An Interview with Ketuv Ketubahs
Today I'm thrilled to announce a new feature on this blog, which will be celebrating Jewish artists, wedding and event planners, rabbis and other community leaders who are dedicated to making Jewish communities inclusive and welcoming. At Advah Designs, we value the glorious diversity of our Jewish community, and are proud to work with individuals and families of all kinds, including interfaith families, Jews by choice, Jews of color and LGBTQ individuals and families. This new feature will celebrate leaders in the Jewish community who are proudly bringing the celebration of diversity within the Jewish community to the forefront of their work.
Last week, I had the pleasure of connecting with Arielle Angel, one of the co-founders of KETUV: Fine Art Ketubahs. A ketubah, or "marriage contract", is a central part of Jewish wedding traditions, and is the document that unites a couple under Jewish law. While a ketubah used to be a simple black-and-white document with places for witnesses to sign, today's artists have reinterpreted this tradition to create stunning works of art meant to be hung in the couple's home after the wedding and enjoyed for their lifetime together.
Five years ago, Arielle and her co-founder Maya Joseph-Goteiner created Ketuv to provide marrying couples with a fine art option in ketubahs, and to create an opportunity for innovative artists, with dynamic careers outside of the commercial and Judaica spheres, to create fresh, quality Judaica art. Read below to see my conversation with Arielle, and check out their site to see the how their artists are interpreting an ancient tradition in new and surprising ways.
What was the first ketubah you ever made?
Arielle: The first ketubah I ever made was for the older sister of a friend. I don't think I even knew was a ketubah was when they asked me to do theirs. It was pretty traditional, it didn't really reflect my personal style as much as theirs, but I remember having a lot of fun making it. I worked in gouache, which was a new medium for me, and incorporated gold leaf, which is a staple in most of my commissions.
What kind of Jewish community were you raised in? What attracts you to making Jewish art and ketubahs?
Arielle: I was raised in Miami, which is a pretty Jewy place to be from. I went to Jewish day school until 8th grade (when I got kicked out and went to public school! Ha!). I went to Jewish summer camp and the March of the Living. Even though my family was secular, there was a strong emphasis on cultural Judaism and Jewish identity. The other day someone asked me if I was always "into" Jewish stuff, and I told them I've never been "into" it--it's just who I am! I would've had to make a choice to reject it, and while I don't accept it all wholesale, I've pretty much embraced it as a rich and valuable part of my identity.
As far as what attracts me to making Jewish art, I'm not actually attracted to Judaica. I'm attracted to good art and working artists, and Judaica is an arena that really needs some help in that regard. What Maya and I always tell people is that throughout history, there was no "Judaica," there was only the way contemporary trends were incorporated into Jewish ritual objects, often by non-Jewish artists and artisans. This made sure that "Judaica" was always fresh. Somehow, we've gotten it in our heads that Judaica is watercolor Jerusalems, or oil-painted rabbis with beards or something. It seems to me this was just a trend in the 70's that stuck, and now people believe it's traditional. It's NOT traditional! What's "traditional" is actually being open to the times!
I think the ketubah is a wonderful object to work with--one of the few two-dimensional ritual objects. At this point, I've also been to A LOT of Jewish weddings, and the ketubah ceremony is often the most intimate, beautiful part. I love that you can have an art object that actually officially marries you to the person you love, in the presence of your closest family and friends. What's better than that?
Where does your spark to be an artist come from?
Arielle: Who knows? It just is!
How do you choose the artists you partner with?
Arielle: It's pretty simple: we just like their work! When we see something that blows us away, we try to find the elements in the work that would apply best to a ketubah and we start there, coaching the artist as to how it can be applied.
Do you have a story to share about one of your all-time favorite customers?
Arielle: So far everyone's been great (no, really!). But I will say that it gives me extra pleasure when we have customers who are creatives themselves. We just recently sold a ketubah to a curator at MOMA, and last year we sold to a husband-wife screenwriting/acting/directing team of note. We know we're a niche of a niche--Jews and interfaith couples interested in fine art--so when those people find us, it's really gratifying.
Why is it important for you to offer interfaith ketubahs/same-sex ketubahs, etc?
It's a no-brainer. We offer ketubot that we want to see for our community--our friends, our families, etc. From the beginning, Maya and I didn't see a point in it if it wasn't going to make an above and beyond effort to be inclusive.
What advice do you have for couples when they are searching for the perfect ketubah?
First of all--and I'm not just saying this because I'm in the ketubah business, but because I've been paying attention--invest in your ketubah! I know you don't think it's important now, but after you feel the feelings of your ketubah ceremony, it's going to mean something to you! It's also one of the few visible "keepsakes" of your wedding (everything else is ephemeral, or gets shoved in a closet, drawer or shelf), so don't be afraid to go the extra mile. Why not commission an artist you love, whether it be a friend or someone whose work you've been checking out online?
If you do commission, I think the best word of advice is to trust your artist and not put too many restrictions on them. Be clear about what you do and don't like, but don't stray too far from the thing they do well. The best measure of how beautiful your ketubah is going to be is whether the artist enjoyed making it, and if you try to drag them too far from what they love to do, it will show.
As far as buying a ketubah print, there are no rules. Go with what you love!
Do you have an idea of someone we should feature on our blog? Comment below, or send us an email! And check back next week for the next installment in this series--I can't wait to share the stories of the folks I've been talking to with all of you.