The History of The Balian Family and The Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem

The Balian Family of Jerusalem  has been producing exclusive hand painted ceramic tiles and pottery since 1922.
This makes us one of the oldest-if not the oldest- business in existence in Jerusalem.
The studio is currently being run by Neshan Balian Jr, whose grandfather Neshan Balian Sr came to Jerusalem in 1919 from Kutahya, Turkey.
Neshan Balian Sr. and Megerditch Karakashian- a master potter and artist respectively- were brought over to Jerusalem by the British government and David Ohanessian , who was a ceramist, linguist and head of the Kutahya Ceramic Association, to renovate the ceramic tiles of The Dome of the Rock.
Before the arrival of the Three Armenian families to then Palestine, the production of decorative ceramic tiles and pottery in this region did not exist at all. It was Neshan Balian with his partner the Megerditch Karakashian and David Ohanessian,, who established this unique form of world famous art known presently as the Armenian Pottery of Jerusalem. Unfortunately Mr. David Ohanessian closed his studio The Dome of the Rock Tile works during the 1948 Arab Israeli war and left Jerusalem. He passed away a few years later in Beirut Lebanon.
1965 saw the amicable end of partnership between the Balian and the Karakashian families with the Balian family remaining on the present premises and continuing the tradition of this unique form of pottery.
The history of the Armenian Ceramics  is full of ups and downs, suffering and joy. I remember my late father telling me of stories from the late 40s where the situation was so desperate that they used to burn the wooden frames of the factory windows just to get a kiln firing. The factory was destroyed totally in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war except for the huge dome kiln with a full load of fired ceramics which was sold and helped in the reconstruction. Lack of raw materials in the early 30s and 40s was also a problem with homemade solutions of breaking bottle glass and crushing it as ways to prepare badly needed glazes. But eventually my grandfather and later my father overcame these problems and the factory started to prosper.
My father, Setrak Balian, studied ceramics in England under Bernard Leach and then came back to Jerusalem in the early 50’s and  established a ceramic brick and roof tile factory in Amman, Jordan. He took over the Armenian ceramics factory in 1965 after the death of my grandfather. My grandfather and father were both master potters in their own right. I just wish I had some more free time to be able to practice more the art of throwing on the wheel which they were so good at.
My mother, Marie Balian, who is of French Armenian heritage, is a world renowned ceramic tile artist. Her ceramic tile murals have been exhibited all over the world including a solo one in 1992 at The Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C. -which lasted for six months and then moved to   ALMA (The Armenian Library and Museum of America in Boston MA). There were also several exhibitions at the Ertez Israel Museum of Tel Aviv and also in Alicante, Spain in 2003.
She has had a huge influence in creating and giving the Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem its unique identity.
I, Neshan Balian Jr, have been managing the factory since the passing away of my father in 1996. I have both a mechanical engineering and ceramic engineering degrees from The Ohio University and Hocking College in Ohio.
In the beginning of the 70’s people in Hebron (a city close to Jerusalem) started imitating the works and style of   the Balian family. This imitation style of pottery is presently known as Hebron Pottery with extensive use of printing and mass production techniques. This results in an artistically inferior product with   poor copies of designs created by the Balian family.. Hebron pottery is freely available in most of the souvenir shops in the old city of Jerusalem, the rest of Palestine and Israel. It caters for the tourist market where the desire is for cheap ceramic items.
Original and authentic Balian Armenian Ceramics is sold only at our factory and retail outlet on 14 Nablus Rd. East Jerusalem (and now on our web site). The present location of our factory  is where the true form of art known as Armenian Ceramics of Jerusalem was born. We are the only studio in Jerusalem producing our own ceramic ware and tiles by methods handed over to us by our grandparents and parents.
Our pottery has also been the subject of numerous articles in magazines and newspapers worldwide. These include The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Irish Times and The Chicago Tribune. Some copies of these articles can be seen on this web site at the Media section
Be nice to people, enjoy life and stay healthy.
Neshan Balian Jr.