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  • The Ethics of Doing

On the Table! Material, Shape, and Image Set for a Local Meal

A Review of One Hundred Years of Armenian Ceramics in Jerusalem, 1919-2019

Who is a Jerusalem artist? Who can boast a cultural or religious pedigree that entitles them to a domain in Jerusalem of Earth and a prospect in Jerusalem of Heaven? In the 20th century, when national self-determination was established, and at the beginning of the 21st century, when personal expression became self-evident, questions of local identity became significant, and they are also reflected in authentic representation in the decorative arts and crafts. The definition of locality and its appropriation by communities and groups operating in Jerusalem’s social sphere are at the basis of this activity and its motivation. Around them, diverse identities and new and dynamic standards and ethical rules were created. Housewares – decorative pieces and tableware, reflecting a local material culture – are products of what is at hand: the traditional material and technique, and what is desirable: religious, social, and political conceptions.

The kneading of the material (literally), its coloring and the combinations of from between East and West are embodied in the Armenian School of Ceramics in Jerusalem. This school was created as part of the activities of the “Pro-Jerusalem Society” and influenced the appearance of the city and the aesthetic perceptions of its residents during the 20th century. Armenian ceramics was a model, a source of inspiration or imitation among the artists of “Bezalel Ceramics”, although apparently the Jewish and Armenian artists displayed a demonstrable disregard for each other’s works. The two schools of art that are based on the “Arts and Crafts” movement were established and had operated in Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century. Both represented groups of newly arrived immigrants but who rely on an ancient, religious, and national affinity for the Holy City. Both the Armenian artists and the Bezalel artists aspired to create and be portrayed as creators out of their unique cultural fountainhead.

The Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem became a hallmark of the local home. Being assimilated into the house, the utensils and the decorative ware was a considerable achievement, but while Armenian ceramics are present in every Jerusalem or Israeli home, Bezalel ceramics did not pass the test of everyday use, and they are mainly identified with the decorated street signs of Tel Aviv.

In this paper I wish to examine the one hundred years of the design of housewares and decorative ware and through it to set the order of development and hierarchy on the local table. During the 20th century, the local creative table expanded, and its creators and arrangers were many and varied. They placed various tools and “delicacies” on it, in the spirit of changing times and values: no longer was the skilled craftsman or master leading the family workshop operating according to traditional codes, but rather craftsmen who see themselves as artists and seek recognition of their work and its originality. The materials, shapes, and images gave rise to inspirations, combinations, connections, contrasts, or confrontations. The Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem, on which I focus in this discussion, reflect a variety of ideas and utopias prevalent in the early 20th century and are first expressed in concrete, material and technological test cases: currents such as colonialism versus national revival, socialism versus capitalism, East and West in cultural and imperial struggles, ethnic and religious minorities, relationships between rulers and the ruled, local and “indigens”, exploitation or empowerment of marginalized groups in the population – women, children, the elderly and more. This paper addresses a discussion raised by Eran Ehrlich in “The Ethics of Doing”11 See Ehrlich, Eran, ... , which examines some of the issues regarding the case study of Armenian ceramics.

With the great migrations, the technological changes, and the cultural fusions, the standards have changed. The aforementioned elements combine with others to form a new set of rules that places the origin/source and the authenticity of the creators and their creation as a key benchmark of quality in every possible metric: the Ethics of Origin.22 According to the ... I will try to define the dilemmas of the “source” and divide them into several areas that exist in some or all of the events and cases I will present.

1. Technologies of production: From the Middle Ages to the digital world, the handiwork that was done by necessity became the standard of quality work done by choice. The questions that arise in the discussion of this reality are: How should the source’s standards be re-examined against the reproduction? What is the weight of the component of tradition compared to progress, and is the manufacture in traditional technologies a thing of novelty, renewal or artificial or forced fixation on the past?

2. Source as a geographical or cultural concept: Is the use of tools taken out of its context when it is done in a different geographical or cultural environment? Or is it recreated as an original representation of other cultures at different geographical locations and represents its new place and the additional values with which it was charged? In this case will the standards be examined by questions of appropriation versus association, contrasts versus fusions?

3. The right to create and transport: Who are the “owners” of the source and thus of the authentic work, and is the right to produce and create a moral right that depends on the place of origin of the work or the national identity of the creators?33 A parallel issue ...

4. Equality: Is the right to create or develop technologies and models the property of diverse artists of all sectors (race, religion, and gender), or do the preservation of patriarchal tradition in the artists’ workshops and distribution of roles give precedence to the old structure and sanctify its values?

This paper seeks to review and map processes of changing materials, forms, and technologies and to reflect through them the changes in our understanding of the similarities and differences between art and craft. Unlike the norm in the field of art history, the examination of images and forms will be done as a reflection of the works of the creators and not as an examination of the products and works. In conclusion, the paper will present a practicable curatorial research result, which will “set” the table and arrange on it an exhibition that presents the creators and their work (the Doing), randomly integrated into the historical sequence, and displays the images of the meal, table, and utensils.

A. From Vision to Creation in a Changing World: Material, Form, and Tradition

Bezalel: Allegiance to the Past for Creating the Future

The concept of the “Arts & Crafts” movement, which adopted the concept of “guild”, was based on the notion of the cooperative platform and the desire to return to the study of traditional crafts in the spirit of the medieval brotherhood of artists and craftsmen. The distribution of the products to homes and their public display were done through exhibitions and fairs, which were a modern tool for marketing utensils and decorative vessels, which had hitherto been traded within the community in daily life.

