Ceramics artists support one another during pandemic

A problem shared is a problem halved.

KATZ'S THEMATIC purview takes in  some weird and wonderful figures and shapes. (photo credit: BORIS KATZ)
KATZ'S THEMATIC purview takes in some weird and wonderful figures and shapes.
(photo credit: BORIS KATZ)
Over the past few months, artists of all ilks have taken the brunt of the pandemic economic slowdown. Naturally, anyone involved in the performing arts has been forced into a frustrating state of inactivity and a dearth of bread-winning opportunities. But the plastic arts sector has not exactly been making hay while the pandemic crisis progresses either.
Still, it can help to have a shoulder to lean on, and a sympathetic ear to offload one’s concerns. A problem shared is a problem halved, so they say.
The pervading support ethos is a basic tenet of the Cadim Potters’ Cooperative, which runs a store on Yoel Salomon Street. The group comprises 15 ceramics artists, each with their own singular artistic style and personality. That sense of mutual backing comes across throughout my conversations with Ruthie Simon and Boris Katz, both seasoned artists in their 50s and happy to be part of the joint venture.
Downtown Jerusalem store site notwithstanding, Cadim is not an exclusively local team. Dvora Yehezkely, for example, lives in Kfar Adumim. Ady Shapira lives on Moshav Avichayil near Netanya, and there are a couple of Galilean ceramics artists in the bunch too.

RUTHIE SIMON has been a mainstay of the cooperative for almost three decades. (Michal Simon)
They appear to be a motley lot, on all sorts of levels. Judging by the wares on display in the shop, they each bring their own personal baggage, skills and credo to the common fray. And there are potters in their 30s, through to the doyen of the unit, octogenarian Argentinean-born Jerusalemite Edith Adi.
As the Cadim – meaning “pots” or “eastern/ancient” – website blurb enthuses: “What’s wonderful about our coop is that each one has a different and unique style, so that when a customer comes in to the store, she gets to see fifteen different ways of working with clay and a large selection of contemporary Israeli ceramics.”
That was certainly the impression I got when I met up with Simon at the store recently. Cecelia Lind’s eye-catching wares offered splashes of rich hues embellished by various decorative creatures such as seahorses and birds, with some fetching vessels in shades of blue that tend more to the classical category. Kazakhstan-born, Bezalel Academy-educated Svetlana Faerman appears to draw her inspiration from traditional figures and the rustic surroundings of her country of birth, while Simon’s own spread took in earthy colors and textures, Judaica-style artifacts and intricate latticework ornamentation.

BORIS KATZ infuses his creations with comedic content. (Leonid Khromchenko)
But if it’s a chuckle you’re after in these bleak times, Boris Katz’s polychromic works should fit the bill. Katz hails from Pskov in western Russia, not far from the border with Estonia. He immigrated to Israel in 1990 and settled in Kiryat Hayovel, where he still has his studio.
Katz is clearly blessed with a fertile imagination, and his aesthetic and thematic purview takes in some weird and wonderful figures and shapes, including some wacky ornithological creatures with outsized proboscises and highly expressive glazed-looking eyes. Responding to the current “purple badge” requisites, there are even a handful of creations in there that come complete with their very own ceramic coronavirus guideline-compliant masks.

CECILIA LIND often features zoological figures in her ceramic works. (Cecilia Lind)
Katz started out on his clay-fashioning road by chance.
“We had a small summer house out of town – a dacha – and there was a pottery workshop a few miles away,” he recalls. “I guess I was about 15. That’s 40 years ago now,” he laughs. “I started going to the workshop and taking clay in my hands. I learned about firing too. It was fascinating.”
Katz’s artistic interest in ceramics quickly developed into earnest endeavor, and he registered for an arts school near his home.
“I was excited about pottery but I studied all areas of the arts,” he notes. “I still sculpt today, but I also learned about painting and drawing. All sorts. All of that informs what I do today. You could call me a multidisciplinary artist.”

