If you’ve been in or around Knifewear Calgary or the Kent of Inglewood shop in the last couple of years, you’ve probably at least caught a very colourful glimpse of Samii Hoffman. Samii is the one-woman show behind Calgary-based ceramics Fox Den Studios and the maker of one of our most popular shaving mugs.
I got to sit down with Samii at her studio space in Inglewood. It’s a long, bright space with high ceilings and too many hanging plants to count, which gives off a delightfully earthy scent. She’s the utter definition of an “artist”: lemon-yellow cateye glasses, pink glitter platform sneakers, and hair as colourful as all her tattoos. It never stays one colour for very long, and neither do the glazes she works with every evening after her day job with us. Samii is all smiles and stories when she talks about her craft.
“I tried some pottery [for] the first time in high school; at the time, I didn’t think much of it as it was just a one-time project. It was good, but nothing I was really excited about, so I was trying to get a tattoo apprenticeship to be a portrait tattoo artist (yeesh!).” That would’ve been a good fit for her, too. Samii still paints everything, from canvas to her kitchen cabinets.
Photo by @kyleestrella
“In college, I was introduced to new sculpture mediums like welding, bronze casting, and woodworking which I think sparked the fire of working with my hands directly. I like how predictably unpredictable ceramics [can be]. I could do everything right, and it could still fail: It’s a great metaphor for life… Ceramics practice keeps you very humble, and I’m not very precious with it. When things don’t work out, I return to a project and take time to learn from a mistake to improve the next one.”
“It officially clicked for me that this was [the] way I wanted to work when I was allowed to learn how to use a wheel.” It’s been 12 years since that day, and Samii is still at it. Although things started practically, she still had some concerns about ceramics: “I felt I wouldn’t be taken seriously as an artist if I made functional ware in university, as many people didn’t see how those pieces were fine art (this is a topic I can talk about all day: Art vs. Craft!). After school, though, I actually stopped making art for a couple of years until I finally decided that the only thing I really wanted to do was play with clay and muddle in the mud!”
“Growing up in Central Alberta, you had a lot of room to explore small forested areas and huge fields of farmland. Foxes, actually, were the only animals I never got to find! I always saw them when driving, and they were difficult to spot, keeping hidden and elusive: I guess that made seeing them all the more exciting.”
Photo by @kyleestrella
The connection, she explains, is closer to folklore, with foxes living “life on the cusp of good (zenko) and bad (yako) within various regions, especially Japan. Clever, cunning, independent, mischievous.” Fox Den Studio itself marries two ideas for Samii: a wild, playful, and intelligent animal with all the comfort and safety of a den. “I like to think of Den as allowing me to welcome other animals [and] design elements into my work; host my fox’s friends and the groovy vibes in my studio.” The vibes are indeed groovy. Many of the newer pieces coming out of Fox Den Studios are painted with swaths of bright colours that feel right at home in the Danish pastel aesthetic: all stylish squiggles and curves.
“What I love as a creator and as the single person behind a brand is that I feel like I can do what I like.” Samii’s vision is for Fox Den Studio to “grow toward exploration,” with larger vessels and vases and complex carved designs in the future, always while maintaining a few key elements. One of the key markers of a Fox Den bowl is what she calls Tessellation Carving, which features on the inside of most of her pieces. Samii carves hundreds of little divots on the interiors (and sometimes exteriors) for both a unique look and a texture that makes whipping up a lather much faster and easier.
The signature mottled texture inside Samii's scuttles makes them incredible for lather shaving cream.
“I want people to feel stimulated by holding my work; from touching the textures, and feeling the carved marks I’ve put into the clay. I want them to feel at ease while experiencing my work and have something that sparks joy when using the piece they got.”
You can find Samii at Knifewear Calgary, selling her foxy wares around local craft fairs and night markets, or on her website at foxdenstudio.ca. I warn you, though: like any quality gear, the correct amount of mugs by Samii is always one more than you currently have. (I’m at 7.)