Boris Schatz, the founder of Bezalel, has adopted art education alongside the training of artisans by creating pools of inspiration sources. From the day he arrived in Jerusalem, he labored to establish the Bezalel Museum, the purpose of which was to enrich its students with material, form, and color from the country’s riches, from which generations of Jews were cut off – Jews who suffered, in his view, from a withering lack of material, form and color. In the Palestine Arts & Crafts Museum catalog, published in 1926, Schatz described the museum’s goals, which feature socialist and economic aspects alongside national Zionist goals:

The museum already serves as a study aid for Bezalel and its artistic workplaces, as well as for workers outside Bezalel, and it helps the development of our industry and work in Eretz Israel. Besides, it brings great benefit to the young and the elderly in the country as a cultural educational institution. But its main merit is a national one, and it generates respect for the people of Israel, for we accumulate everything that the genius of the people of Israel has created in one place, and we preserve it from annihilation.44 Bezalel Exhibition ...

Schatz’s struggles for the survival of the institute were on several fronts: survival against the Turkish government which was hostile to any national separatism or new social ideas, and management hurdles vis-à-vis the Zionist institutions; his main opponents, however, were domestic, and paradoxically came from those who were to be the beneficiaries of its enterprises: on the one hand, the people of the old Yishuv, and on the other hand, his former students who rebelled and went out to graze in the fields of modern art.

It is no wonder, then, that the British arrival in Jerusalem at first seemed to Schatz as the coming of the Messiah. He finished writing his utopia, The Rebuilt Jerusalem, as soon as word of the liberation of the city by the English became known. Bezalel Ben-Uri awakens him from his dream and urges him “Get up, son, wash your hands and bless ‘Who has given us life’ … At this moment Jerusalem is liberated!”55 Schatz, Boris, The ... Schatz, who expected the British to be knowledgeable sponsors of arts and crafts, discovered that not only did he not appreciate his activities but endanger it by the attempts of Charles Robert Ashbee, one of the visionaries of the Arts and Crafts movement, to found schools for arts and crafts.

As soon as Ronald Storrs took over as Jerusalem’s military governor, he paid an official visit to Bezalel. But the art-loving governor was not at all captivated by the spirit of Jewish art according to Schatz’s vision. He expressed his resolute opinion on the products of Bezalel’s workshops in his memoirs thus: “… these exhibits gave a boost to national expression, especially as it was cultivated in the Bezalel School of Art, but they also constituted a denial of art and sometimes obliterated art”.66 Storrs, Ronald, The ...

From the beginning of the establishment of Bezalel, Schatz sought to expand the institute’s activity into ceramics for practical purposes: house and decorative wares and symbolic ornaments on the facades of buildings and on the streets. He was inspired by the ceramic works of William Morris – some of the chief expressions of the artistic and practical production of the “Arts and Crafts” movement. Thus, in 1921, Schatz sent his student Jacob Eisenberg to study the art of ceramics in Vienna.77 Eisenberg, who was ... Eisenberg spent a year and a half in Vienna and studied at the School of Arts and Crafts in theory and practical work with the best teachers in Austria. This is how art critic Yitzhak Brainin, who visited Vienna in 1922, described it: “Eisenberg, as a painter and sketcher, has done well in the beautiful Eretz Israel motif of the shepherd… a Yemenite boy type among his sheep as he sits in a field, playing the tunes of his homeland”.88 Carmiel, Batya, A ...

On his return to Israel, in late 1922, Eisenberg established the Bezalel Ceramics Workshop. Schatz provided space and equipment, but the workshop functioned independently under the auspices of Bezalel. Eisenberg and the workshop artists continued the European tradition of figurative scenes in geometric frames. The ceramic art of the East seemed distant to them and Bezalel’s design line, created mainly by Ze’ev Raban and Meir Gur-Arie, stood out in the workshop’s creations. The presence of the Armenian artists, who thrived under the auspices of the Pro-Jerusalem Society and enthralled the city’s residents – Christians, Muslims, and Jews – with the shimmering colors of their glazed ceramics, was not unnoticed by them. However, the attempts to create ornaments of saz leaves and arabesques for street signs or on vessels seemed like a forced and pallid attempt compared to the virtuosity of Armenian art, which was perceived as an authentic representative of Eastern art.

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The Pro-Jerusalem Society – Setting the Rules

The entry of the Arts and Crafts movement to Jerusalem and the attempts to adapt the theory and techniques to the city’s complex reality took place by means of the Pro-Jerusalem Society, conceived and founded by the British Governor Ronald Storrs in early 1918. The person who was in charge of setting up and operating the Pro-Jerusalem Society’s workshops was Charles R. Ashbee, the main representative of the Arts and Crafts movement. The great advantage of the Society over Bezalel stemmed from the patronage of the government. Governor Storrs campaigned for rounding up resources, and in view of Schatz’s experience under the Bulgarian Royal Family, Ashbee’s experience was used for the purpose of setting up artisan workshops in England and displaying their products for sale at fairs and through modern agencies. Ashbee, a Cambridge graduate, was influenced by socialist thinker John Ruskin in formulating his views on the Industrial Revolution and mechanization as a social catastrophe. He was close to the poet and artist William Morris and was inspired by him to participate in the founding of the School of Crafts and an artists’ guild in the spirit of the Middle Ages, which operated as a cooperative of its members and was focused on the creation and study of silverware, furniture, and printing products. The members of the guild moved together in 1901 to the town of Chipping Campden, north-west of London, where they resumed the activities of the School of Crafts while living a life of sharing, simplicity, and wholesomeness, in line with their worldview.

