Functional beauty

Chaya Esther Ort’s backsplash tiles revitalize the heart of the home.

Chaya Esther Ort (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Chaya Esther Ort
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
was created to be appreciated, but also to be used. Painting a picture is wonderful, but if it’s also a backsplash of tiles that are protecting your kitchen from water damage behind the counter, then to me, that’s an even deeper level of art.”
For Ort, the kiyor in the time of the Temple is the quintessential piece of functional art. It was made from the copper mirrors that the women donated when they came out of Egypt, and was an essential part of the daily service of the priests, who had to first use the kiyor as a washing station before they could begin their service.
“It was also very meaningful to me that the copper was donated by the women from the mirrors that were used to ensure the survival of the Jewish people,” she adds.
Backsplash tile murals find a natural home in the kitchen. Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEMBacksplash tile murals find a natural home in the kitchen. Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM
“When Pharaoh made the decree that the baby boys be thrown into the Nile, the men didn’t want to be with their wives because they didn’t want their babies to be killed. But the women had more emuna [faith] and were more life-affirming. They felt, why should we also not have girls? So they made these copper mirrors so that they could beautify themselves and seduce their husbands. Moses complained to God in this week’s parasha and asked if it was unsavory to use that same copper in the Beit Hamikdash. But God responded that there is nothing more precious to Him.”
It is this spirit of reusing the old and sometimes even the broken that presents itself in Ort’s art time and again; building on what came before with the intention of elevating it higher and higher. Her tile art began by painting copies of photos that she had taken of her cherished Nahlaot neighborhood and surrounding areas of Jerusalem.
This lent itself to designing individual tiles, using varying techniques.
When the concept of the backsplash was born, she began looking for an opportunity to execute it. Then a woman in Nahlaot said she was renovating her kitchen and looking for beautiful tile art. It seemed like the perfect chance to try a backsplash.
“She’s a very subtle person, not showy,” Ort states. “Her color palette is muted. When she came up the idea to have the backsplash in the style of Anna Ticho, one of her favorite painters, I ran with it.”
The tiles Ort used for the first backsplash were ready-made, low fire bisque ware. The elaborate mural covers the entire back wall of the kitchen and depicts flowing scenes of Israel, from the Dead Sea to the Judean Hills to Rachel’s Tomb, in gentle watercolors.
“People come to my house and say that they’ve never seen anything like this; a backsplash with such a watercolor effect,” Miriam Futterman, proud owner of Ort’s first backsplash, says.
Ort’s tile art began by painting copies of photos she had taken of her beloved Nahlaot neighborhood and surrounding areas. Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEMOrt’s tile art began by painting copies of photos she had taken of her beloved Nahlaot neighborhood and surrounding areas. Credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM
“Chaya Esther was very good at listening to me. I said I wanted the backsplash done in the style of Anna Ticho and she did that, but made it personal for me at the same time. I love Anna Ticho’s work and that was the only thing I could imagine having in my kitchen. I come in here every day and I enter this world. The kitchen is the center of my home; this is it. I love the Land of Israel and bringing that into my home is very special and meaningful.”
The collaborative process of creating a backsplash is something that Ort stresses is of vital importance. She begins by asking questions like who is their favorite artist and what are their favorite colors. Then they start to define the final product.
“I find it very satisfying and am naturally drawn to tuning in to what somebody wants and helping them find their own vision, which is sometimes unarticulated in their mind,” she explains. “Then it’s about honing it down, which is like excavating the vision.”
Ort’s tile art, whether backsplash murals or individual tiles, is amazingly versatile. For some projects, she makes the tiles by hand from clay indigenous to the Land of Israel. She then fires it and paints or glazes, depending on the design. Most of all, she likes to help people find what they love and what makes them feel good; remaining malleable to that collaborative process is one of her greatest joys.
Ort has plans to do many more backsplashes in the future, and is currently taking orders through her website and Facebook page. She points out that a backsplash is not cheap. It costs between $125 and $160 per square foot.
Depending on how large the backsplash is, the total cost changes. If someone wants a backsplash only over the stove, it would be much less. Another project she has set her sights on for the future is a family tile piece, where each family member would paint a tile. Then after it’s all fired and glazed, Ort would put it together as a larger piece with varying solid colored tiles, using watercolors or a more abstract effect.
“That would form a family piece of art that everyone had a hand in making,” she adds.
“I could also do tiles of handprints of everyone in the family. To make something that doesn’t look juvenile, but still everyone helped to create it. People talk so much about building self-esteem in children and this is a great way to do that; much more than putting drawings on the fridge.”
Ort wants to begin marketing her backsplash art to American women, with tiles made from Jerusalem clay. In this way, the backsplash is not just art inspired by the Land of Israel, but is comprised of pieces of the land that become a part of the house. Certainly, she is not at a loss for ideas in her continual foray into creative territories known and unknown.
“The backsplash really does transform a kitchen,” she concludes.
“You don’t often find art in the kitchen, but it really is the heart of the home. To be able to make a statement like that on such a large canvas in the kitchen, where we spend so much time, is really special.
“I had the courage to try the backsplash because I’m not afraid in my art. God gave me these eyes to see art everywhere I go, all around me all the time. It’s an homage to God. If we’re created in the image of God, who is the ultimate creator, then being a creator in my world is me fulfilling my destiny. So wherever I feel an urge to create, I’m fulfilling my true nature.”
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