Pottery art is her reward for ‘being messy’

Making pottery is ‘like making cookies, you have a recipe’
Ozaukee Press staff

Amy Hafeman of Saukville developed a burning passion for art that involved firing a kiln in college, and now she gets to share her hobby with others.

One of the stops on the annual Covered Bridge Art Studio Tour this weekend is Hafeman’s basement.

That is where Hafeman creates her original pieces of pottery, or as she puts it, where “it’s fun being messy.”

While making pottery gets her hands dirty, Hafeman has a meticulous method to her madness. She created a notebook that describes in detail the steps to make pieces, including the type of clay and glaze, dunking schedule, firing and drying instructions and even sketches of what the piece should look like.

“I take extensive notes,” Hafeman said. Pages for pieces that turn out “phenomenal” receive a star, she said.

Hafeman starts with a combination of four types of clays in different colors -— beige, red (which turns brown), speckle and porcelain.

She sandwiches them into a wedge and lets her machine do the rest of the work.

“While the wheel is spinning, it’s mixing the clays,” she said.

Then she lets the pieces dry and bisque fires them for 14 hours in a kiln in her garage. That turns them into ceramic pieces but still allows them to be decorated.

After a half day of cooling, it’s time to glaze, when Hafeman really gets to be creative.

While some artists buy glazes, she prepares her own from scratch with powder made of oxides, ash, clat and frits. Hafeman mixes them with water and stores them in buckets.

“It’s kind of like making cookies. You have a recipe,” she said. 

Notes in large print on combinations to make certain glaze colors hang on a wall behind the table where Hafeman glazes her work, and she has created test tiles that show what pieces look like with the glaze number on them.

Pieces ready for glazing are dumped into the bucket or are decorated another way. Hafeman makes a bubble glaze by mixing an underglaze with water and dish soap in a bowl, then blowing through a straw into the glaze, letting the bubbles fall onto the piece of pottery.

Glazing is her favorite part.

“I’m really getting psyched about some of the new glazes,” Hafeman said.

After glazing, pieces go back into the kiln for eight hours of final firing.

When she opens the kiln to see her finished pieces and their color combinations, “it’s like Christmas morning,” Hafeman said.

One way Hafeman captures unique designs on mugs is by using patterns from rubber items such as sink mats, then forming them by hand instead of on the wheel.

“If I see one I don’t have, I buy it,” she said of rubber mat designs.

Before she starts, she has an idea of what a piece should look like. At this point, she knows by eye and muscle memory how tall mugs need to be to match their handles.

“When you move beyond beginner (status), you have to have it in your head and I’m finally to that point,” Hafeman said.

Pieces that don’t turn out like she thought don’t bother her. They go back into one of four buckets — one for each type of  clay — near a dehumidifier in her basement.

Most of her materials come from the Pottery Shop in Waukesha. She buys 500 pounds of clay at a time and has to be careful her car doesn’t bottom out.

Hafeman fell in love with art as a child growing up in the Batavia area.

“My mom would sit me at the kitchen table with a scissors, glue and pad of construction paper,” she said. “I would sit there for hours on a Saturday.”

Her grandparents helped nuture her interest, either by hand or genetics.

She would retrace or redraw pictures in coloring books with her grandfather. Her grandmother had entered crafts and drawings through 4-H, but the skill skipped a generation. Her parents are retired blue-collar workers and not artists.

Hafeman graduated from Random Lake High School in 1995 — her maiden name is Mueller — and found her passion during pottery class while pursuing an arts degree at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

“I was the best in the class. I nailed it. I understood it,” she said.

After college, Hafeman continued partaking in her hobby by signing up for classes at community colleges, where classmates marveled at her skill. She didn’t need the instruction, but that was the only way Hafeman could gain access to expensive equipment such as a pottery wheel and a kiln.

Hafeman works in an artsy field — she’s a graphic artist at the wet wipes and liquid fill products manufacturer at Guy & O’Neill in Fredonia — and when she moved to Saukville, she slowly started buying her own pottery equipment. It now envelopes most of her and her husband’s basement.

Hafeman tries to spend one to two hours per day on pottery and every weekend to get ready for four shows per year.

“I would call this a full-time hobby,” she said.

Hafeman said she prefers pottery over other types of art because it does more than just hang on a wall or rest on a desk.

“I like pottery because I can use it. It’s not just a decoration,” Hafeman said.

She has made mugs, pencil holders, vases and even an egg cooker that only requires 30 seconds in a microwave.

Pottery isn’t her only creative outlet. She home makes cleaning supplies and bath lotion, and has sewn pillows and drapes.

“I actually made shirts over the pandemic,” she said.

“You name it, I’ve tried to create it.”

Pottery, however, is her favorite. The Covered Bridge Art Studio Tour won’t be Hafeman’s first show — she participated in shows at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Washington and at Fish Day — but this might be her favorite. She will be doing demonstrations on her pottery wheel in her home at 520 N. Mill St.

“It’ll be a good three days. I can be down here and play. No cleaning or laundry,” she said.

For more information on Hafeman, visit www.amyhafemanndesign.com.



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