During the First World War, Ashbee stayed in England and devised the steps and actions that would be required to build a post-war society. In his vision, he saw a return to the simple crafts and their revival, and the establishment of workshops and museums for the home, printing, and the personal crafts.99 Levine, Menahem, ... At the end of the war, he moved to Cairo where he engaged in teaching. Thanks to a lecture he gave in Cairo, whose audience included Ronald Storrs, he was invited by the latter to offer a plan to revive the traditional crafts, following which he accepted the role of a special adviser on urban affairs.

In Jerusalem, Ashbee found a virgin field for crafts, which had not yet been worked with the brutal plow of mechanization. In his opinion, in Jerusalem it was still possible to protect natural life and the crafts related to it. From this worldview also emerged his negative attitude towards the Zionists and their enterprises, which in his eyes were the harbingers of industrialization and progress that threatened the traditional lifestyles of the Arabs, the natives of the land.

Ashbee’s attitude toward the Arabs, and traditions and the East in general was replete with Orientalist romanticism. He held on to anything or anyone who had served this vision and relished in everything that seemed to him primitive and natural. In this spirit, he satisfactorily described how the glassblowers from Hebron delayed work at the High Commissioner’s House in Augusta Victoria, just because they turned to the seasonal picking of tomatoes.1010 Ashbee, C. R., A ... His worldview was also based on social and economic principles, which he clearly expressed in his writings:

“In the manual labor of their craft lies their prayer… With every craftsman we create, we also create a potential citizen, with every craftsman we miss we give rise to a dissatisfied effendi”.1111 Ashbee, C. R., ...

At the beginning of his activity in Jerusalem, Ashbee conducted a comprehensive survey on the subject of traditional and artistic crafts. In his activities within the Pro-Jerusalem Society, he established workshops for weaving and glazed ceramics, and supported the glassmakers from Hebron. Ashbee designed the rooms and furniture of the High Commissioner’s House in Augusta Victoria on the Mount of Olives, oversaw the restoration and renovation work at the fort and designed the garden in the moat. Ashbee’s main contribution can be seen in the creation and formulation of the ethical codes of the arts and crafts in Jerusalem and the rules for their preservation. The ethical code places “origin and originality” as a sublime value and prescribes “do’s” and “don’ts” that have had a lasting impact as goals that express an ideal of harmonious urban life in society’s relationship with its environment, as well as in technique and material. For the last one hundred years, they have served as benchmarks for the practice of everyday routine and its necessities.

The practical actions taken by the Pro-Jerusalem Society to revive the traditional crafts were in several areas: Hebron glass, textiles – spinning, weaving and embroidery, and of course Armenian ceramics that became a local symbol, exalted to the level of the ancient stone and olive. These actions are most often attributed to Charles Ashbee, as the one who introduced the ideas of the Arts and Crafts movement. It is true that Ashbee was the planner and executor of the workshop and program ventures, but it was Storrs who outlined and supervised them. In the days of the great euphoria following the removal of the degenerate Ottoman Empire, there was a seemingly impossible connection between socialist Ashby and Storrs, a member of the imperial and colonialist administration. Perhaps thanks to the Orientalist glue that united them in the early stages, they were able to create together a fragile utopian bubble, but the fundamental disagreements between their worldviews surfaced after only a few years of work. The rift that emerged in putting the vision into practice led to Ashbee’s departure in the summer of 1922, after none of his urban plans had materialized. The future of the craft workshops that flourished and later defined the appearance of the city and its decorations was different.

The Creation of the Local – the Origins of the Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem

The fact that the artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, both Turks and Armenians, had turned their gaze to the style of Iznik of all others, is worthy of discussion, as that style goes against the local tradition and its natural materials. It seems to me, however, that it should be examined not necessarily in the local context but in its relation to political trends and cultural processes that took place in that period.

The key to understanding the process was to be found in Europe, and especially in England. Orientalist conceptions, glorifying the romanticism of the East and the Arts and Crafts movement with the thinkers and artists who worked within it – these turned the spotlight on Iznik’s tradition and its preference over that of Kütahya. Iznik’s art was perceived as expressing the glory days of the Ottoman court. This art was regarded as superior and as representing the arts of the East, much more so than the art of Kütahya, which was relatively new and considered by many to be inferior to the art of Iznik.

The interest of Western collectors, scholars and artists was adopted by the artists in Kütahya and translated by them into the “right thing to do”, i.e., the adoption of 16th century heritage. The latter saw themselves as representatives of an image that was in fact Western.1212 On Orientalism and ... The Armenian artists had a more natural context because here, too, as in the heyday of Kütahya in the 18th century, they constituted the cultural bridge between the (Muslim) East and the (Christian) West.

In the second half of the 19th century, collectors from the West began to take an interest in works originating from Iznik, while European ceramic artists often turned to Iznik’s models as a source of inspiration for their own works. In England, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary and even Isfahan in Persia there were workshops and artists that were influenced by the style of 16th-century Iznik.1313 Carswell, John, ... Prominent among them were the English artist William De Morgan, who created a series of vessels with an original style inspired by Iznik, as well as the Frenchman Theodore Deck.1414 Lane, Arthur, Later ...

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the city of Kütahya saw a resurgence of artisan workshops. This trend included Armenian and Turkish artists who looked up to Iznik’s 16th-century techniques, styles, shapes, and models. One of the prominent workshops was that of Mehmet Emin, with Muslim and Armenian partners, headed by the young master artist David Ohannessian.1515 David Ohannessian ... The workshop’s creations included a commercial line for the production of house and ornamental wares and a monumental line for conservation work and embellishments in ancient burial and religious structures.

