” she said.
Growing up poor in Flatgap, Ky., John Haden Ferguson learned to work with his two hands. He became a carpenter and built his house and his neighbor’s house for him. On the side he raised Tennessee Walking Horses.
Combining his two passions, he eventually made the ceramic heads for the Celebration.
“He never knew a stranger...I guess it’s that Kentuckian in him, but he’d talk to you like he’d known you forever,” she said.
Holder said some of her best childhood memories were when she would board a plane on the last day of school and fly up to her grandparents’ house in Springfield, Ohio for the summer.
Their farm was a two-acre “piece of heaven” where Grandpa Ferguson raised walking horses— one, named Senator Classic, which showed 58 times and ribboned 54.
“I’d spend my whole summer up there and we’d travel to Indiana to Kentucky, back down to Tennessee for the trade shows. That’s where I got my love for the walking horses,” Holder said.
“I was a tomboy. So, getting dirty with Papaw, chasing chickens, catching roosters...Oh my goodness, that was the light of my life,” she said.
But even when summer ended, Holder said she could still look forward to attending the Celebration. She did so religiously between the ages of five and 12, living in her grandparents’ trailer, which was split between a bed and the ceramics workshop.
Called Ferguson Classic Crafts, her grandparent’s side business began in the mid-90s and lasted through to her grandfather’s and grandmother’s deaths in 2006 and 2019 respectively.
Everything seen on their shelves was made from scratch, Holder said, including the handcrafted molds and ceramics which were fired in their kiln and painted on site.
Eventually, Holder began to focus on other pursuits through her young adulthood. It wasn’t until she took over her grandfather’s ceramics business three years ago and began looking through old magazines that she realized there was more to the Celebration than she remembered as a kid.
And she was inspired by the memory of her grandfather to continue the ceramics. She saw just how much it meant to him.
In 1995, one of Ferguson’s walkers, named Blocker, was being shown at a show around Kentucky. She got caught up in barbwire and was so wounded, she had to put her down right there at the show.
It was around that time, according to Holder, that her grandfather stopped showing and began focusing on ceramics.
Even though it was difficult for him to continue showing horses after that traumatic incident, Ferguson decided ceramics was the way to keep him involved in the industry he loved best.
“Horses--that was his life,” she said. And the one thing Holder can still hear is her grandfather saying, “walk on,” an inspiration that will keep her in the family business for the years to come as she looks to get her business license and open shop in Lynchburg