THE CADIM Potters’ Cooperative is located in normally tourist-swamped Nahalat Shiva. (Adi Shapira)
In fact, the youngster was earmarked for a very different professional pathway.
“Everyone in my family is a doctor, and I was supposed to study medicine too,” he says. Luckily, the Soviet authorities thought otherwise.
“I did the entrance examinations but I wasn’t accepted,” Katz continues. “They decided there were enough Jewish doctors in the Soviet Union. No Jews were accepted for medical studies that year.”
THE ROAD was now clear for Katz to make good on his youthful passion for art, and ensure he had the technical wherewithal to take the next step or two.
“I went to the academy for the arts and I got into all the rudiments of pottery, glass and other things. You know, you can’t speak a language if you don’t know how to spell, the grammar and syntax. You need to get the basics of art right before you can fly.” Katz has clearly been aiming for higher, and entertaining, things ever since.

MUCH OF Dvora Yehezkely’s work runs along feminine spherical lines. (Dvora Yehezkely)
After making aliyah, he began developing his local profile by taking up a voluntary position at the Jerusalem House of Quality. Gradually, he began making his mark on the local market and joined the Guild Arts Cooperative Gallery, down Yoel Salomon Street from Cadim. Two years ago, Katz crossed the road.
“They asked me to join,” he says. “I knew the members and I was happy to join.”
It appears to be a smooth-running, harmonious collective.
“We each take turns to take care of the store for a whole day,” Simon explains. “We clean the place, and make sure everything is in order.”
It appears to be a happy case of one for all and all for one.
“Every so often we move things around, so no one artist has their products at the front of the store on a permanent basis,” Simon says. “And we don’t try to direct customers to our own things. We make sure each artist gets their takings, and everything is transparent and open to all of us,” she adds, showing me a form where sales are recorded.
“The person working in the store photographs the form at the end of the day and sends it by WhatsApp to the other members of the group. And look, there are 15 receipt books here.” All appears to be above board.

SIMON’S OFFERINGS take in earthy colors and textures, Judaicastyle artifacts and intricate latticework ornamentation. (Credit: Ruthie Simon)
While the inner personal and professional machinations seem to be in order, sales have nosedived since the coronavirus outbreak, even though many of the delightful artifacts are inexpensive.
“We do some online sales, but there are no tourists around,” Simon points out somewhat superfluously. In “normal” times, Yoel Salomon and the whole Nahalat Shiva district throngs with vacationers from all over the globe, some looking for that something special to take home.
“There are some people from New York who always come to the gallery when they are in Israel,” Simon notes. “It is tough now, but somehow we’ll get by.”
Ever-genial, Katz fully intends to “get by,” and hopes to do so with a smile on his face. “It is challenging without tourists here, but I have started teaching again, doing workshops.”
He says there are mutual benefits to be had.

KATZ'S THEMATIC purview takes in some weird and wonderful figures and shapes. (Credit: Boris Katz)
“When a student picks up a piece of clay at one of my workshops, it is a tactile and healing process. They talk about their troubles and emotions, and we work through that together and create something.”
It is, he muses, something of a throwback to an earlier curtailed stage of his life too.
“I feel like a doctor,” he laughs.

YAIR LEVI’S oeuvre incorporates biblical themes and sculptural elements. (Yair Levi)
While he does his best to maintain a sunny disposition, Katz says it is very much a two-way emotional street.
“There has always been the comical side, but despair is never far away either,” he chuckles wryly. “They are two sides of the same coin.”
Hence his rib-tickling creature creations, pandemic-guideline face protectors and all.
“Art is also about contrasts, minus and plus, which makes your work more articulate. You can see that in my work, on my website. I am always looking to express more accentuated feelings.”
That, he says, comes with the ethnic and personal territory.
“It all relates to a sense of humor. You look at these birds with the masks. That is funny. The situation these days is not always funny, but if you look at these birds and it makes you smile, that helps.”
Here’s hoping Cadim, and all artists across the country, make it through the current economic slowdown in one piece.
For more information: cadimjerusalem.com/en.

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