Photograph of Armenian Ceramics which serves as the header of the Rockefeller Museum’s exhibition.

     In late September a new exhibition titled ‘’A Glimpse of Paradise’’ opened at the Rockefeller Museum of Archaeology. The exhibition, organized under the auspices of the Israel Museum, and in collaboration with Yad Ben Zvi, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and East Jerusalem Development Ltd., and the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, pays tribute to a hundred years of Armenian Jerusalem ceramics. We at the Temple Mount Sifting Project are proud and delighted to contribute some of our artifacts to this exhibit.

     Armenian Jerusalem Ceramics, well known for their vibrant and magnificent ornamentation, have a strong connection with the Temple Mount. In 1917, shortly after General Allenby’s success in conquering Jerusalem, the British officials embarked on a mission to refurbish some of the Dome of the Rock’s glazed tiles that had weathered over the years. To this effect, Ronald Storrs, the Military Governor of Jerusalem began his search for master ceramicists who could take on the endeavor. It was then that British MP and Diplomat, Sir Mark Sykes, who was interviewing Armenian refugees in Aleppo happened upon a certain David Ohannessian. Ohannessian was the founder of the ““Société Ottomane de Faïence” ceramics workshop (founded in 1907) in Kutahya, Turkey, and had previously designed a renowned tiled room for Sykes in his Sledmere Estate of Yorkshire in 1911-13. Ohannessian was arrested, and he and his family were subsequently deported from Kutahya to Syria in the events of the Armenian Genocide, perpatrated by the Ottoman, and later Young Turk regimes of Turkey. They survived the death march through Anatolia and the deserts of Syria, and ultimately ended their journey in Aleppo, where they once again encountered Sir Sykes. 

     His prestigious ceramics having been known among the upper echelon of British society, Ohannessian was recommended by Sykes to head the renovations, and arrived in Jerusalem in 1918. David Ohannessian himself personally traveled back to his former home of Kutahya under the auspices and transitory paperwork of the British Military Government, in order to collect the necessary clay and minerals for the Dome of the Rock tiles, found only in his native Anatolia. It was on this trip that Ohannessian invited eight to ten artisans and their families to return to Jerusalem with him. Three of the ten Armenian families which heeded the call and came to the Holy Land remained high-profile names in the world of ceramics: These were ceramicist David Ohannessian, the painter Mgrditch Karkashian, and wheel-potter Nishan Balian, whose workshops still stand in the Armenian Quarter today. 

     And indeed, In the following three years, they attempted to renew the shrine’s glazed tiles, an endeavour that unfortunately turned out to be ill-fated. While misfortune struck for the Dome of the Rock Project, and the retiling efforts were temporarily abandoned until the 1950’s when the Jordanian Monarchy financed the renewal program, these new Jerusalemites, the Armenians, found a unique opportunity in their newfound home. Eventually, most of the families settled down in Jerusalem where there was a well-known Armenian community of over a thousand years, and established a workshop named “Dome of the Rock Tiles” on the Old City’s Via Dolorosa. This small workshop eventually developed into the famous School of Armenian Jerusalem Ceramics. The School continues the unique and unrivaled ceramic tradition originating in the city of Kütahya until today. Among those great artisans who upheld the traditions of Kütahya, David Ohanessian remained the premier ceramicist of the Old City’s swelling Armenian community. By the end of his career, Ohanessian’s ceramics adorned various historical sites across Turkey, Syria, Egypt, the British Mandate, and were in high demand across all of Europe, revered and cherished across continents. Ohanessian continued to produce ceramic tiles for prestigious sites in the British Mandate, such as the Government House, as well as the Rockefeller Museum, but ultimately relocated to Beirut during the outbreak of the 1948 War of Independence, and died there four years later. 

     The TMSP wholeheartedly consented when asked to contribute artifacts to the exhibit. These artifacts included multi-coloured glass tesserae and glazed tiles originating on the Dome of the Rock, as well as waste products from their manufacturing site, including wasters, slag and kiln fragments. Representing the TMSP was founder Dr. Gabriel Barkay, as well as co-founder Zachi Dvira, and archaeologist Hagai Klonymus who all attended the inauguration of the exhibition on Tuesday evening. The event had in attendance various high profile individuals such as the representative of the Armenian Patriarch Samuel Aghoyan, Israeli Ambassador to Armenia and Moldova Eli Belotsercovsky, Director of the Israel Museum Ido Bruno, and the curator of the event, Fawzi Ibrahim. These relics, some of which have never been made public and will be presented for the very first time, shed light on the history of Armenian artisans in Jerusalem, and suggest that some of the glazed tiles covering the Dome of the Rock were manufactured in workshops located on the Temple Mount itself.

Special thanks to Sato Maghoulian, who corresponded with P. Moshe Shamah, and the Temple Mount Sifting Project, as well as the Rockefeller Museum, in order to ensure the historical accuracy of the research and narrative in this article. Maghoulian has spent a decade researching and compiling the sources relevant to her grandfather David Ohannessian and the history of Armenian Ceramics, culminating in the book Feast of Ashes: The Life And Art of David Ohannessian. In addition to this, she is a professional flutist, and has extensive experience as an art director, and music coordinator. Her personal site can be found here: http://www.satomoughalian.com/index.php

 

Additional Reading on the Armenian Ceramics, and the life of David Ohanessian:

  1. “David Ohanessian 1884-1952” https://museum.imj.org.il/rockefeller/Eng/Ohanessian.html
  2. “The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem” https://www.ybz.org.il/?CategoryID=1382&ArticleID=3447#.XYx7TS17FE4
  3. “The Secrets of Armenian Ceramics” https://www.tod.org.il/en/blog-armenians/
  4. “Jerusalem of Clay: For a Century, Armenian Pottery Has Brought Together Jerusalem’s Jews, Muslims, and Christians” https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/242687/jerusalem-of-clay
  5. Feast of Ashes– A Biographical Book of Research, Written by Sato Maghoulian, the Granddaughter of David Ohanessian, and is currently the most in-detail document in terms of Armenian Ceramics at this time https://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=28630
  6. “The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem” by Nurith Kenaan-Kedar, who was a part of the A Glimpse of Paradise exhibit, https://www.ybz.org.il/?CategoryID=1382&ArticleID=3447#.XclqPOgzbIU

Additional Photographs:

Exhibition Label which details the journey of the Armenian Ceramicists

Additional Ceramic Tiles on Display in the “A Glimpse of Paradise” Exhibition

The invitation to the Inauguration of the Exhibition, among ceramic finds of the TMSP

Representative of the Armenian Patriarch Rev. Fr. Samuel Aghoyan, speaks to the crowd

Fawzi Ibrahim, Curator of the “A Glimpse of Paradise” exhibition, speaking to the crowd

Prof. Ido Bruno, Director of the Israel Museum, speaks to the crowd

Fragments of Masterwork Ceramics Located in the Lab of the TMSP

1 reply
  1. Sato Moughalian
    Sato Moughalian says:

    Hello, it’s wonderful to read about this exhibition, thank you for posting.

    There are some historical errors here, which unfortunately have erroneously entered the common narrative. Mark Sykes, who had commissioned the Kutahya master ceramicist David Ohannessian between 1911-13 to create a tiled room for his family manor in Yorkshire, England, found Ohannessian living in Aleppo as a refugee of deportation in December, 1918, while on a Foreign Office mission to Aleppo to establish a provisional British government. Sykes, who knew Ohannessian’s work well from the commission in his home, which had also been seen by a number of other British officials including Ronald Storrs, connected Ohannessian with Storrs and recommended him to the Pro-Jerusalem Society to consult on the restoration work. Ohannessian arrived in Jerusalem at the end of 1918, and after some months of experimentation with the local materials, returned to Kutahya, on his own initiative and with a safe transit document. He collected supplies of the necessary clays and other minerals and invited a number of the surviving Armenian ceramicists to accompany him back to Jerusalem to work in his atelier.

    Sykes died in February 1919 in Paris.

    This information is extensively documented in my new biography of Ohannessian, published in April of 2019 by Stanford University Press.

    Reply

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