September 1, 2015
We’re kicking off our Chicago Maker Spotlights with a wonderful ceramicist, Abigail Murray. These stunning pieces will be heading to our flagship Fair on September 19+20!
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting history behind?
Nothing terribly interesting, my business name is my actual name. I spent most of my career making sculpture and installations, so I never really thought about it. A year or so after I began making functional ceramics, I got a call from a really great store that wanted to carry my work. It was a big opportunity but all happened fast so when they asked, “What’s the name of your brand?” I panicked and couldn’t come up with anything! I wish I’d been able to come up with something clever on the fly, it’d be nice to stay a little bit anonymous in the world.
When/Why did you start working in this particular craft/field?
I took my first ceramics class in high school and was hooked, but I was much more focused on sculpture. It wasn’t until years later, after grad school, that I began to think about making functional ware. I’d been doing residencies and making and exhibiting installations, but I was feeling sick of my own work, and even more sick of the conversations I was having about my work. At a party, I whined to a friend that I ‘just wanted to make things that were useful and beautiful, that people I like might want and could afford to buy.” She said that was nobel, which made me happy (and a little sad because that’s what passes for nobel these days??) and asked why I wasn’t doing it already. I couldn’t think of a single reason so here I am.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Nothing major yet, but about a thousand little failures. That’s not just the nature of small business, it’s the nature of ceramics. You have to make extra to make sure you get enough. I always get in trouble when I forget that. I still feel like I’m starting out in this part of my career, so I’m sure there are plenty of catastrophes to come!
What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?
My proudest moments are in the studio, making something new, seeing something I hadn’t noticed in the work before, finally getting something to work after struggling.
About a year ago I met a ceramist who put experiments and new things on the bottom shelves of her kilns because it gave her an extra incentive to unload when she’s tired. I thought it was brilliant and started doing the same thing. Even when the experiments flop, that moment when I get to the bottom shelf and see what’s there is my favorite.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
I pretty much gave up my fine art practice. I still work on projects with an art/architecture collaborative called Archolab, but I haven’t made a sculpture or installation of my own in years. Even the drawings I make these days are of prototypes. Most of the time I’m too busy to miss it much, but when I do it’s a kick in the gut. I miss the way of thinking, that way of problem solving, that way of exploration. Maybe I’ll get back to it one day. Hope so.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
There is a wonderful community of makers and artists in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit who are very supportive of each other. The number of things going on, and number of people making things is overwhelming, but it’s still a relatively small community that’s really accessible and welcoming. There’s so much history of making, and such powerful drive and work ethic. So many people creating and doing things. It’s hard not to be inspired.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
It’d be so much easier to come up with a list of things I wish I’d known! I didn’t start off all that good at the business end of things, but I’m learning. Slowly…
The most valuable thing I knew was people. When I decided to make the shift to functional work and starting a business, I accidentally already had this wonderful network of friends and colleagues. Their support has been invaluable.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Having a baby sealed the deal for starting a business where I’d be my own boss. I feel so incredibly fortunate that I have the ability to be flexible with my hours, take time off when I need to, or just want to, while pursuing the work I love. There’s a cost to sometimes taking time off or limiting my hours, but for me, for now, it’s one I gladly pay.
What are some inspirations for your work?
I’m attracted to found and made patterns and textures. I recently became obsessed with a Korean quilting technique called Pojagi and I really like tape.
I make things I want in my life. In spring I make vases for the flowers from my garden, in summer I make planters, now that it’s fall I’m starting to make big bowls for my tomato harvests. In winter I make as many things as possible so my kiln keeps me warm. I really just want the work to be beautiful. That sounds weird or arrogant or something, but it’s true.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Be nice. Support your friends and colleagues. Celebrating the work and achievements of others doesn’t take away from you, quite the opposite. So many of the opportunities I’ve had come from friends: artist friends, maker friends, small business owning friends, shopkeeper friends. And there’s almost nothing I like better than being able to return the support when I get the chance.
A little bit about Abigail’s process:
I use 3 different processes in my work. Slip casting, slab building, and pinch pots. My Woodgrain, Dots and Strips collections are all slip cast. I make a plaster mold of an original, then pour liquid clay (slip) in the mold to create the objects. Overlap and Layered are made of cast slabs that I use to hand build with. Pinch pots are what you learned to make in kindergarten and are my favorite to make.
Slip casting isn’t a process that comes naturally to me. Once the mold is made it’s a fairly hands off process and even though I like the results, it sometimes makes me feel a little… well, lonely. So no matter what I’m doing, no matter what orders I need to fill, I make slab built pieces and pinch pots on Fridays. I can’t remember who it was, but I remember someone saying they think with their hands. On Fridays I get a lot of good thinking done.
Thank you, Abigail for giving us some insight into your ceramics and work. Be sure to check out these goods at our Chicago Fair in just a couple weeks. In the meantime, you can find Abigail Murray online here: