Israel Ceramics are ceramics designed either in Palestine or the State of Israel from the beginning of the 20th century. In additional to traditional pottery, in Israel there are artists whose works were created in an industrial environment. Until the late 1970s there existed in Israel a local tradition that emphasized the local values of nature as an expression of Zionist identity. From the 1980s artistic expressions that sought to undercut this tradition began to appear in the works of Israeli artists, who combined ceramics with other artistic media and with personal, critical agendas.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Palestinian tradition of designing pottery from local materials dominated in Israel. The pottery was primary functional, intended primarily for the use of the local population in the Land of Israel. Other vessels were imported from neighboring areas. Pots were thrown on potters wheels mostly in urban areas or in pottery villages. It was a craft traditionally worked by men. In the census carried out on Palestine in 1928, during the British Mandate, 77 pottery workshops (of individuals or groups) were listed, while in the 1931 census, 211 different potters were listed.
Many of the pottery villages were centralized, based on geographical proximity of the potters families. Examples of this can be found in the pottery workshops held in the pottery villages in Rashia al Fakhar (Tel Faher) at the foot of Mount Hermon. Or in Hebron, at the various workshops of the Alfahori family. These pots were fired at a low temperature in traditional kilns that burned wood, charcoal, or animal droppings. Different workshops were held in Gaza as well, where they produced unique black pottery ( ), produced by adding organic materials, such as barley husks, to the kiln or by reduction firing. The smoke from the process of the burning of these materials within the kiln lent the pottery its characteristic black color.
In addition, a tradition existed of producing pots made of clay mixed with straw or gravel for cooking and other utilitarian uses by the local population. This work was
carried out by hand by women, and the pots were fired in improvised kilns, in kitchen ovens, or sometimes not fired at all. Pottery of this type, which was produced in the Samaria area and in Ramallah, for example, was typically decorated with color made from rusted iron that originated in the Jordan Valley.
As the century progressed, this tradition began dying out as a result of industrialization, and in addition, from the 1980s competing pottery from other countries began to be imported. Until 1989, for example, 11 different workshops were active in Hebron. However by 2007 there remained only 8 potters there. In 1983 the The Eretz Israel Museum mounted an exhibition displaying the pottery of the Lebanese village of Rashia al Fakhar.
In 1919 the British Mandate government invited a group of Armenian potters, survivors of the Armenian Genocide, to repair the tiles of the Dome of the Rock. This experiment indicated the British interest in traditional art of the Arts and Crafts movement. Armenian ceramic art can be traced back to the 15th century, to the Turkish cities of znik and Ktahya, but the combination of the ancient art of the Land of Israel and Christian motifs created a unique artistic synthesis.
The outstanding artist of the early years was Davit Ohannessian, who specialized in the design of ceramic decorative art in buildings and monuments, many of which were commissioned by the British Mandate government. The workshop that he founded Tiles of the Dome of the Rock produced not only monumental works, but also utilitarian or decorative pots. Among the most important works Ohannessian produced in Jerusalem were tiles for the American Colony Hotel (1923), the fountain house in St. Johns Hospital, the fountain house in the Rockefeller Museum, etc. Among the motifs that appear in his decorations are the cypress trees, tulips, and grapevines typical of traditional Ottoman decorative art.
The workshop that Ohannessian founded separated the process of design, which was done by Ohannessian, and the production of the vessels for which he produced the designs. For this purpose, he hired artists and apprentices mostly women who were experienced at painting. Nonetheless, some of the works, especially those intended for the public, were signed by the chief artist. The workshop used a wood-burning stone kiln. The model implemented in this workshop was used for other Armenian workshops founded subsequently in Jerusalem.
The artists Megardish Karakashian and Nishan Balian, who left Ohannessians workshop in 1922, founded a workshop together called Palestine Pottery, where they developed a line of design with figurative images that were alien to traditional Turkish ceramic art. For example, the two of them combined designs from ancient mosaics discovered in the Land of Israel, such as the Birds Mosaic (Jerusalem) or the mosaic from Hishams Palace in Jericho. Often these images were imbued with Christian theological interpretations. The joint workshop functioned continually until 1964, when Stefan Karakashian and Marie Balian, heirs of the founders, founded two separate workshops that made use of images from the past as well as new images that they created.
Within the framework of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, a ceramics studio was founded in 1924, with Jacob Eisenberg at its head. By 1917 Boris Schatz was considering opening a department for the design of cast decorative items, as well as a department of painting on porcelain. This craft was already being taught at Bezalel using ready-made porcelain brought in from outside Palestine for use at Bezalel. Schatz saw in the activity of the factory for bricks and roofing tiles that operated on the grounds of the Schneller Orphanage in Jerusalem from approximately 1895, proof of the practicality of such a local industry, which would make use of local materials brought from Motza.
