The Secrets of Armenian Ceramics

Community Writers |06/04/2017|517
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What is so special about Jerusalem? Almost every Jerusalemite you ask will say that it is the people of Jerusalem who make the city so special. Every trip, tour or even just walk  along the street are opportunities for encounters with fascinating characters – people who have traveled long to reach the city, people who have always been here – and especially people who are an integral part of the history of the city.

We believe that good neighbors have no secrets – so we crossed the road, this time towards east, and we went to learn about the Armenian ceramics that adorn almost every street and corner in the Old City.

If you have visited the Old City (and you surely have), you have certainly noticed the colorful shops in the various markets in all four quarters, where ceramics are sold in a variety of sizes and shapes, and are adorned with cheerful artistic decorations. Please meet – Armenian ceramics.

Within the Armenian Quarter, the smallest and oldest of the four quarters of the Old City, there is a traditional workshop with a magnificent history. We entered the old building and met George Sandroni, the manager of the workshop. George says that Jerusalem’s romance with Armenian ceramics began in the 1920s when the British, who controlled what is now Israel, sought to renovate the Temple Mount tiles. They called on three Armenian families living in Turkey to come to Jerusalem to carry out the renovation.

One of these families was the Sandroni family, who settled in the small quarter of the Old City and established the ceramics industry in Jerusalem.

George Sandroni was born and raised in Jerusalem. Already as a child he was interested in the family’s workshop and in the 1970s he joined his two brothers and together they began to produce their own ceramics.

The workshop, 1920

Why produce their own ceramics?

You may know this, but until recently we thought that Armenian ceramics were a category of ceramics of various kinds, all decorated with happy colors. After a few hours with George, we discovered a whole world of subtleties. In fact, the Armenian ceramics produced in Jerusalem are a unique blend of a long Armenian tradition that shows love and longing for the Armenian homeland along with love for life in Jerusalem. George and his brothers, who were born in Jerusalem, learned the traditional work that was handed down from generation to generation but incorporated Jerusalem motifs into it.

You can call it ‘fusion’ in the Old City of Jerusalem.


Armenian ceramics – Jerusalem

In their art you can smell the fruits of the Seven Species of the Land of Israel, experience the prayer on the Temple Mount through cursive Arabic script, discover the Passover Seder Night on the Seder plates or trace the story of Jesus through amazing wall tiles.

As we said: authentic Jerusalemite Armenian ceramics.

George boasts that his works are found in many places in Jerusalem and the Tower of David was also touched by George’s hand. At the main entrance to the citadel, just after passing the magnificent gate, there is an impressive open air mosque. In 1994 the mosque was renovated and George was invited to design the ceramic tiles that adorn  it.

Making ceramics is a simple business, about two weeks of work, but creating ceramics that will decorate Jerusalem – here we are talking about a whole other time concept. The process of developing the pattern that adorned the mosque at the entrance to the museum took about six months – it was very important to represent and express the entire human and cultural mosaic of Jerusalem, and this mosaic consists of many parts.

אריחי הקרמיקה שמעטרים את המסגד הפתוח בכניסה למוזיאון

The ceramic tiles that adorn the open mosque at the entrance to the museum

One of the symbols chosen for the decoration of the tiles is naturally a Star of David – a distinctly Jewish symbol that also appears in Muslim culture. George chose to decorate the tiles with Star of David symbols, a six-pointed star, in different colors but after the colors were chosen and the shades were adjusted, it was clear that a yellow Star of David would not be decorating the ceramic tiles of the Museum of the City of Jerusalem.

We could not restrain ourselves and asked George whether the complex and sensitive project was worthwhile and he replied with a broad smile that the price was reasonable but the experience was enormous. For him to be part of the building of Jerusalem is a great honor, Jerusalem is his city and he cannot imagine himself living in another city. He is an inseparable part of the stones that adorn it.

מחברת הדוגמאות

The notebook of the samples

George and his wife run the workshop. His wife is a graduate of a design school and helps him draw sketches and develop samples. Their different tastes help them create a great deal of diversity in the works they produce – she likes to combine modern design with traditional design, with subtle and detailed designs, and George prefers to “go wild”.

Visiting guests at the workshop may think the work is tedious, but for George it is a wonderful  playground where he is the designer, the draftsman, the sketcher, the painter and the sculptor, and above all – this is a mission for him: In his art he shows the special harmony that characterizes Jerusalem.

צביעת הדוגמאות על הכלים בצבעים מיוחדים

Painting the samples on the dishes in special colors

לאחר הצביעה הכלים מוכנים ל"אפייה"

After painting, the dishes are ready for “baking”

טבילת הכלים בגלזורה- אבקת זכוכית לבנה שמעורבבת במים

Dipping the dishes in the glaze – a white glass powder mixed with water

את הכלים מכנסים לתנור שמגיע לדרגת חום גבוהה במיוחד, ואחרי "אפייה" של הכלים האבקה שהופכת לציפוי זכוכית מטביעה את הצבעים, מדגישה אותם ונותנת להם ברק

The dishes are put into an oven that reaches an extremely high temperature, and after “baking” the ceramics, the powder that turn into a glass coating seals the colors, emphasizes them and makes them shine.

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