Potterita lives up to nickname

FROM LEFT, Rita Hermanson-Mueller, Mark Mueller and their granddaughter, Jade, smile under the tent Rita has used at local art fairs for years. This year, she’s switched from selling pottery and paintings at art fairs to selling from her home. Joe Schulz photo

by Joe Schulz

Nestled on a farm in Berlin, local artist Rita Hermanson-Mueller has switched from selling pottery and paintings at art fairs to selling from her home.

Known by the art community as “Potterita,” she grew up in Hartford, Wis., developing a deep passion for making art. By the time she was 5, she knew that she wanted to be an artist. 

“When people would say, ‘What are you going to be when you grow up?’ I would always say, ‘I’m an artist,’” she said. “I always had that in me — no matter what I was doing — I always thought I was an artist.”

Rita latched onto artwork as a form of self-expression and a way to convey emotions. 

“I always say that it’s a release of my emotions, and I want my art to evoke a feeling,” she said.

Rita’s grandparents lived with her growing up; her grandfather encouraged her to pursue her passion. The duo would sit outside, look at the clouds and muse what kind of shapes or figures it saw. 

After graduating high school at age 16, Rita’s mother helped her get into Milwaukee School of the Arts for a summer. At the time, she was the youngest in the class and was self-conscious about her skill level. 

“I thought that I wasn’t good enough by any means, but my mom encouraged me and that was what started my formal education,” Rita said. “I went that summer and took a figure drawing and irregular drawing [class].”

Following a summer in Milwaukee, she moved to California, where she attended community college, taking “every art class they had” including courses on painting, ceramics, drawing and sculpture.

In 1981, Rita returned to the area to attend the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, where she graduated with a bachelor’s of arts degree after studying ceramics, painting and drawing. 

After graduating college, Rita joked that she “went right into waitressing,” as she didn’t have a way to make money from her artwork right away. 

“I gave all my artwork away,” she said. “I made it and gave it away. I made pottery and gave it away.”

Rita didn’t turn her passion for art into a business until after an unfortunate accident in 1995. 

“I went through the windshield of a truck in 1995, and [doctors] said I would never do art fairs again or do art at all,” she said. 

Before the crash, she had gotten a job at a graphic design company. However, following the accident, she lost the position.

Rita didn’t let the accident deter her from her dream of being a professional artist. She began rehabbing and worked toward recovery. One year after the accident, she painted the pots that she made before the car crash. 

Rita eventually made a comeback in 1997, when she began going to art fairs across the Midwest. Notably, she’s been a regular at the Green Lake Fine Arts show for more than a decade. 

In 1999, Rita married her husband, Mark Mueller. She noted he has been instrumental in helping her attend art fairs, assisting with set up and tear down.

“My husband has been awesome,” Rita said. “Without him, I wouldn’t have been able to go to art fairs.”

At the time, her business was named “Nature’s Color.” However, an art fair in Manitowoc, Wis., would inevitably create the spark of inspiration for the name “Potterita.” 

She was selling pottery, paintings and other items at the fair. A man in a nearby tent was selling jewelry with his girlfriend. 

Potterita displays a ceramic bowl she recently made. Joe Schulz photo

“I was getting annoyed with them because the guy kept calling me ‘Potter-woman’ all day long and I’d say, ‘Hey, my name’s Rita,’” she said. “That happened all-day long. In the end, he was like, ‘Hey Potter,’ and I yelled, ‘Rita!’”

After that exchange, she thought: “Potterita, I could use that.” Her business has been dubbed “Potterita” ever since. 

After frequenting art fairs for decades, Rita has been selling art from her farm at N2226 Chicago Road in Berlin. Many art shows have been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

She misses the camaraderie of art shows, but enjoys selling her wares from home and building an online business, while allowing her to spend more time with her granddaughter, Jade.

“It pushed me to do exactly what I’ve always wanted,” Rita said. “I can have people come here, in a relaxed atmosphere, meet my horse, play unicorn with Jade and I — if they want to — and come into my gallery, give me orders or buy my work.”

Overall, she misses the sense of community built at art shows but is excited to try something new. 

Appointments and orders can be made on the “Potterita” Facebook page or at www.potterita.com.