(April 5, 2022 / JNS) Tucked away in the twists and turns of Jerusalem’s Nachlaot neighborhood are stately, even somewhat serene-looking homes and buildings just blocks from the hustle and bustle of Machane Yehuda’s open-air market. One of the businesses there is the Kiyor Studio for Ceramics and the Arts, opened shortly before the coronavirus pandemic by Chaya Esther Ort, 61, a lifelong New Yorker turned Israeli, a wife, a mother, grandmother and artist who, as a saying, proves that good things come to those who wait. She talks about her philosophy, her projects and how Jerusalem and the Passover feast are part of it.
Q: Why, when and how did you open your studio?
A: I first put my hands on clay at summer camp when I was 9 years old. I was hit.
I first set foot in Israel when I was 15. My grandmother sent me on a summer trip because she wanted me to love Israel. I was hit again.
During the busy years raising my family, I was too busy being a wife, mother, and graphic designer to even dream of the day when I could aliyah and dedicate myself to making art. Luckily for me, dreams do come true, and in 2008 I made aliyah with my husband and my two youngest children, then aged 15 and 18. Our eldest daughter had aliyah only the previous year, and our two eldest are still in the United States.
With the mostly adult children, I resumed my love affair with clay, developing my practice and my own style in a studio in Jerusalem.
Eventually, I spent so much time there that I opened my own studio three years ago (in 2019), downstairs from my home in Nachlaot.
My passion is to use my art to spread the beauty and light of the land and spirit of Israel to the world. The fact that my ceramics are made of clay from the actual physical earth means that no matter where someone lives, they can have a piece of Israel with them, materially and spiritually. And when it’s this beautiful and usable, Israel is a meaningful and active part of their daily lives.
Q: How is Israeli clay different from other types of clay, and where do you get the material?
A: There is a concept in Judaism that everything in the spiritual world has a physical counterpart and vice versa – like two sides of a coin, they are inseparable.
This is why I use clay hewn from the real land of Israel because physical clay contains the spiritual sparks of Israel. Most of it comes from the Negev desert. I use a range of colors including white, pink, sand and dark brown.
As you serve a meal on dinnerware inspired by a breathtaking Mediterranean sunset, drink morning coffee from a hand-painted mug inspired by a lush pomegranate orchard or light Sabbath candles in holders made from the actual earth of the Holy Land, these physical things are imbued with the spiritual energy of the earth that inspired it and from which it was literally made.
Q: What objects do you focus on in creating your art? What are some of your most popular pieces?
A: As an artist, I am inspired by the beauty of Israel’s land and seascapes – from the lush greens of the Golan Heights and the Galilee in the north, to the austere grandeur of the Dead Sea, and the sand and stone from the Negev Desert, the clear turquoises and teals of the Mediterranean, to the Judean Hills and golden Jerusalem. Divine beauty abounds everywhere you look, especially in the rich and varied jewel tones of earth’s bounty – pomegranate reds, purple grapes and figs, Sienna dates and olive green.
I believe in the power of art to elevate everyday life, especially functional art, which combines beauty and imagination with friendliness and functionality.
The synthesis of aesthetics and functionality allows art to be an active part of everyday life, infusing beauty into the things we use and integrating art into everyday life in a way that uplifts both the art and the things we use. When art and the things we use in daily life become one, the two become a kind of sacred celebration of life.
I create unique, heirloom-quality Judaica tabletop art and jewelry, as well as custom tile murals for backsplashes and fixtures. After hand-constructing the clay bodies and firing them in bisque, I abstract the glaze or hand-paint scenes from the life and land of Israel. Each piece is adorned with 22 karat baked gold accents and bears my original signature. Major pieces, such as seder plates and menorahs, come with a certificate of authenticity.
Some of my most popular pieces are menorahs, candlesticks and kiddush cups. They make very special wedding gifts that will be used week after week, year after year, destined to become treasured family heirlooms. I also hand paint tableware and gifts such as tea sets, dessert plates and trays, and tealights with themes of Israel’s seven special species.
Q: Some of your parts have cracks. Why is that; is it intentional?
A: In ceramics, breakage is a professional risk. I never expect anything to come out of the oven cracked or broken, but when it does, I use the ancient Japanese technique of Kintsugi, or Kintsukuroi, to fix it.
Built on the idea that by embracing flaws and imperfections you can create an even stronger and more beautiful work of art, Kintsugi celebrates beauty and the acceptance of imperfection. She reminds us that when life gives us blows that break us, we can rebuild ourselves, and be stronger and more beautiful.
It’s a powerful metaphor for life, where nothing is ever truly broken. By working with clay, I feel like I am also restoring the broken parts of myself.
From Kintsugi I learned that even if something, including me, is broken, it can be fixed, and although it may have scars, it can still be useful and beautiful – “perfectly imperfect”.
With my “Next Year in Jerusalem” (NYIJ) collection, there was an unusually high percentage of breakage – a fortuitous symbol of the splitting of the Red Sea and a reminder of the history of Jerusalem destroyed and rebuilt time and time again since the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, at which we conclude the Passover seder with the declaration and prayer, “Next year in Jerusalem.”
Q: How do you want people to perceive your artwork, aside from aesthetics and usage? And what are your goals for the studio?
A: My studio is more than a place where I design and craft my original collections of Judaica, tableware, and jewelry, as well as tile murals for custom backsplashes and installations. From the beginning, I saw my studio as a space where others can learn and practice their own craft in a collaborative atmosphere. I offer hand and wheel building classes, as well as what I call ‘clay dates’. Open studio time is also available for those who can work clay independently.
When I returned to working with clay, I found quite organically that so many traits and qualities that I had worked on all my life were being experienced in my ceramic practice.
Things like patience, acceptance, flexibility, open-mindedness, and honesty are some of the many powerful lessons clay has taught me. I discovered that by working, I could access the lessons I was learning in my relationships and my life outside of the studio. And it makes so much sense because, as it is written in the Genesis creation story, God created man from the dust of the earth. We are literally made of clay. When we work with clay, we necessarily work on ourselves.
It’s an amazing lesson that I want to share with others.
Q: Is there anything else you would like your audience to know?
A: My social media clients and followers include people of all faiths who love both art and the Land of Israel. My work is particularly appreciated by collectors of original ceramic art.
For me, doing functional art in Israel – and of Israel – is a blessing for which I am so grateful every day.
With the return of tourism, I look forward to once again hosting hands-on workshops and presentations in the studio for families, Birthright trip participants, Momentum groups and other visitors to Israel who wish to explore art. , spirituality and the Land of Israel.
Chaya Esther Ort’s work can be seen at kiyorstudio.com and on Etsy @kiyorstudoas well as on top instagram and Facebook @kiyorstudio. Visits to the studio can be made by appointment via WhatsApp: +972 (0)52-449-5858.