Two main trends inspired the artists of the resurging workshops: the first, Iznik’s court workshops that flourished in the 16th century and were characterized by the underglazed ceramics with the blue and green hues and the prominent pattern of serrated saz leaves, and the second, the Kütahya workshops from the 18th century, which included for the first time Armenian artists, and were characterized by the introduction of the yellow color and the style of free painting. David Ohannessian (1953-1884), an Armenian artist from a poor family, started to gain renown throughout the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century. He is considered the most talented artist in conservation and creation in the style of Iznik. He was commissioned to carry out works in the Golden Age mosques (16th century) of the Ottoman government in Turkey and in the mosques of the holy city of Medina in Arabia. The acquaintance of the British government officials with him stemmed from his involvement in the restoration of the Sykes family’s Sledmere estate in Yorkshire between 1911 and 1913.

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home was destroyed by fire, and Mark Sykes, the diplomat and Oriental scholar, wanted to set up a “Turkish room” in the restored house that would reflect his occupation and artistic inclinations. Together with Ohannessian, he designed a Turkish bath whose entire walls are covered with glazed tiles inspired by the Sultan’s bureau at the Yeni Cami Mosque in Istanbul. The tiles were traditionally handcrafted in Ohannessian’s workshop in Kütahya and transported by ship to the mansion in the heart of the green hills of Yorkshire. In 1914, with the start of the First World War, civilian shipping ceased and only the top floor of the bathhouse was completed. Mark Sykes was involved in all the planning and actual work on the room in an active and opinionated manner. He bought copper lamps in Jerusalem, one of which, coated with enamel, adorns the bathroom. Sykes made his estate into a complex creation in which he interprets the courtly, Ottoman-Muslim, art of the East, created by artists from the Christian-Armenian minority – as part of the British imperial culture, of which he was a typical representative.1616 Sykes Family of ... To understand the crucial importance of the restoration of the Sledmere Estate for the formation of the Jerusalem Armenian School of Ceramics, and moreover the adoption of art imported from across the empire and its assimilation into the core of Victorian English culture, one must be familiar with what took place in 19th century England, and especially with varied and exciting creation put together at Leighton House on Holland Park Road in London.

In 1865, Fredric Leighton (1830-1896), the renowned artist and president of the Royal Academy of Arts, fulfilled his dream of establishing an artist’s house. His intention was not only for building a studio but for the house to be a comprehensive curatorial work, the result of crafts and artworks from the East and West that reflect a world in miniature that Leighton assembled by means of original and unprecedented encounters. Leighton enlisted the help of diplomat Richard Burton, the former British consul in Damascus who was well-connected in the East. The latter set out on a procurement campaign and in 1876 sent a letter to Leighton, in which he wrote that he had located in Damascus an old house covered with glazed tiles that could be dismantled so that the entire wall cladding could be transported to London. Those tiles were indeed transported in the following years, followed by more single tiles and utensils, all for the creation of the Arab Hall in the heart of London. To complete the work, William Morris was invited to create connections using panels and borders.1717 Robbins, Daniel, ... The rules of preservation and the identification of the source vis-à-vis the additions or embellishments were not considered in those days, and visitors to the house cannot distinguish between the ancient and the renewed, and it may not be necessary since in the time of the Victorian Empire, this was seen as an independent, British creation. I was able to identify a wall upstairs the work of Damascus workshops, which produced the late Iznik-style tiles in the 17th and 18th centuries; those tiles also adorn the Tomb of David on Mount Zion and the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.1818 Shalev Khalifa, ...

Images 5+6. A Morris panel in the Arab Room at Leighton House

Ronald Storrs, the new governor of Jerusalem, was troubled already at the end of 1917 by the dilapidated condition of the 16th-century Dome of the Rock tiles. He turned to his friend and colleague in the diplomatic mission in Cairo, Ernest Richmond, to survey the Temple Mount and decipher the ancient techniques by which the tiles were made. The result of Richmond’s meticulous survey was a book containing a catalog of the tile models and a description of the way they were made.1919 The aquarelles that ... The highlight of the survey was the discovery of the ancient kiln in Haram al-Sharif. Once found, all that was needed was to look for the man who skillfully preserved the 400-year-old craft. David Ohannessian, who was known to Storrs from his work at his friend Mark Sykes’ estate, was invited to Jerusalem. In his memoirs, Storrs calls him “Mark Sykes’ Armenian.” Storrs provided materials imported specifically for this purpose from Turkey, and a workshop was installed on the Temple Mount. After the restoration work of the Dome of the Rock tiles ran aground due to budget difficulties, the Waqf protested the use of the sacred compound for a private factory, and Storrs found an alternative place at Via Dolorosa for a workshop for Ohannessian called the “Dome of the Rock Tiles Workshop”.2020 Sykes Family of ... The Pro-Jerusalem Society was involved in the artistic and financial management of that workshop. The Society tried to initiate a ceramics school run by Ohannessian, who was asked to recruit Muslim and Jewish craftsmen and train them, but the project did not come to fruition.2121 The Pro Jerusalem ... The workshop was run by the Society until 1926 and continued to operate as an independent business until 1948.2222 Ohannessian ...

