Phoenician glass marvels showcased in Tel Aviv's BCCC

Noam Dover and Michal Cederbaum reintroduce a nearly lost craft to its source

NOAM DOVER and Michal Cederbaum present their glass art at the Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center (BCCC) in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: SHAHAR AND ZIV KATZ)
NOAM DOVER and Michal Cederbaum present their glass art at the Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center (BCCC) in Tel Aviv.
(photo credit: SHAHAR AND ZIV KATZ)
On metal tables, delicate glass amphorae are laid out as if in a Viking mead hall. Used in the ancient Mediterranean as shipping containers on Phoenician ships. To serve wine at Roman banquets and as much-valued possessions. To be given the Panathenaic amphora after the sporting events held in ancient Athens was a life changing experience, for example. These vessels, transformed to glass, reconnect visitors at the Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center (BCCC) to a millennia of human culture.
The recently extended Amphorae exhibition showcases the artworks of Noam Dover and Michal Cederbaum and their dedicated journey as a couple via some of the most respected glass centers in the world.
A serial winner of scholarships by the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA), Dover was able to attend workshops at the Pilchuck Glass School near Seattle and the Corning Museum of Glass in New York before exploring the three-centuries rich tradition of Swedish glassworks alongside his wife.
“When I was a child my parents always took me during vacations to Glasriket [the Kingdom of Crystal]”, Cederbaum, who is Swedish-Israeli, told The Jerusalem Post. “I wanted to work in glass so much I took a one-week course there, my grandmother drove me there from Stockholm.” When they lived in Sweden, Dover completed the CRAFT! Master Program at Konstfack University in the Swedish capital.
High-end craftsmanship cannot evolve without a solid grounding in practical services. In the US, demand for large glass windows was so great that a two-floor factory in Corning built a huge furnace for the blower to spool a massive amount of glass on his pipe, blow into it, and lower it to the first floor where his assistant stood. Gravity would pull the mass of molten glass into a massive cylinder shape. When the smoldering cylinder was cut, the result was one immense window. The same is true for Sweden, with its pride in Nordic design.
“A Swedish glass-blower works within a centuries-old living tradition,” Cederbaum said, “this led me into asking: ‘Who are we, as Israelis, quoting? Who are we speaking with?’ Many make the mistake of assuming people involved in crafts are motivated by nostalgia and romanticism,” she pointed out. “Not so.”
While there is nothing wrong with hobbyists enjoying a bit of pottery to re-center themselves, this is not what critical craft is. It is a serious exploration of how human material culture can be reintroduced into the cultural bloodstream in dialog with modern technology and industrial trends.
At its core, the desire that a cup, a fork, or a drinking vessel should be beautiful as well as practical, even bearing the personality of its makers, is fierce.
William Morris, the father of the British Arts and Crafts movement, claimed that an object skillfully made defies “the lying dreams of history” and that when a man makes something, “not only his own thoughts, but the thoughts of the men of past ages guide his hands.”
“In this country, there is a gap in how material culture is undertaken and understood,” curator Shlomit Bauman shared. “Palestinian ceramic artisans in Hebron have a material practice that is roughly 650 years old. In contrast, Jewish artisans began their own efforts in the 1930s.” For Bauman, the disappearance of almost any creative, and respective, dialog between both material cultures is nothing less than tragic.   
“Even Armenian artisans, who arrived here in 1919 after the British authorities invited them for the purpose of repairing the 16th century-made tiles at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, can boast a longer historical depth in their practice,” she added.
Dover learned that high-end glass work entered Northern Europe from Murano. Italian glass blowers were moved to these islands from Venice when it became obvious that the same fires that heat a furnace can burn down houses. The Italians picked up the trade secrets of heating sand into a goblet or a plate from the Phoenicians, a Semitic people who resided in what is now called Lebanon – as well as northern Israel.
RESIDING IN Ein Ayala, the two artisans are close to where an ancient glass-blowing studio once thrived during Roman times and to the quartz-rich sands of Acre. The first Phoenician glass-blower who signed his work, Ennion, was so good people wanted to be buried with objects he made and they enjoyed in life.
This is how the Israel Museum became one of the few places in the world where one can see his work. Dover and Cederbaum can, in that sense, trace back the beauty of glass all the way back to its source – right here at home.  
“There used to be some Palestinian families in Hebron who claimed they are the keepers of a glass-blowing tradition first lit up by the genius of the Phoenicians,” Dover shared.
In the winter of 2001, Bauman published Ceramics at the ER in 1280 °C. In it, she explained how access to the Israeli market enabled the Hebron artisan families to maintain their workshops until violence erupted. She lamented how the bloody realities of the conflict had cut off Hebron from its possible markets and so suffocated existing material crafts. 
The paradox being that Israeli control of the West Bank prevented Palestinians from developing other industries, and so preserved a living ceramic tradition which was 80 families strong at one point. She asks: “What does the disappearance of Palestinian ceramics say about us, Israeli ceramic artisans?”
In their studio, Dover and Cederbaum employ a complex process. Taking one object, for example, a rag doll. They cast it using quartz plaster. When the mold is ready, it is emptied out and heated glass is blown into it.
“Please be clear that it is blown, not cast,” Dover asks. “The pressure of the air being blown into the glass bubble and the intense heat of the mold enables even the tiniest details to be present at the final object.” 
The result, laid out as if these are glass treasures rescued from the depths of the sea, perhaps removed from a sunk Roman ship. Are then shown to us like a magician’s trick, without blemish or cracks – to a spectacular effect. The cold hard glass appears to be made from cloth or weaved from straw. True to their design, it is easy to imagine them used to pour wine, oil and grain. Objects of fertility and commerce now re-imagined in glass. Small orange stickers indicate that some works had already been sold. “Prices range from NIS 6,000 to NIS 16,000,” Cederbaum says.  
The BCCC was designed to be open to the world around it, Bauman explains, which is why the large wall-paintings on the opposite building which warn that “there is no Planet-B” and urge for peace can be seen from the BCCC windows. A stroll up the stairs gives the visitor a chance to glance into the workshops or resident craftspeople and the lovely library devoted to glass, ceramics, and other crafts.
There is also a painting by Moshe Fishzone of the late Judith Benyamini who requested in her will that the assets she and her husband Yisaschar owned in life would be used to promote love and knowledge of ceramics here. A passionate hobbyist, she was a nurse by profession.
There is also a gift shop with cups and plates, lovingly made and of high quality, on offer to those who want a break from mass-produced objects.
“Hundreds of people are waiting to sign up to the classes we offer,” Bauman told the Post, “clay operates on a human rhythm, computers do not. The neck-breaking pace of technology demands we adapt ourselves to it, which is exhausting. This is why many are interested in ceramics as a second or third career.”
“Amphorae” will be shown until Saturday June 5 at 2 p.m. The Benyamini Contemporary Ceramics Center (BCCC) is located at 17 Haamal St. Tel Aviv. Opening Hours are Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Site: Admission is free in accordance with the public health measures imposed by the Health Ministry.