ELKTON — Growing up in an animal-loving family, Brad Hagmayer said he was surrounded by pets since day one. A Beagle and a Siamese cat preceded his arrival. Chickens, ducks, tropical fish and rabbits filled his childhood.
A ceramic artist, Hagmayer is now known primarily for two very different creatures – octopuses and French bulldogs.
“I’m the octopus guy, but to others I’m the mushroom guy and the French bulldog guy,” Hagmayer said.
Step into the special exhibit gallery at The Palette & The Page in Elkton this month and see whimsical sea creatures, funky fungus and playful French bulldogs. Hagmayer’s 3-D works are on display alongside pastel paintings from Mary Lou Griffin as part of the show “Soft Lines/Hard Contours.”
Hagmayer is a ceramic artist who grew up and continues to live in Royersford, Pa. His parents, primarily his mother, nurtured his respect for animals.
In 1979, Hagmayer’s mother signed up with the local game commission to foster abandoned raccoons. Jester B. Coon came to Hagmayer a few weeks old, spent the summer and was released in upstate Pennsylvania that autumn.
“He followed me around like a dog,” Hagmayer recalled, adding he strung up one of his mother’s macrame creations for the raccoon to live in.
Having a raccoon as a pet was a catalyst for wanting a career with animals. Hagmayer is now hospital manager for an animal hospital in Upper Darby, Pa.
Hagmayer said he was unknowingly memorizing the muscle structure, patterns, fur and feathers of his childhood friends. His study of animals gave him the right background to capture animals with art.
His passion is ceramic sculpture, but he has also played with painting and photography. His photographs have been published and can be seen in “The French Bull Dog,” a Kennel Club Publication.
Hagmayer’s French bulldog Tansey, a licensed therapy dog, is a common model for his work and often found snoozing under his desk at work or in the ceramic studio.
In the early 2000s, Hagmayer’s mother got involved in the French bulldog circuit when a breeder asked to show her dog. The dog ended up becoming a champion. Hagmayer found a new group interested in his work after he made a ceramic French bulldog to donate to a show raffle.
Instead of selling his work at art shows, Hagmayer started traveling to dog shows. This unique marketing also resulted in his sculptures selling to individuals in areas as far reaching as Canada, England, Germany, Finland, Norway, Italy, Brazil and Japan.
His octopuses came about when he wanted to create a series of little creatures for his god daughter to unwrap at the holidays. Now he makes them in all sizes and colors.
The twisting arms can be a challenge – not only because they are more delicate but also because they will cool faster than the body – so he will finish them first with the help of a heat gun.
Although his work is not functional, Hagmayer said he thinks viewers are thrilled to see something surprising and different.
His art also includes ceramic dinosaurs and rabbits. At home, he has even more animals. In addition to his dog, Hagmayer has cats.
“They know when I’m eating at the table and when I’m doing art,” he joked. “The younger ones might knock an octopus leg if they walk on the table at night.”
Although the cats often interrupt his work, Hagmayer said he hasn’t gotten into putting them in his art.
That could be what’s next.
“I’m constantly pushing myself to bend the rules with clay,” he said.
“Soft Lines/Hard Contours” will be on display throughout December. The event is free and works are also for sale in the gallery. The Palette & The Page is located at 120 E. Main St. in Elkton. For more information, contact 410-398-3636 or visit thepaletteandthepage.com.