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Images 7+8+9+10. Dome of the Rock Tiles Workshop; The joint workshop: potter Neshan Balian and painter Megherdich Karkashian with the painters and craftsmen

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Image 11. he painters in the Balian family’s workshop


Beginning vs. End – From the Vision of Traditional Crafts to the Workshops of Hebron

The political upheavals and the formation of national and cultural identities led, during the 20th century, to combinations and contradictions that the founders of the school had not imagined. The enormous technological development and the use of mass means of production, first industrial and then digital, led, on the one hand, to the Armenian artists’ focus on patterns and images painted on imported tools, and, on the other hand, to the entry of those who Ashbee envisioned participating in the field: Palestinian craftsmen. The latter began making ceramic ware while shunning local material and adapting the local practical forms to the range of vessels and tiles suitable for decorative purposes for sale in the pilgrim markets. The patterns they adopted were replicas, most of which were copied from the Turkish-Armenian-British mandate image lexicon.

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The glazed and decorated ceramics from the Tamimi family’s workshop in Hebron stand out in the local scene of markets and tourist sites. The workshop was founded by Osama Tamimi, an educator, who in the 1960s approached the joint workshop of Balian and Karkashian, seeking to learn the craft and use their models to train local young people in the field. He was, of course, rejected and therefore began working on the factory where artisans were also trained. Because the local, reddish, and coarse-grained material is not suitable for cladding and decorating glazed ceramics, the Hebron artisans imported ready-made tools from Spain. The models on which they focus are, according to Nader Tamimi, the son of the factory’s founder, from the Muslim artistic tradition, but with a clear connection to the tourism market and especially to the groups of pilgrims who are the target market of the factory’s products. The work is done by printing and coloring the patterns, but it is not yet computerized. From 1987 and during the first and second intifadas, the factories in Hebron began to suffer from transportation difficulties, both in importing the vessels and in selling them to markets in Israel, and they switched to wholesale sales.2323 Tamimi, Nader, ... Despite their pride in the short tradition and even in the fish mosaic pattern in Tabgha, where they lay a claim to originality, their technique and the need to flood the market with great and varied products that cater for every pocket and every taste result in a somewhat slipshod decoration. With the exception of one Armenian artist who maintains trade relations with the factory in Hebron mainly through the supply of tools, the Armenian workshops distance themselves from the Palestinian artisans who represent, in their eyes, the cheap mass production that is unworthy of their notice.

B. Practice and Ethics in Setting the Table

The historical and artistic background presented in the first part of this discussion shows that in the early 20th century the rules of the local table were recast into the old molds. East and West, different worldviews and their implementation in material and techniques, have brought about a redeployment of the lexicon of shapes and images set on the local table. In the spirit of our time and the many sectors that vie for a “local and authentic” identity, the privilege is transferred from the buyer to the creator. If previously the buyers were those who held the privilege to purchase high-quality and attractive vessels according to their status and economic ability and display them in their homes, prestige and reputation have now passed to the domain of the creators: Who is the craftsman who is the authentic representative of local culture? Who deserves to sit at the creation’s honorary seat? Who is worthy of handling the original material and creating out of it?

In this chapter I will seek to set the local table for an exhibition in a hundred-year perspective on the Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem, and to introduce the guests who take their seats at the table, placing on it the fruits of their labor. Setting this table is an act of an additional curatorial layer, both theoretical and practical, devised by me during the preparation of the exhibition Secrets of Eden that opened at the Rockefeller Museum in the fall of 2019.2424 The exhibition was ...

Images 13+14. Right: Marie Bellian’s holiday table in Nurit Canaan’s house Keder 2000 Left: Teaware, Mandate period, Nishen Bellian collection, 2021

Tables Set as Sources of Inspiration Between Art and Craft, Between Center and Fringe

In Western art, scenes of feasts known for their religious importance are common – the Wedding Feast at Cana, Jesus in Emmaus, the Last Supper – and 19th century photographs of travelers documenting the sights of the land and reconstructing by formal analogies the daily life at the time of the Old and the New Testaments.

Tables set for meals in modern times appear in exhibits of the “Art and Crafts” movement workshops.2525 Greensted, Mary, ... As mentioned, the exhibitions and creators’ fairs were the basis of this movement’s activity and a major means of spreading its messages. One of the means of exhibiting for inculcating the idea of ​​practical art was setting up a table on which the vessels are placed in a demonstration of their role in their natural and traditional place in everyday life, even if their design was new or renewed.

The main point of view and discussion will be in reference to the groundbreaking feminist work The Dinner Party (1974-1979), created by the American artist Judy Chicago. At the center of her monumental piece, Chicago placed an equilateral triangle, each side of which symbolizes a historical period: antiquity, the Middle Ages and modernity. Each side stands as an autonomous table to which 13 women from history and mythology are invited and consecrated, as an analogy to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. An arrangement of utensils was prepared for each of the 39 guests of honor, including cutlery, plates, a cup or goblet and a napkin. The table arrangement, entirely handcrafted, consists of woven or embroidered textiles and decorated ceramics. In this work, Chicago started a revolution in the conception of craft made from basic materials that was considered “low” and was the typical domain and occupation of women, and elevated it to the degree of “high”, conceptual art.2626 Judy Chicago ...


This work, which brought about a reversal of roles – with an affinity for the ancient crafts and their elevation to the level of standard art – gained the attention of the researcher and curator Prof. Nurith Kenaan-Kedar, when she set the local holiday table of Marie Balian, both in Eretz Israel Museum (MUZA) and in her home, in 2000. Marie Balian was the first renowned woman creator among the creators of Armenian ceramics, a field considered traditional and practical craft in which the division of roles was clear – between the male-master artists and the women, whose work was copying and filling patterns with color. Balian, by virtue of her original creations, connected the worlds of modern and traditional arts and set new standards and recognition of the latter as high art in exhibitions in art museums. Balian diverted the focus from pottery, which became industrialized with its colors becoming synthetic, emphasizing the power of inspired artistic creation drawing upon a variety of sources, using material as a means and substrate. Kenaan-Kedar noticed that Balian studio produces table and tableware from ceramics, but it never connected them in a ceremonial or symbolic way. She was also the first to state that the Balian workshop’s tableware are meaningful objects, reflecting an incessant occupation with the ornamental pattern as a central artistic expression, thus articulating in art history literature what Marie Balian had created with her own hands.

