Pottery is deeply rooted in Israel’s rich history, as evidenced by the treasure trove of ceramic artifacts (some of which date back to the sixth millennium BCE) uncovered by archeologists in recent years. While the art form has undoubtedly evolved over thousands of years, modern-day Israel remains a hotbed for creatives and ceramic artists who express themselves through clay. “Today, you will find artists all over the country — from the Aravah to the Galilee,” says Michal Shiloah Galnoor, CEO of Western Galilee Now, a consortium of 85 small businesses in the northern part of the state. “Ceramics are part of Israel’s DNA.”
One of the many reasons why ceramics are embedded in Israeli society is due to the fact that this sliver of holy land (roughly the size of New Jersey) is a haven for Jews from every corner of the world. “Since the beginning of the State of Israel, there was a fascination with arts and crafts,” says Eyal Carlin, the consul and commissioner of tourism to North America for Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. “Ceramics, along with other forms of art, were a way to make connections between different cultures from the East and the West.”
In addition to bridging gaps between people, ceramics are also a very accessible form of art that could be done at home and practiced at any age. “I know a lot of people who started ceramics as a hobby and it ended up being their second career,” says Galnoor. The number of working artists is also a reflection of this 74-year-old country’s enterprising population. “The spirit of the nation is about entrepreneurship and what you do with your own hands,” adds Carlin.
Hagit Dayan, a registered dietician by day and a ceramicist by night, says that many factors — including social media, the slow-living movement, and Israel’s rising culinary scene — have made the art form even more pervasive. “A blogger would never take photos of food on IKEA plates!” she laughs. “One of the things that I love about Israeli culture is that we are becoming less focused on mass production and more interested in local ingredients and handcrafted items.” (It also doesn’t hurt that many Jewish traditions and holidays revolve around family and food, offering many opportunities to show off artisanal tableware.)
For Dayan, as well as many of the ceramicists that we spoke with for this story, working with clay serves as a form of therapy and a welcome escape from today’s increasingly digital life. “I think there is a longing to create and interact in the physical world,” says Moran Trabelsi, one of the artists profiled below. For Varda Yatom, a world-renowned artist, ceramics can also be a coping mechanism. She attributes Israel’s abundance of talent to the country’s contentious past and present. “Our history made us creative, without it we would disappear,” she says.
Whatever the reason, the circle of ceramicists in this small-but-mighty country continues to widen. “The movement is growing really fast and there are a lot of new [ceramics] studios opening,” says Adi Nissani, another artist featured below. “When I was in the ceramics department at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem 20 years ago there were maybe 10 women, now it’s packed.”
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Go-to material: Porcelain and stoneware in various colors
Signature style: “Practical. Minimal. Precise.”
Design inspiration: Food and travel
About the artist: Before Nissani discovered ceramics 20 years ago, she dreamed of becoming a waitress. While working at a restaurant, the chef asked for her opinion on the new clay wine bottles he had made. Unimpressed, Nissani offered to make them herself and promptly signed up for a ceramics class. A month later she was attending Bezalel, where she earned multiple degrees in everything from ceramics to fashion design. (She’s currently studying interior design.) “I like to expand the way that I look at things,” she says. Her love of learning has allowed her to master multiple techniques (including slip casting, wheel work, slab rolling, etc.) and even make her own molds. While Nissani isn’t serving tables any longer, she’s still involved in the culinary world. You’ll find her distinctive dishes at OCD, one of the top restaurants in Tel-Aviv — that is, if you can get a reservation.
Go-to material: Stoneware clay
Signature style: “Fluid. Raw. Feminine.”
Design inspiration: Nature (especially shells) and organic shapes with intriguing details or textures
About the artist: Seven years ago, before Trabelsi started showcasing her sculptural pieces in galleries like Zemack Contemporary Art, she worked in product design at a tech company. After hours, she attended a weekly wheel-throwing class for a dose of “creative therapy.” During the pandemic, Trabelsi decided to ditch her job and transform her home office into a pottery studio. “Truthfully, I didn’t plan to make ceramics my new career, but I couldn’t bear the thought of doing anything else,” she says.
Go-to material: Stoneware and porcelain
Signature style: “Minimal. Functional. Elegant.”
Design inspiration: Art exhibitions, design books, cookbooks, nature, travel, and dining at restaurants
About the artist: President Biden and the first lady were recently introduced to Biran’s work when Reuven Rivlin, the former president of Israel, and his daughter Anat gifted them two cups and plates in blue and white (Israel’s national colors). For a ceramicist with such prestigious clients and a brand new studio in Jaffa, it’s hard to believe that Biran was practicing law — not pottery — only 12 years ago. She originally took up ceramics to create tableware for her other hobby: cooking. Now, her creations can be found at her customers’ dinner parties and, of course, the White House.
