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May 06, 1988 - Image 126

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-05-06

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Armenian ceramicist Stepan Karakashian at work in his family workshop on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem's Old City.


In a tiny shop in the Old City of
Jerusalem, two brothers use their
Armenian heritage to create
artistic treasures.

126 _FRIDAY, MAY 6,.1988


Special to The Jewish News

nless someone told
you to look for it, you
could visit Jerusalem
100 times and never find the
little shop called Jerusalem
Pottery. You could easily pass
the unassuming passageway
on the Via Dolorosa in the
Old City without noticing the
Many people miss out on
the artistic treasures created
by Stepan and Berge
Karakaphian and their small
staff Ti a tiny workshop
which continues to craft
ceramics in the old Armenian
style the brothers learned
from their father. In a
marketplace that abounds
with mass-produced imita-
tions from Hebron, the fine
detailing and brilliant colors
of Jerusalem's Pottery's work
might cost a bit more, but
loyal fans from around the
world insist that the work-
manship is worth the price.
Each bowl, plate, tile and
dish features a unique hand-
painted design. About half of
the designs are traditional
Armenian motifs, ranging
from replications of monas-

tery floors to symbols. The
peacock, for example, sym-
bolizes long life, and the
phoenix is the bird of
The brothers have created
many designs based on tradi-
tions other than their own, in-
cluding black and white de-
signs in a Persian motif, a
huge rendition of the Tree of
Life, many Jewish themes
and greetings, and Arabesque
themes. Tiles bearing
greetings, "No Smoking"
signs, and replicas of Old City
street signs are among the
most popular items.
The brothers' used to dig
their own clay from the
Hebron hills, but now they
order it from a supplier in 'Ibl
Aviv. Nevertheless, they still
mix colored glazes by hand.
The rich, dark blue — perhaps
the most dramatic color seen
in Jerusalem Pottery — has a
cobalt base. A few colors,
such as pink, are so difficult
to make that the brothers buy
them ready-made.
The story of Jerusalem Pot-
tery began 70 years ago in
central Turkey, where
Karakashian Sr. practiced his
craft in a factory that was
jointly owned by an Armen-
ian and a Mirk.
With the collapse of the Ot-
toman Empire, the British
assumed responsibility for
Palestine. Among the proj-
ects they implemented in
1917 was an effort to rehabil-

itate the decaying Dome of
the Rock. The landmark
mosque, located on the site of
the Second 'Temple, is covered
with colorful ceramic tiles,
many of which had fallen off
or cracked.
In 1918, the British heard
of Armenian craftsmen living
in central Anatolia and of-
fered them the opportunity to
come to Jerusalem to repair
the mosque. Stepan recalls,
"My father and his friends
jumped at the chance because
they knew of Armenian mas-
sacres in the eastern prov-
inces of 'flukey. My father
was attracted by Jerusalem,
the city of peace."
The following year, 12
young Armenians came to
Jerusalem to craft tiles for
the Dome of the Rock. Their
samples impressed the Brit-
ish, but the project was
In 1920, fearing that they
would never start to work,
one of the Armenian cerami-
cists opened a small work-
shop on the Via Dolorosa
catering to the many British
families who lived in Jeru-
Karakashian Sr. and a part-
ner opened their own work-
shop just outside the Old
City walls. They remained
there until the 1948 War of
Independence, when they fled
to the Jordanian capital of
"Amman wasn't the proper

A sample of the ceramic art created at Jerusalem Pottery, where the age-
old Armenian tradition of pottery-making continues to flourish.

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