Nurith Kenaan-Kedar wrote about the installation: “From an extensive repertoire of tools, plates and bowls were selected for this exhibition as shapes that demonstrate the role and multi-layered meanings copied to the basic shape of the plate by drawing the colored pattern. It becomes a stand-alone pendant, a round, framed picture or a reflection of another world. These elements mark the space in front of the individual diner at the table. The series of kettles reveals a sculptural quality of the vessels that function as a three-dimensional object in space, displaying the painted patterns. The uniqueness of the objects creates a table, whose images are charged and whose drawings reveal the force and imagination of the creator of the ornamental repertoire”2727 Kenaan-Kedar, ... (see the photo of the holiday table by Marie Balian).

Marie Balian’s table will be updated and expanded to include the work of Armenian, English, and Israeli artists in the early 21st century.

The Order of Setting the Table

Over the course of the hundred years (1919-2019) of the creation and setting of the “local table”, traditional English tea sets blend with the pottery shapes: the ancient Ibrik and Jara. Serving vessels and tile boards, vases, plates, and bowls change position from table to the wall and to the floor and vice versa. Images from the worlds of the three religions are displayed, such as the bird mosaic, a Byzantine floor mosaic that has become a central local image on jugs, on tiles, on tableware and ornaments.

The dignitaries, the famous and the groundbreakers will be invited to the table, and alongside them, for the first time, the unknown will also be honored, those whose techniques or images have been defined as marginal or unfamiliar and also those who have been rejected by their fellow artists. Against the shared and different visions of Storrs and Ashbee, the reality will be examined in which changes in techniques, material industrialization and especially the changing of worldviews and definitions of art versus craft – will present a diverse worldview and the abolition of accepted hierarchies.

Each guest at the retrospective meal shall be given a plate and a goblet, a tile, or any utensil, whether created by them or related to them through an artistic, familial, or historic context. There will be guests who for various reasons will receive more utensils or participate as creators, owners, or influencers in the setting of the general table. Participants will be divided into groups according to their gender, artistic, technological, or national affiliation.

The table has three sides in the shape of the letter U; the short side will be truncated, and the long sides do not meet but create an open internal space.

One hundred years of the Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem 1919 – 2019
Glimpse of Paradise: One Hundred Years of Jerusalem Armenian Ceramics 1919-2019
From Abyss to Redemption: The Bird Mosaic
or Memory and Salvation – of all the Armenians Whose Names the
The Dome of the Rock Tiles Workshop
Neshan Balian, Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem- Balian
הגופ קרקשיאן, סדנת קדרות ירושלים ,Hagop Karakashian Jerusalem Pottery
Vicken Lepejian, Vic’s Art Studio – Armenian Ceramics
Hagop Antreassian, Studio for Armenian Pottery & Ceramics
Harout Sandrouni, Sandrouni – Armenian Art Center
Garo and Sonia Sandrouni, Hand painted Armenian ceramics
George and Dorin Sandrouni, Armenian Ceramic Center: George and Dorin Sandrouni
Rena Panoyan , Rena’s Armenian ceramics

Along the table’s central side (A) I chose to seat and promote the women, as agents of all paths of creation on the timeline. Marie Balian, in the center, presents the primary life source in the East: the water jug. Next to the jara and ibrik made of local clay2828 Kenaan-Kedar, ... stand their twins in form, clad in a glazed decoration of the bird mosaic. The animals and the motion characterize Marie’s groundbreaking, personal and feminine work and she also invites women who all dabbled in creation but mostly did so behind the scenes of the family workshop. For many years, Marie trained apprentices who shared the secret, continuing her legacy as painters in the workshop: Khatoun Kutoujyan and Tahani Zaanin. Daughters of the founding generation who helped alongside their husbands are Victoria Ohannessian and Tekenhya Balian. In the old photos, they are seen drawing and painting the vessels alongside other worders at the workshop.

The Karakashian family is represented by four women from four generations: the wife of Megardish, grandmother Efkaris Karakashian, a member of the Genocide generation; her daughter-in-law Meline, Stefan’s wife who created both large and small works; And Tzoghig, the wife of the grandson Hagop Karakashian, who runs the workshop with him and creates some of the models. Their daughter Patil has developed a new, modern painting style complementing traditional works. In the workshops founded in the 1980s and 1990s, the following hold the brush: Armine Antreassian, who briefly helped in the workshop that her husband Hagop founded, and Sonia and Doreen Sandrouni, who were leading painters and creators in their workshops. Prominent among the group of women is the young ceramic artist and Jaffa native Rena Panivian, who learned the art of decorating glazed ceramics and established an independent workshop in Haifa, focusing on models from ancient Armenian art.

At the table’s corners, a special area is dedicated to David Ohannessian (B), the revered founder of the Jerusalem School, and in front of him the patrons, British government officials (C): Mark Sykes, Charles R. Ashbee, Ronald Storrs and the engineer Ernest Richmond. Between the women-creators and the British official (AC) I placed Charlotte Storrs, a British ceramist of Dutch descent married to John, Ronald Storrs’ nephew. John and Charlotte trace their family’s connection to Jerusalem and its history. Charlotte creates functional tools on the potter’s wheel, with a clean line and bright white color. Through her observation of Armenian ceramics decorated with full color surfaces, she chooses to contrast the simplicity of the vessel’s shape whiteness, emphasizing the intense colors of the food. Charlotte chose to dedicate a cup and a plate to her uncle Ronald (Storrs) on the side table that she set, and another set to her Dutch grandmother Lotte, who was among the resisters of the Nazi occupation in the Netherlands.

