Abigail Schama’s pieces do not ask for permission to be. They are not demure, pretty little things; they are not slick or smooth, or symmetrical in their curves. They are craggy and worn, gestural and uneven, crusted with a salty glaze, seemingly unearthed after centuries slumbering in the watery depths of a Cretan ruin.
At her wheel, the clay does not glide gently and acquiesce beneath Abigail’s practiced hands; it fights. It resists, kicks back, shouts and sighs, writhes and groans beneath her palms—and Abigail demands all of it.
She tussles right back as it wrestles against her; they have words, they dance, they negotiate its existence. When the clay finally yields, grudgingly, and settles into its fundamental form, Abigail gives it a little pat.
She layers grogged clay, transparent glazes, and gold lustre over the darker clay body; as she etches away at the surface, little messages and inscriptions begin to appear. Some whisper enigmatically from within, some are more bold in their manifestation. Through the worn patina, a sense of divine being begins to slowly emerge, radiating with quiet strength and femininity.
Who is she, this new form? It has yet to be known, but Abigail has given her life.
Since she was a child, Abigail found that she could express her inner life by marking the world and space around her. Her first medium was paint—she made a living as a painter for 20 years, smudging pigments against canvas.
Years later, by chance, a friend gave her an errant bag of clay from the trunk of her car. From the moment her fingers sank into the damp, she was seduced by the touch of it. Her imagination was instantly fueled by the possibility of what it could become—it was like molding flesh into being.
It was creating life. It was to touch, to hold, to listen, to care; to bring something forth, see it flail, and push it through the struggles; it was nurture, nature, and the beauty and vulnerability in the toil of it all.
Abigail approaches clay with the same experimental spirit that she brought to her practice as a painter (her last exhibit of paintings was playfully streaked with boot polish). She boasts a certain notoriety at her local pizza parlor for requesting the ash from their beechwood burning ovens. On a recent trip back from Scotland, she lugged two massive sacks of seaweed along with her, to many a raised eyebrow on the train; when she later burned them down for ash, the air was pungent with umami. Her zeal for improvisation is unquenchable; anything can be fodder for her clay or kiln.
After 6 years roaming about at open pottery studios around London, Abigail made her mark on the space around her yet again—or rather, created space around her.
In 2018, Abigail formed Mews Coachworks, a creative community tucked behind a train track in a residential neighborhood of Northwest London. The elevated front step overlooks about a dozen train tracks; some from Euston to Scotland. Since the 1970s, the former mews has housed an inspired assortment of people, including the sculptor Antanas Brazdys. It is now filled with a diverse group of remarkable women: her pottery studio occupies the ground floor; the mezzanine above the studio is workplace to a creative seamstress, three writers, and a filmmaker. The space feels like kismet; it buzzes with a creative energy and optimism, a vibrant spirit only possible through the deepest trust and openness to one another, warts and all. It is a vibrant, close-knit community—a living thing in itself.
“It is by far the most creative thing I’ve ever built,” Abigail says. “Far more powerful than just one pot.”
Along her studio walls, the shelves of pottery seem to almost bend beneath the weight of her recent pieces. Abigail holds up her latest piece, a collaboration with the poet Nuar Alsadir. The interior is faintly etched with the phrase: uncorseted flesh out. It is an ethereal call to arms for women to unbind themselves and their bodies, both figuratively and literally: to let loose—to untether and find home in their own flesh.
Her fingers trace the lip of the vessel, its edges cracked and ruggedly shorn. “I’m not a very precise potter,” Abigail says. She doesn’t make perfect, reproducible things.
She is uninterested in conventional forms. Instead she follows the imperfect and irreproducible—like people, no two pots Abigail creates are the same. Some may call themselves sisters—perhaps they are born of the same firing or clay, or share a similar slight tilt or sheen—but each boasts its own rich character and self, Abigail’s firm touch and coaxing so evident in each form.
Abigail seeks not to conquer the craft but to unearth the humanity in the clay. She deliberately traces the human experience through its fault lines, through its war wounds, scars, and laughter lines, revealing the quiet power that comes when our fragilities are celebrated and put on display. Her true medium, like Rembrandt, is illuminating the light against the dark, both in the clay and in ourselves.
She chases the fear and the unfamiliar, inside and outside of herself, in constant pursuit of the tremendous, looming thrill of the unknown.
“If it’s not scary, it’s boring. It's just a bowl for fruit.” She smiles. “And it could also be a bowl for fruit!”