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Armenian ceramics, Jerusalem Pottery and the Karakashian family

Dome of the Rock, Street name tiles - a rich family tradition in Jerusalem

In Jerusalem today, Armenian pottery or Armenian ceramics has become a household phrase. When someone mentions Armenian pottery, it immediately conjures up mental images of finely hand painted floral ceramic plates, tiles and pottery, painted with cobalt blues, deep turquoises, and bright reds. But few people know the real story behind this craft, and the individuals who introduced and established this ceramic art form to the holy city, and the rest of the holy land.

 

The who, how and when, of Armenian pottery - a brief synopsis

In 1919 during the British mandate, the British governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, as part of reviving the arts & crafts activities in Jerusalem, came up with the project of renovating the ceramic tiles of the Dome of the Rock. Mr. David Ohanessian, an accomplished professional Armenian ceramic artist, was placed in charge of recruiting a group of Armenian ceramic artists and potters, to come and work on the Dome of the Rock renovation. My grandfather, Megerditch Karakashian, a master painter, was among the artists recruited, from the city of Kutahya in Turkey.

 

Megerditch Karakashian, master painter

Megerditch Karakashian, master painter (photo)

 

Happy to leave Turkey because of persecutions, my grandfather opted to travel to Jerusalem to work, slowly bringing his family members to Jerusalem. This group of Armenian ceramic artists and potters, made sample tiles for the Dome of the Rock project. However, for various reasons, the project was scrapped. But my grandfather and his partner, Mr. Nshan Balian the potter, decided to stay in Jerusalem and open a workshop on Nablus road, in 1922. There, they produced some of the first Armenian pottery wares, introducing this art to Jerusalem. David Ohanessian also opened his own workshop and produced wares.

These are the individuals responsible for the introduction of Armenian pottery to Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, David Ohanessian, Megerditch Karakashian the master painter, and Nshan Balian the master potter.

 

 

 

 

Street name tiles of the Old City of Jerusalem - The second generation Karakashians

In 1963, my grandfather passed away, and my father Stepan Karakashian, separated from the Balians, and with his brother Berge, opened his own workshop in 1964, at 15 Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem. There, he continued to make Armenian pottery with his brother.

 

Stepan Karakashian painting the street name tiles of the Old City of Jerusalem, circa 1968Street name signs made by the Karakashians

 

 
 

One of the projects Stepan and Berge worked on, was the Street name tiles of the Old City of Jerusalem. In 1965, the Jordanian government, which had sovereignty over Jerusalem, commissioned my father and uncle, to paint street name tiles for the Old City. At first, all the street names were done in Arabic and English only. But, when the Israelis captured Jerusalem in 1967, they decided to add the Hebrew on top of the already existing street names, and commissioned my father to make the Hebrew names. As you can see from the picture above, the Hebrew was added separately on top. So if you see street name tiles in two parts in Jerusalem, you can date the Arabic and English as painted before 1967, and the Hebrew as painted after 1967. Read more...

 
A word on mass produced copies, and other Armenian families who started producing Armenian pottery

If you visit Jerusalem today, the Old City markets and alleys are full of souvenir shops that sell "Armenian pottery". This kind of Armenian pottery is mass produced in Hebron, and these wares are copies of what we make. You can easily recognize these ceramic wares, because they look the same from one shop to another.

As for other Armenian families making Armenian pottery, there are a few studios who started emulating our work and making their style of Armenian pottery. These studios are relatively new, around 30 years old, and have nothing to do with the original families who came and introduced this art to Jerusalem. Of the original families who came from Turkey, only the Karakashians and the Balians continue the true tradition.

Jerusalem Pottery Hagop Karakashian - the third generation

Finaly, I get to introduce myself. My name is Hagop Karakashian, and I learned my craft from my father and uncle, when I joined the family business in 1995. Prior to that, as a child, my father used to take me to work with him during summer vacations, and teach me how to paint and draw. Those memories and experiences instilled in me a love for this art. And so today, my passion and aim is to produce the finest and highest quality Armenian pottery in Jerusalem, the traditional way, as handed down to me by my father.

Hagop Karakashian Armenian pottery

Today, with the help of my wife, Tzoghig, I paint my tiles and pottery in my studio and workshop located at 3 The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate Street, in the Old City of Jerusalem, very near to Jaffa Gate and New Gate. I welcome you warmly to visit my store and studio if you ever come to Jerusalem.

The plate I am holding is one of my grandfather's works and was painted before 1948. How can you tell?

Books on Jerusalem Pottery's Karakashian family

2 books written on the Karakashian family history and contribution to the
establishing of Armenian ceramic art in Jerusalem.

  • Book in English - The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem, Three generations, 1919-2003
  • Book in Hebrew - The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem, Three generations, 1919-2000

Tree of life tile
The Tree of Life

 

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