The arms of the table continue the chronological chapters of the workshops’ founding according to age and hierarchy. Area D represents the joint workshop of Neshan Balian and Megardish Karakashian, whose families dwelled and created under the same roof. Joining them are the members of the second generation, Stepan and Berj Karakashian and Setrag Balian and the third generation, Hagop Karakashian and Neshan Balian (whose three children Kagham, Nanor and Setrag recently have been working with him). Next to them (F) is Vic Lefejian, a graduate of the Yerevan Academy of Art, who has been creating since the 1970s in a diverse, original, and modern style beside his connections with the Jerusalem tradition. Next, Hagop Antreassian, the grandson of the potter Daniel Katashian, who in the 1980s established a workshop in the Armenian monastery, whose decorations are inspired by Armenian manuscripts. In front of them (in area E): the artist Jacob Eisenberg, founder of Bezalel Ceramics, and Prof. Boris Schatz, the visionary who encouraged him on and fought for the right of the Bezalel artists to create in the local-oriental style.

The two partners whose activities have been revealed only recently are Mordechai Yakobinski, the Jewish painter who graduated from the Academy of Art in Warsaw and later escaped the horrors of the Holocaust, and his partner, the Armenian potter Daniel Katashian. The pair worked in their joint workshop that combined East and West until 1948. During the war, Yakobinski had to abandon the workshop that was situated between the Jewish and Armenian quarters. Katashian continued to produce until he was killed, during the fighting in the old city, by a shell that destroyed the workshop. Next to them I sat the dedicated professional craftsmen: the talented painter Krikor Vartanian, who worked in Ohannessian’s workshop since the latter had adopted him when he stayed in the monastery’s orphanage, and the potter and wheel craftsman Abed Rashed, a Muslim who throughout his entire life was one of the pillars of the Balian workshop.

In area G, the three brothers of the Sandrouni family – Harout, Garo and George, who started their careers together at a folklore center and currently operate in three separate workshops and in different styles. At the head of the table, at a certain distance from its arms, stands the table of the documenters (area I) – Yael Olenik, the curator at the Eretz Israel Museum (Muza), who in the 1980s was the first to turn the spotlight on the unique Jerusalem school; and at the head of that table I would like to honor my great teacher, Prof. Nurit Kenaan-Kedar, the first to apply the research tools of the discipline of art history to the study of the Armenian ceramic art of Jerusalem, and the first to understand its details and its artistic and more general contexts. At her feet I will seat myself and quote, on Nurit, what Mehmet Amin, the Turkish ceramic artist from Kütahya, used to sign on each of his works: “Made by Mehmet Amin, a student of Mehmet Hilmi”, who was his master and teacher.

The most important of the Armenian (and other) documenters is Sato Moughalian, the granddaughter of David Ohannessian, a gifted musician from New York, who devoted ten years to a world-wide journey following her grandfather and the story of her family and nation. Additional guests of honor are Mary Ohannessian, a Scottish girl who came to Jerusalem as a volunteer and married Ohannessian’s son – she and her daughter Anahid lived in a small house in the courtyard of the Armenian church in Emek Refaim, and Mary preserved the family story; and Shushan Dar Vartanian, daughter of Krikor Vartanian, who continues to relay and preserve her father’s the story, the orphan who was adopted by Ohannessian and worked with him until 1948.

Behind this table (J) are the wall panels of the Armenian Patriarchate, perched above with the ancient painting mosaic uncovered in 1894, the church decorations brought from Kütahya in the 18th century and one of the large panels of the Armenian cemetery in the St. Saviour Church on Mount Zion. In the center of the table (H) there are six floor rugs depicting pairs of monumental buildings: Leighton House and Sledmere Estate; the fireplace in the governor’s palace in Jerusalem and the fountain house in the Rockefeller Museum; the panels ordered by Ms. Ora Herzog for the President’s House and the huge wall panel “The Secrets of Paradise” on Koresh Street. On the side, separately at the edge of the table (2K, K), were seated – perhaps as Ashbee’s guests of honor – those who were not accepted by the Armenian artists into their ranks, although they are natives of the land, such as Osama and Nader Tamimi, Arabs from Hebron, Jews who try their hand at amateur workshops, nuns who copy models of ceramic vessels and even Armenians who came to Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union. All of them, realizing Ashbee’s vision, made the Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem their trade and adopted or appropriated its forms for a whole range of identities.

C. Conclusion: Facing the Future

An analysis of the historical and artistic works and processes reveals a state of affairs that includes moral and ethical aspects and reflects social, national, political, and economic processes influenced by technological developments. Throughout this review and the rearrangement of the female and male artists on the timeline and at the nodal points of action, it has emerged that social and technological processes have driven the extensive and diverse activity that has developed in new images and forms over the past hundred years in Jerusalem.

