Figures rise from the clay in her hands

The art of Yaffa Geffen

 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
'When I was 25 years old, I became acquainted with clay for the first time. I learned different techniques, including how to make three dimensional reliefs.”
Yaffa reminisced with me, since she is married to my first cousin, Reuven Geffen. Even though Reuven lived in New York at the time, New Rochelle to be exact, and I in Atlanta, we have been close friends through the years. They built their family home in Moshav Nir Moshe, not far from Sderot.
“When I was growing up in south Tel Aviv, Kfar Shalem, which was quite rural in that period 50 years ago,” she told me. “I did enjoy the natural surroundings which beckoned to me and my friends all the time. Drawing raised my spirits and art was for me the way to express myself.” After training and working as a mechanical drafter she chose to enter a somewhat different field. Her next field of studies involved becoming a master seamstress.
“I put a lot of time and effort into my work. I was rewarded by the recognition I received as I became better and better.”
YAFFA GEFFEN with one of her latest works, a ceramic vase with floral reliefs (90 cm height). (Photos: R. Geffen)YAFFA GEFFEN with one of her latest works, a ceramic vase with floral reliefs (90 cm height). (Photos: R. Geffen)
Being very organized, which have I observed first hand, Yaffa divides her day between sewing, tending her vegetable garden, staffing the moshav’s library, and most enjoyably, creating new ceramic pieces in her workshop.
“I find that there are several factors which motivate and inspire my work. My hands are constantly shaping the clay into new forms. When I work with clay I feel very connected and focused, up to the point that I lose track of time, even forgetting to eat. For me, it is a sort of meditation.” The birds and the grapes and the owls burst out of the clay. For me they were truly alive: a bird flying through the air or miniature human beings dancing in her living room. I was more than impressed, since I had never seen clay come to life as it does when made to do Yaffa’s bidding.
The land upon which we walk and build motivates her as well.
“I believe that I am being given the privilege, symbolically, to use the clay from our land. My dream is to one day be able to work with clay from the Negev, where I live, that I have actually dug up myself.” As an immigrant speaking to a native-born Israeli, a sabra, I felt that in her words, she captured the combination of the natural features of Israel and the art that springs from it.
“IN PREPARING for a specific bird or animal, I study closely their features from pictures. Then as I begin to work, I can capture them in clay, giving them movement and life.” Since I had never spent time in their home, I wandered through the rooms touching the birds in flight. As both a cousin and an observer of her three-dimensional treasures formed by her hands, I am particularly struck by her owls hanging near the kitchen.
Yaffa tries to help me understand her creative process.
“With my wet clay before me, I decide what is the new figure I want to emerge. As I work, I can be very critical of myself. If I am not satisfied, I can easily make what I have begun, disappear. I start again knowing my hands will not betray me, with my fingers retooling the clay. Working carefully, I begin to feel more satisfaction.” In the spring of 2018, Yaffa had an exhibition at Beit Tenuat HaMoshavim in Tel Aviv. For that, she worked steadily for six months, creating all new pieces for the showing.
One person wrote in the guest book: “Your work touches the eye and the heart... one experiences in the pieces both movement and the aesthetic sense. Continue to create your wonderful art.” Another person wrote: “I am very happy that you are having this exhibit. I am very proud that you, as a friend, have such talent and can share your work with everyone.” Outside their home are many ceramic trees that Yaffa has made. They express the stability of our nation and how the Jewish National Fund has planted trees for 100 years to fill what was a barren land.
The trees relate in their own way to our family. Yosef, the father of our patriarch, Rav Tuvia Geffen, was in the timber business. In the summer, when the timber was cut in the massive forests of Lithuania, Yosef had to see that the timber reached Germany via the rivers.
Yaffa summed up her work for me. “Over the years, I have tried to do different things: reliefs, statues, mobiles and useful pragmatic pieces which have a beauty all of their own. One creation leads to another and I am learning all the time.”