In Design: The lost Israeli art
LAST UPDATED: 05/24/2011 17:34
A gallery in Jaffa’s flea market gives new life to design pieces whose best days are past.
Ben Baroch pottery Photo: Courtesy
It seems that every single day, the wide-reaching arms of technology embrace a
larger part of our lives. At the same time, the globe, which was once enormous
and inconceivably diverse, seems to shrink like a dehydrated dinosaur sponge
reverting back into its capsulated form. In New York City, produce from more
than 40 countries can be purchased 24 hours a day. Videos of fluffy dogs and
small children doing silly tricks from six continents can be ogled on the
Internet. Whether they like it or not, everyone knows that things are
progressing at an all-too-quick pace.
Those who look forward feel excited
about all the conveniences about to reach the tips of our fingers. Those who
choose to look back, like Eran Ben-Baroch, provide a bridge between what was and
what will be.
Ben-Baroch is by nature a collector, the host of a foster
home for unwanted goods. He has spent the better part of his life in Jaffa’s
famous flea market, patrolling the hectic stalls for discarded diamonds. He is
the owner of the gorgeous Vintage Gallery, the purveyor of renovated antique
furniture and home furnishings, and a veritable encyclopedia of past and present
Most days, Ben-Baroch can be found hustling around
his shop, speaking with customers in hurried sentences and gently adjusting the
displays. Vintage Gallery is the largest store of its kind in the country. Ben-
Baroch and his associates specialize in giving new life to design pieces whose
best days seem to be behind them.
Behind the vast displays of Deco chairs
and Formica tabletops is a trained staff of carpenters and upholsterers who are
experts are fixing and refurbishing even the most desperate cases.
couple of years ago, Ben- Baroch recognized that a change was taking place in
the profile of market shoppers. This shift is what many refer to as the
“renaissance of the flea market,” a movement that includes the opening of a slew
of designer clothing and shoe stores as well as upscale restaurants geared
towards the wellmoneyed customer. As a response, he teamed up with Avi Cohen and
Gilad Moshkatel to open an adjacent store called Items. Items offers the vintage
savvy buyer a more affordable way to obtain their favorite, famous designs. The
new store sells high quality reproductions of world famous designs like the egg
chair from A Clockwork Orange for more attainable prices. In addition, Items
sells a number of products by the American design label White On White. These
items, such as a wooden dining table and chairs, have a rustic, organic feel,
which can happily complement vintage pieces purchased next
Ben-Baroch is the third generation of salesmen present in the
market. In fact, in the back of his store, perched on a small beam, hangs the
original door sign from his grandfather’s furniture shop, which was only a few
blocks away from where Ben- Baroch now works. Beginning last week and going
through the second week of June, Ben- Baroch invites the public into his very
own wildlife reserve; only his endangered species are samples of Israel’s lost
art form, ceramics. Over the past several weeks, he has carefully put together
an exhibition of Israeli ceramics.
Ben-Baroch’s love for and amazing
knowledge of ceramics came to him as an inheritance does. He is an avid
collector of all things clay and boasts a stock that tells the story of his
country’s tragically truncated love affair with the craft.
In the 1930s,
years before the establishment of the state, the seeds of the ceramic industry
began to take root. A handful of factories began to distribute modern-day pots
and pans, painted by talented local artists. For the following 50 years, this
industry would grow and evolve, becoming synonymous with the Israeli design aesthetic. Companies such as Na’aman, Harsa,
Lapid and Beit Hayotzer (the creator’s house) became household names, symbols of
prestige and elegance. No Israeli home was complete without a ceramic ewer or a
set of painted dishes.
Then, in the 1980s, as the import market took over
the interior design industry, ceramic companies took a debilitating hit. The
public was no longer interested in local goods. Foreign became chic, leaving
Israeli ceramics in the dust. For the past 30 years, the industry has been at a
On a Thursday morning in early May, Ben-Baroch was happy
to point out a personal favorite. He looked up at a dark brownish-gray ceramic
wall adornment hanging high above the entrance to the store. “It used to be a
table,” explained Amit Aviv, Ben- Baroch’s longtime employee and fellow database
of all things vintage. “It’s a great example of what once was,” sighed
Behind each piece in the collection is a fascinating story,
which connects to the history of Israel, he explained. “Every one is decorated
and painted in a way that is unique to the piece, which give it the magic and
honor of being one of a kind.”
During the ceramics exhibit, Ben-Baroch
will finally allow fellow ceramics lovers to purchase pieces from his stock. It
could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Vintage Gallery, Rehov Oley Zion
13, the flea market, Jaffa. (03) 518-8755.
The ceramics exhibit
will run through June. Open Sunday to Friday.