Changes in these areas may also indicate the continuing evolution of the Armenian school of ceramics. Once again, the machine and industrialization, this time in digital mantle, are changing the rules of production and with them the rules of do’s and don’ts for setting the social and artistic bar, reflecting the image of the world. The rules of handiwork established by the “Arts and Crafts” movement in an attempt to hold on to the harmonious “laws of nature”, as it advocated, face the challenges of technological change that sets new standards. Concepts of imitation and copying, high art versus popular art, are no longer measured in the parameters of early school thinkers and creators; added to these are processes that were not witnessed until the end of the 20th century, which led to the fall of the Soviet bloc and the establishment of the Republic of Armenia. The third and fourth generations of Jerusalem artists have been working since the 1990s in relation to both traditional Armenian art and for the assimilation of the Jerusalem school as a central part of the Armenian people’s story and, paradoxically, for its introduction into Armenia.

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1. See Ehrlich, Eran, “The Ethics of Doing”, Thoughts on Kraft, 2015 Bezalel.
2. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, ethics is “a system of accepted rules about behavior, based on what is considered right and wrong”, from Greek ēthos – “nature, disposition”, or “custom”.
3. A parallel issue related to Jewish art: is it art that deals with Jewish themes or created by Jews?
4. Bezalel Exhibition – Palestine Arts & Crafts, 1926, p. 54.
5. Schatz, Boris, The Rebuilt Jerusalem, Jerusalem, 1924, p. 191 (in Hebrew).
6. Storrs, Ronald, The Memoirs of Sir Ronald Storrs, Volume 3, New York: Van Rees Press, 1937, p. 671.
7. Eisenberg, who was born in Pinsk, entered Bezalel as a student in 1913. After the First World War he joined the institute teaching staff and mainly taught in the filigree and Damascus craft workshops.
8. Carmiel, Batya, A City Decorated with Tiles, Tel Aviv: Eretz Israel Museum, 1996, p. 20 (in Hebrew).
9. Levine, Menahem, “C. R. Ashbee – His Contribution to the Citadel’s Restoration and the Founding of the Museum in the Tower of David”, in Igal Tsalmona (ed.), The History of the Tower of David, Jerusalem, 1992, pp. 24-25 (in Hebrew).
10. Ashbee, C. R., A Palestine Notebook, New York: Doubleday, 1923, p. 154.
11. Ashbee, C. R., Jerusalem 1918-1920, London, 1921, p. 34.
12. On Orientalism and its implication on cultural and artistic trends, see Sweetman, John, The Oriental Obsession: Islamic Inspiration in British and American Art and Architecture 1500-1920, Austria: Cambridge University Press, 1991; Said, Edward, Orientalism, New York: Random House, 1978.
13. Carswell, John, Iznik Pottery, London, 1998, pp. 116-119.
14. Lane, Arthur, Later Pottery, London, 1957, p. 61. Lane notes him as a person who really understood the meaning of the ceramic art of the East, both its form and materials.
15. David Ohannessian is referred to here only by his first name, Davit, in the original Armenian pronunciation. In the book, written by a Turkish artist, the son of Ohannessian’s colleague, Ohannessian and his involvement in the workshops’ activities are mentioned only by allusions such as first name, as befitting a non-Turk, or indirectly – in all the cases that I mention here I have concluded from the known facts and circumstances that the person alluded to is indeed Ohannessian.
16. Sykes Family of Sledmere, Archives Guide, University of Hull Library. Sykes’ biographer attributes the lamp’s design to Sykes himself.
17. Robbins, Daniel, Leighton House Museum, London, 2011, pp. 14, 37-51.
18. Shalev Khalifa, Nirit, “At the Edge of the Enchanted Forest”, in Stiebel, G., Amit, D. and Peleg-Bareket, O. (eds.), New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region, Jerusalem: The Antiquities Authority and the Hebrew University, 2009, pp. 67-73 (in Hebrew).
19. The aquarelles that he created and the drawings are kept in the A & V Archive in London.
20. Sykes Family of Sledmere, Archives Guide, University of Hull Library, DDSY/2/1/23; University of Hull, Library, DDSY 106/48.
21. The Pro Jerusalem Society – Book of Minute, 1923-1924, May 24th 1923, p.105.
22. Ohannessian attempted to establish a department of ceramic studies in the American University of Beirut, but his efforts were cut short by his sudden death in December 1953. See Shalev Khalifa, Nirit, “David Ohannessian – the Founder of the Jerusalem School of Ceramics”, in Kenaan-Kedar, Nurith, The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv: Eretz Israel Museum, 2002, pp. 29-52 (in Hebrew). A comprehensive biography of Ohannessian – a groundbreaking study that sheds light on his life and work, written by his granddaughter, was published recently; see Moughalian, Sato, Feast of Ashes – The Life and Art of David Ohannessian, United States: Redwood Press, 2019.
23. Tamimi, Nader, conversation held in July 2021 (via Zoom), internet websites and videos of the workshop.
24. The exhibition was closed in March 2022. Secrets of Eden, curators: Fauzi Ibrahim (the Rockefeller Museum and Eretz Israel Museum curator) and Dr. Nirit Shalev Khalifa (Yad Ben Zvi). The exhibition was a retrospective of the Armenian ceramics of Jerusalem. This paper is a renewed interpretation by the author of works displayed at the exhibition or commissioned for it, and of others that were not included in it.
25. Greensted, Mary, The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain, Oxford, 2016, p. 110.
26. Judy Chicago (American, b. 1939), The Dinner Party, 1974-79. Mixed media: ceramic, porcelain, and textile. Brooklyn Museum.
27. Kenaan-Kedar, Nurith, a draft printout of an accompanying leaflet for the exhibition, 2000, from the Nurith Kenaan-Kedar archive.
28. Kenaan-Kedar, Nurith, To the Spring, Tel Aviv: Eretz Israel Museum, 2000 (in Hebrew).
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