Location: Hod Hasharon
Go-to material: Speckled clay
Signature style: “Natural. Raw. Harmonious.”
Her inspiration: Textures, fabrics, and artisanal crafts from different cultures around the world
About the artist: Price honed her aesthetic skills in Milan, Italy (where she studied design) before turning to the pottery wheel a decade ago. Her work often features hand-carved patterns that lend each bowl, vase, and moon lamp a unique, tactile quality. Plus, Price’s neutral palette — which consists primarily of black, white, camel, and taupe — allows her earthy and elegant creations to look at home in any space.
Location: Upper Galilee
Go-to materials: Clay, wire, leather, thread, rope, yarn, and more
Signature style: “Expressive. Innovative. Philosophical.”
Design inspiration: Medieval art, prehistoric creations, National Geographic photos, and other artists
About the artist: Yatom, an internationally acclaimed ceramicist, has exhibited her mixed-media creations across the globe — ranging from Auckland to Kyoto to Düsseldorf. Her work is also coveted by private collectors and museums alike. Yatom’s love affair with clay began when she moved to a kibbutz (a cooperative where people live communally) and discovered the “hobby room.” Over the years, she’s taken multiple courses to refine her skills, but says that studying for her MFA at Alfred University in Western New York was the most “meaningful step” in her journey as an artist.
Location: Mitzpe Hila
Go-to material: Stoneware, terracotta, and speckled clay
Signature style: “Minimalist. Elegant. Simple.”
Design inspiration: The rhythm of nature, industrial shapes, and the ever-changing nature of clay
About the artist: Clay didn’t always spark joy for Gelman, who studied jewelry design at Bezalel. While she experimented in the ceramics department from time to time, Gelman says that everything she loves about the material now she couldn’t stand then. After working in the theater world and becoming a mother, she ultimately found her way back to pottery and committed to a three-year course at the age of 38. “Sitting at the wheel for the first time was like falling in love,” she explains. The relationship has since flourished and Gelman now sells her work worldwide. “If someone had told me that ceramics would one day be my career, I wouldn’t have believed them!” she says.
Go-to material: Porcelain
Signature style: “Minimal. Elegant. Humorous.”
Design inspiration: Travel, art exhibitions, movies, poetry, and the unpredictable nature of ceramics
About the artist: This husband-and-wife team trained in ceramics at different universities in Jerusalem, but they joined forces and founded SIND Studio before graduation. Now, their quirky creations can be found in galleries, restaurants, museum gift shops, and design stores. If you want to get up close and personal with their work, order a cocktail at Bellboy or Fantastic in Tel-Aviv, where drinks are served in Instagram-friendly cups crafted by this dynamic duo.
Location: Midreshet Ben Gurion
Go-to material: Stoneware clay
Signature style: “Local. Simple. Warm.”
Her inspiration: The colors and scenery of the desert
About the artist: Netser is a self-proclaimed “late bloomer.” She discovered her passion for pottery in her 20s during a weekly course. “At a certain point, I realized that I envied my ceramics teacher,” she says. Netser quit her job in advertising and pursued a degree in fine art at Bezalel in hopes of carving out a new career path. Now, she ships her fab and functional pieces worldwide and creates tableware for Manara, a new restaurant in Tel-Aviv. After living in the Negev for the past 10 years, all of Netser’s creations echo the desert landscape, which she describes as “the most beautiful place on Earth.”
Go-to material: Porcelain along with gray and white earthenware
Signature style: “Delicate. Organic. Fluid.”
Her inspiration: Her surroundings as well as her “heart, soul, and imagination”
About the artist: From the outside looking in, Goldberg’s gallery in Old Jaffa practically glows as the light bounces off her white, textural creations, many of which are reminiscent of lace or crumpled fabric. The artist got her start over 20 years ago and her pieces are now stocked by Anthropologie and design boutiques across the United States and the United Kingdom. Goldberg is not at all surprised by the global demand for ceramics. “Tableware and home décor items are so personal,” she says. “Our interactions with them on a daily basis are quite special and precious.”
Go-to material: Stoneware and terra sigillata
Signature style: “Tender. Soulful. Harmonious.”
Design inspiration: Nature and natural materials
About the artist: Kama has refined her distinctive style over the past 25 years — 20 of them at Givat Haviva Art Center. She’s also taken courses all over the globe, including Spain, Italy, and the Netherlands. Kama’s diverse experience is reflected in her unique work that is produced using only natural materials, including copper, iron, and salt. Instead of synthetic glazes, she implements a variety of firing techniques (such as Raku, naked Raku, saggar, and smoke) to create the striking surface effects seen on her sculptural vases, jars, and teapots. “Ever since I was a little girl, I loved playing with mud and I guess I still love playing with mud!” she laughs.