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Potters of Palestine

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 28.05.2006:

The three Sandrouni brothers, George, Garo and Harout began the Armenian Art Centre in 1983 to display the work of Armenian artists, potters and craftsmen. Gradually they began to produce pottery themselves and the center has become a gallery for Sandrouni art work.

Harout Sandrouni, a civil engineer by trade spent two years in Australia working in a ceramics factory learning the technical aspects of pottery. He then returned to Jerusalem to share his knowledge with his brothers.

Applying the techniques of traditional Armenian ceramics was the task of Garo Sandrouni. Garo researched traditional styles, the kinds of brushes necessary for painting and the kinds of paints needed, both water and oil-based.

George has taken on the task of designing. His inspiration comes from many sources: “Everything from murals in mosques, carpets, old tiles and modern graphics and designs inspire me. Basically anything I can get my hands on.” These range from old Armenian manuscripts with mythical designs to Ottoman and Persian influences. The center of Armenian ceramics were the two Turkish cities of Iznik and Kutahya. Both cities are heavily adorned with Armenian ceramics.

Much of the floral and geometric patterns that George produces are influenced by Ottoman works while the figurative designs are influenced by Persian and Armenian art. The modern works of the shop are very casual, tourist scenes with simple designs like Jerusalem or nameplates. Tourist items are in great demand, but George maintains that “Though these are simple modern designs, they are still Armenian. Probably, the designs we call traditional were the kind of modern designs when they began what we are doing now; someday these modern designs will be traditional.”

The process of producing a design begins with an inspiration. George said, “The idea itself may take months. I have an inspiration, I research it, think about it. Once I have decided exactly what I want the design to look like, it takes approximately two weeks to produce.” George explained the birth of one design. The inspiration came from a Picasso done in the neo-classical style. The painting is of embracing lovers. George put the lovers in a Persian context, redesigning their form and background. After George produces the design he makes several copies on tracing paper, then he perforates the design so that it is a stencil. The stencil is placed on a piece of pottery and dusted with charcoal. After the design is roughly in place it is painted.

Each piece has its own style, some of the designs are done entirely freehand while others are partially or completely traced. There are three young Armenian painters who apply water based paints to the designs, each with his or her own technique.

Though the Sandrouni brothers produce some pieces, it is not cost effective to produce the pottery itself. They contract others, giving specific design instructions and concentrate on the art work. Because everything is hand produced and they have a very small work force, they feel that mass production is not for them. Quality control is important to the Sandrounis and the workshop has a certain pace. The Sandrouni brothers sell their own work and do not sell to retailers.

Source: Biladi-Jerusalem Times, May 26, 1995.

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