Molding the vessel

The Jerusalem Ceramic Art Center invites everyone to find their creator within.

Creating at the ‘Wine, Women, Ceramics and Song’ class (photo credit: Courtesy)
Creating at the ‘Wine, Women, Ceramics and Song’ class
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In Hassidic teaching, a person should strive to make themselves a vessel for the creator; to find their unique shape and contours, in order to receive blessings and fulfill their purpose. In this way, ceramics is a beautiful metaphor for living, especially in Jerusalem. The art of ceramics has experienced a resurgence recently, both locally and globally.
Mallory Serebrin, a veteran ceramicist and founder of the Jerusalem Ceramic Center, says, “People in general are becoming more aware of energy, and there is a certain energy within a handmade vessel. It’s so much more special and authentic to hold and use a coffee mug that someone created with love because it embodies that love when it’s passed on. So many things are made in China now. Where is something personal? People want a sense of real craft.”
Serebrin comes from four generations of artists. Both her father and grandfather were painters and her great-grandfather was a photographer in Vilna. It was only a matter of time before Serebrin took on her artistic heritage herself. She studied fine arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, followed by two summers at the New York State School of Ceramics. It was there that her more serious pottery work revealed itself. After making aliya, Serebrin worked for Livnot U’Lehibanot for nine years. “All the while, I was trying to figure out who I was as an artist and how I could get back to that in my life,” Serebrin adds. “I always loved painting on three dimensions, much more so than on canvas. I started working in ceramics and found that I was able to solve problems in clay. It was very innate for me. Basically, making art is solving problems.”
Serebrin has lived in Israel for 23 years, and has been working in clay for 16. Her transition to ceramics teacher and full-time artist happened organically when a friend got pregnant and asked if Serebrin could take over her class. She hesitantly agreed; unsure of her capabilities as a teacher at the time. When the class was over, one of the participants asked if she would continue. It was obvious that Serebrin was a teacher. She founded the Jerusalem Ceramic Art Center 11 years ago and has been leading classes in her Talpiot studio ever since. Serebrin has a diverse range of students from those who have never touched clay before to seasoned artists and everyone in between. “I have kids, grandmas, and the whole spectrum,” she says. “It’s a great opportunity for people to connect to each other and to their creative selves. Many people walk into my classes saying they’re not talented. It’s not true. They just haven’t tapped into what is their gift as a human being; to be able to create beauty.”
Serebrin offers many classes for the Jerusalem ceramics community, which is comprised of mostly women. She has a six-week Tools and Techniques class for beginners. She holds open studio classes, three in the morning and one in the evening, during the school year. Private wheel lessons are available for those who want to focus more on that specific technique and receive one-on-one attention. Serebrin also offers children’s classes in the afternoons, as well as parties, and parent/child workshops. She occasionally gives a fundamentals course, which focuses on light, color, and three-dimensional design. “I love doing those,” she says. “That’s where the magic happens.”
Ceramicists at the Jerusalem Ceramic Art Center also have the option to become members, which grants them unlimited access to the studio. Members are able to rely on Serebrin for advice and guidance if needed, while enjoying the artistic freedom from which creativity can flourish. One such member, Chaya Esther Ort, has been working with Serebrin for six years. Finding the Jerusalem Ceramic Art Center gave Ort the chance to reconnect with her passion for ceramics, which she had developed as a teenager, but hadn’t been able to foster after moving to Israel and starting a family. “I see such a beautiful dynamic when I’m in the studio,” Ort says. “It’s about bringing art into the world and into yourself. Because ceramics is mostly functional art, making that a part of your life is so special. Using a plate that has that God-given energy; you’re elevating your life just by using the resources you were created with.”
For Ort, there is a beauty in working with clay that is forgiving of flaws. Like broken pottery becomes a mosaic, Ort is quick to point out that any mistake a ceramicist makes is salvageable and can be turned into more art. For Ort, who is a seasoned artist in her own right, Serebrin’s organization and experience are vital. “Mallory has a deep understanding of the principles of art and the nature of creativity,” Ort adds.
During the recent “Wine, Women, Ceramics and Song” class, a special summer workshop held earlier this month at the center, Serebrin opened with fill-in-the-blank statements like “My favorite time of day is…” and “If there was one skill or talent that I could have, it would be…” The icebreakers allowed people to open up to each other before the class began. For beginners, it allowed them to gain the confidence to try their hand at something new. “The creative process is like standing at the edge of not knowing, which is often scary,” Serebrin explains. “But it’s from that place where we release the most creative parts of ourselves and our lives. Being able to take risks and say ‘what if’ is where creativity really comes from.”
Serebrin’s goal is to make ceramics available to anyone who wants to learn. In the future, she endeavors to open up a scholarship for children whose families can’t afford the class fees. For now, her teaching style and multiple course options continue to welcome beginner and veteran ceramicists alike.
“There is something spiritual about a vessel; it contains the negative space of life and yet it makes a positive form in the world,” Serebrin summarizes. “Like the Torah where we read it repeatedly every year and learn something new, ceramics is inexhaustive. I’ve been doing this for over 15 years and I learn something new every single day. It’s really about being alive in the moment and being in dialogue with the material.”
To learn more about Mallory Serebrin’s artwork and classes : and To learn more about Chaya Esther Ort’s artwork: