The History of The Balian Family and The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem
Since 1922, the Balian Family of Jerusalem has been making hand-painted ceramic tiles and pottery that are hard to find.
This makes us either the oldest business in Jerusalem or one of the oldest.
Neshan Balian Jr. is in charge of the studio right now. His grandfather, Neshan Balian Sr., moved from Kutahya, Turkey, to Jerusalem in 1919.
Neshan Balian Sr., a master potter, and Megerditch Karakashian, an artist, were sent to Jerusalem by the British government and David Ohanessian, the head of the Kutahya Ceramic Association and a ceramist, linguist, and linguist, to repair the ceramic tiles of The Dome of the Rock.
Before the Three Armenian families moved to what was then Palestine, there was no way to make decorative ceramic tiles or pottery in this area. Neshan Balian, along with his partner Megerditch Karakashian and David Ohanessian, started this unique and well-known style of art, which is now called Armenian Pottery of Jerusalem. During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Mr. David Ohanessian had to close his studio, The Dome of the Rock Tile Works, and leave Jerusalem. A few years after that, he died in Beirut, Lebanon.
In 1965, the Balian and Karakashian families ended their business partnership on good terms. The Balian family stayed in the same place and kept making this unique kind of pottery.
There have been both happy and sad times in the history of Armenian ceramics. I remember my late father telling me stories about the late 1940s, when things were so bad that they would burn the wooden window frames to get a kiln going. The factory was completely destroyed in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, except for a large dome-shaped kiln full of fired ceramics that was sold to help pay for the rebuilding. In the early 1930s and 1940s, there was also a lack of raw materials, so people broke and crushed bottle glass to make glazes that were badly needed. But in the end, my grandfather and then my father were able to solve these problems, and the factory began to do well.
My father, Setrak Balian, went to England to study ceramics with Bernard Leach. He then moved back to Jerusalem in the early 1950s and opened a factory in Amman, Jordan, to make bricks and roof tiles out of ceramic. After my grandfather died in 1965, he took over the Armenian ceramics factory. Both my grandfather and father were very good at making pots. I just wish I had more free time so I could learn more about how they were so good at throwing on the wheel.
My mother, Marie Balian, is a world-famous ceramic tile artist. She is of French and Armenian descent. Her ceramic tile murals have been shown all over the world, including a solo show in 1992 at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., which lasted for six months and then moved to ALMA (The Armenian Library and Museum of America in Boston MA). In 2003, there were also a number of shows at the Ertez Israel Museum in Tel Aviv and the Alicante Museum in Spain.
She was a big part of making Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem what it is and giving it its own style.
Since my father died in 1996, I, Neshan Balian Jr., have been in charge of the factory. I went to The Ohio University and Hocking College in Ohio and got degrees in both mechanical engineering and ceramic engineering.
People in Hebron, a city near Jerusalem, started copying the works and styles of the Balian family at the start of the 1970s. Hebron Pottery is the name of this style of fake pottery that is made with a lot of printing and mass production techniques. This makes the product less artistic and makes bad copies of designs made by the Balian family. Most gift shops in the old city of Jerusalem, the rest of Palestine, and Israel sell Hebron pottery for free. It sells cheap ceramics to tourists, who are looking for them.
Only at our factory and store on 14 Nablus Rd. in East Jerusalem can you buy original and real Balian Armenian ceramics (and now on our web site). Where our factory is now is where Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem, the real art form, was born. We are the only studio in Jerusalem that makes its own pottery and tiles using the same techniques that our grandparents and parents taught us.
Our pottery has also been written about in many magazines and newspapers around the world. Some of these are The New York Times, The Irish Times, The Washington Post, and The Chicago Tribune. The Media section of this website has copies of some of these articles.
Be kind to others, enjoy life, and take care of your health.
Neshan Balian Jr.