Eisenberg, who was a student at Bezalel from 1913 to 1919, after his graduation went to study in Vienna, at the School for Arts and Crafts, where he took a continuing education course in ceramic design and production. The department separated the design of the ceramics, mostly taught by Bezalel instructors and particularly by Ze’ev Raban, from the practical production of the pieces. Of the objects produced in this department, the best known are the wall tiles and decorations from the 1920s and 1930s. These works include the tiles on the walls of the Ahad HaAm School, the Bialik House, and the Lederberg House in Tel Aviv, and in the synagogue of Moshav Zekanim.
The style of tile design was influenced by Art Nouveau and by the Jugendstil style. This style is expressed in the flatness of the area described and in the richly decorated borders. With regard to ideas, Bezalel tiles expressed a tendency toward transcendentalism, seen in their borders cast with images taken from Jewish tradition and Zionist content.
In her article Techno Tools: The Logical Ones (2011), Shlomit Bauman maintained that contemporary Israeli ceramics is characterized by a disconnect from the Palestinian tradition and by a lack of a local ceramics industry that would permit a dialog of understanding between local ceramic artists.
At the same time as the Armenians and the Arabs living in the Palestine worked within independent traditions, Jewish artists had to create a synthesis between European art and art in the Land of Israel under the conditions that existed there in the early 20th century. This can be seen both in the design of the models and in the work techniques, which tended to be mechanized. In addition, while local pottery depended on family-led workshops and on cooperative activity by the artists, the Jewish potter saw himself both as an artist and as an expression of the language of art.
Chava Samuel, who Immigrated to the Palestine in 1932, founded Hayozer” [The Creator], the first ceramics workshop in the Jewish community in Jerusalem. “Kad VeSefel” [Jug and Cup], the ceramics workshop founded in 1934 in Rishon LeZion with Paula Ahronson, produced a variety of utilitarian pots and decorative pottery, using a combination of potters wheel and ceramic casting. The style of the pots was, for the most part functional, influenced both by the spirit of modernism and the European Bauhaus style. Mira Libes, a pupil in the workshop of Samuel and Ahronson, described the pottery produced in the workshop as the direct result of create pottery that is simple, functional, and beautiful, a philosophy intended also to improve public taste, which was deemed at that time indescribably bad. The pottery produced was generally influenced by the Bauhaus style, which Paula had studied, and the simple and beautiful decorative-colorful style of Eva.
The motifs of the decorations on Samuels pottery were also influenced by the archeology of the Land of Israel, as well as by Oriental art, under whose influence she produced Eastern images and images from the Jewish world. As opposed to the figures from the Jewish world created by the artists of the Bezalel school, Samuels imaged lacked the religious dimension. The images that remained, for the most part looked like images from folklore. The decorative style of Samuels pottery focused on individual images, drawn primarily freehand and glazed.
In contrast to the pottery of Samuel and Ahronson, the works of Hedwig Grossman displayed an attempt to formulate a Land of Israel localness in their ceramic design. Grossman made Aliyah to the Land of Israel in 1933 after studying pottery in Germany. During her first years in Palestine, Grossman already began to carry out soil surveys to determine how local materials were used in pottery production. In addition, Grossman researched how pottery was made in the Land of Israel in ancient times and what where the work methods of Arab and Armenian potters throughout the Land. In her work Grossman emphasized the use of materials from the Land of Israel. Some of her work was even influenced by local archaeological findings. Her techniques for working the material included basic geometric decoration, using local non-glaze slips (engobes) in assorted colors.
An echo of Grossmans views can be seen in the 1940s, when Jacob Lev, who served from 1939 as the head of the Sculpture Department in the New Bezalel, began to offer classes in pottery in the department. Most of the pots that were made in this institution were not fired in a kiln and so did not survive, but in his article The Pretty Pot (1941), he emphasizes the modernist approach to design of the pot and the relationship between its parts in the Bauhaus spirit. However photographs of the pots show the influence of the architecture of the Land of Israel in the choice of the types of pots, as well as in the avoidance of decoration in the rough texture of their design.
The works of Hedwig Harag Zunz, who arrived in the Land of Israel at the beginning of the 1940s, also represent an attempt at creating pottery with a Land of Israel localness. In Zunzs works this was expressed primarily in her choice of local materials. Most of her work was produced using a potters wheel, but she also created pottery with an architectural bent. In spite of her consistent use of local materials, Zunzs works differ from the archaeological direction of Hedwig Grossmans works or the oriental decoration of Eva Samuels. The shape of her pottery was influenced by European Modernism in its lack of decoration and in its organic tendency toward the use of the glossy surface slips of Terra sigillata or ceramic glazes. In addition to her independent works, Harag Zunz also produced technical academic research and participated in various industrial projects.
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Israel Ceramics – Wikipedia