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Historians tell us that whenever a new type of technology is introduced, it is often made to resemble the earlier form of technology that it replaces. Thus the first automobiles were built to look like buggies, the first TV sets resembled radios, the first personal computers looked a lot like IBM Selectric typewriters, and the very first pieces of pottery - a major invention dating back 10,000 years - were designed to look like baskets.
Cars, TV sets and computers have all come a long way since their respective early days. Judging from the seventh annual Israel Ceramics Fair held May 29 - 31 in Ra'anana, so have pots.
Sixty-seven leading ceramic artists from all over Israel came to display and sell pots, plates, bowls, urns, cups and vases ranging in shape and style from traditional to avant-garde, from functional to fantastic. The fair, sprawled colorfully around the lake in Ra'anana Park, provided a superb venue for artists to showcase a wide array of craftsmanship in clay.
Among the multitude of offerings were whimsical ceramic sculptures, decorative wall tiles, eye-catching earthenware necklaces and bracelets, sturdy sugar bowls and cream pitchers made for daily use, and small, delicate, intricately painted lacquer ware designed to be looked at through the windows of a locked cupboard and never, ever touched.
The fair, the only one of its kind in Israel, was sponsored and organized by the Ceramic Artists Association of Israel (CAAI), a non-profit organization with more than 450 members. CAAI's twofold mission is to expose the Israeli public to ceramic art in all of its forms - which it does largely through exhibitions, public lectures and symposia - and to educate Israeli ceramicists through classes, workshops and seminars led by ceramic artists from abroad. CAAI also publishes a monthly newsletter and maintains a website in Hebrew and English (www.israel-ceramics.org). The CAAI's national fair is held in cooperation with Ra'anana's municipal cultural department.
What sort of person decides to become a professional ceramic artist? Ceramic art seems to attract its devotees from virtually all walks of life. In appearance alone, those who came to Ra'anana were a diverse lot. Some looked like hippies, others like office workers and housewives. The majority were native Israelis, but others French, Russian and British. An Ethiopian woman displayed a table full of jet-black clay figurines that skillfully blended a traditionally African idiom with a style unique to the artist.
All the artists profess an intense love for what they do and a desire to do it full time. Not all succeed. Colin Richardson, originally from Manchester, England, says, "If you're really lucky, you can do this and make a living at it. Otherwise, you've got to have a job or a wife or husband who works."
Richardson lives on a kibbutz, creates his artwork in addition to his other responsibilities, and is purely self-taught. Other ceramists have undergone formal studies. Israeli-born Etel Pisarif studied at the University of Haifa and an art academy in Belgium. Boris Katz, who attracted passers-by with ceramic figurines of people and animals with holes for mouth and fingers that double as musical instruments, studied his craft in Russia. Both are professional artists who create their work full time.
"This is what I do - nothing else" says Pisarif. "It's not easy, but if you work hard and don't want much, you can live."
Sue Goodman, from Birmingham, England, and in Israel for 40 years, describes herself as "definitely professional." Her art, called luster ware, comprises a variety of ceramic forms with metallic decoration. It is the result of many years of work and study.
Not all the artists at the ceramics fair were content to merely display and sell their work. Potter Giles Jurie demonstrated his craftsmanship by producing large earthenware bowls to admiring audiences gathered around his potter's wheel; others, like Goodman, distributed flyers and brochures that explained how they create their art.
Among the fair's highlights were activity centers in which art students from Tel Hai College taught the craft of pottery-making to some obviously delighted children.
As the fair drew to an end, visitors came away with some state-of-the-art pots, bowls, sculpture and figurines to adorn coffee tables and bookshelves, and an eager sense of anticipation of the eighth annual fair next year.