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Functional beauty
Chaya Esther Ort’s backsplash tiles revitalize the heart of the home

(Left) Innovation is paramount: Chaya Esther Ort.
(Photos: Marc Israel Sellem)

Backsplash tile murals find a natural home in
the kitchen.



ile art has a long and beloved history in Israel. Discoveries of ancient tiles and mosaics throughout the land tell vivid stories of Israel’s
past; sometimes surprising, but always
Artist and Nahlaot resident Chaya Esther Ort is taking this ancient art form
to a new level with her backsplash tile
murals. The backsplash is meant to
adorn the kitchen walls, usually above

10 IN JERUSALEM | MARCH 31, 2017

the stove, and stretching out as far as
is desired. She discovered this new art
form organically, as a byproduct more
than an intention.
“How I got into the backsplashes was
that first I started doing individual tiles
and I would do them in themes: teacups, the Seven Species, doorways of
Jerusalem,” Ort recalls. “Then one day I
got the idea that I could use the tiles as a
group like a single canvas and do something that was less typical for tiles. Usually the way tiles are used is that each

one is a scene in and of itself; they don’t
collectively make up a whole.”
Being innovative is paramount to Ort
as an artist. When she was growing up
in Toronto, her mother and two sisters
were all naturally creative. Her mother
encouraged them to foster that artistic
inclination and to always maintain an
out-of-the-box approach.
“Growing up I was always very artistic,” she says. “It was like breathing
to me. My mother told me not to be
a sheep; to think for myself. That’s a

guiding principle in my life. A lot of the
stuff that I make that I love the most is
what comes about almost as an accident because something happens that
I wasn’t planning on. That’s how the
backsplash murals came about, because
nobody really does that. Nobody uses
the tiles as a canvas for a painting, at
least not as far as I know. I found a few
people who kind of do it, but they’re
done with decals.”
When Ort was 14, her mother’s encouragement led her to begin classes

at a local ceramics studio. They weren’t
formal classes, but a place where young
artists could go and tell the teacher
what they wanted to make. He would
then guide them along as to how to
proceed. It was the time spent in these
classes that solidified her passion for
creating, both ceramics and painting.
But then there came a period when she
didn’t make art for many years. She got
married, started building a family, and
her art was put on hold.
“Once I started having kids, I just

couldn’t,” she explains. “I had to put
it on the back burner, which was very
painful for me. But my kids were my
art, so to speak. I have five altogether.
When we moved to Israel in 2008, my
youngest was 15, and I started creating
again. All in all, it was a 25-year hiatus.
When I’m making art, it’s all absorbing. I walk into the studio and I’m in
my happy space. It’s like a little island.
I’m in it and I’m so focused. That’s how
I was with raising kids, so I couldn’t do
both at the same time.”

Coming back to art after 25 years
was, as Ort puts it, like a fish returning
to water. She focused her attention on
ceramics and on finding a studio that
was right for her. Once she did, the
prolific creator began producing beautiful and functional pieces of art. It is
the combination of these two elements
that defines Ort’s work today. When
commissions for her ceramics began
to really take off a year and a half ago,
she created the website and brand Kiyor. Kiyor means sink. The word is found

in last week’s Torah portion, something
that Ort is quick to point out.
“It’s so funny that [we are talking
about it] this week because the parasha is about the kiyor, the sink that was
used in the Beit Hamikdash [Temple],”
she shares excitedly.
“It’s the name that I chose because
the art that I do is mostly functional
art. It’s a deeper level when you bring
art into the sphere of using it in your
life. It goes from thought to speech
to action because this beautiful thing
www.jpost.com | IN JERUSALEM 11




collection of
clothing and
head coverings
Hillel 1 Jerusalem
off of King George
in town!

clearance rack

and under!


Ort’s tile art began by painting copies of photos she had taken of her beloved Nahlaot neighborhood and
surrounding areas.
was created to be appreciated, but also
to be used. Painting a picture is wonderful, but if it’s also a backsplash of
tiles that are protecting your kitchen
from water damage behind the counter, then to me, that’s an even deeper
level of art.”
For Ort, the kiyor in the time of the
Temple is the quintessential piece of
functional art. It was made from the
copper mirrors that the women donated when they came out of Egypt, and
was an essential part of the daily service of the priests, who had to first use
the kiyor as a washing station before
they could begin their service.
“It was also very meaningful to me
that the copper was donated by the
women from the mirrors that were
used to ensure the survival of the Jewish people,” she adds.
“When Pharaoh made the decree
that the baby boys be thrown into the
Nile, the men didn’t want to be with
their wives because they didn’t want
their babies to be killed. But the women had more emuna [faith] and were
more life-affirming. They felt, why
should we also not have girls? So they
made these copper mirrors so that
12 IN JERUSALEM | MARCH 31, 2017

they could beautify themselves and
seduce their husbands. Moses complained to God in this week’s parasha
and asked if it was unsavory to use that
same copper in the Beit Hamikdash.
But God responded that there is nothing more precious to Him.”
It is this spirit of reusing the old and
sometimes even the broken that presents itself in Ort’s art time and again;
building on what came before with the
intention of elevating it higher and
higher. Her tile art began by painting
copies of photos that she had taken of
her cherished Nahlaot neighborhood
and surrounding areas of Jerusalem.
This lent itself to designing individual tiles, using varying techniques.
When the concept of the backsplash
was born, she began looking for an opportunity to execute it. Then a woman
in Nahlaot said she was renovating her
kitchen and looking for beautiful tile
art. It seemed like the perfect chance
to try a backsplash.
“She’s a very subtle person, not
showy,” Ort states. “Her color palette
is muted. When she came up the idea
to have the backsplash in the style of
Anna Ticho, one of her favorite paint-

ers, I ran with it.”
The tiles Ort used for the first backsplash were ready-made, low fire bisque
ware. The elaborate mural covers the
entire back wall of the kitchen and depicts flowing scenes of Israel, from the
Dead Sea to the Judean Hills to Rachel’s
Tomb, in gentle watercolors.
“People come to my house and say
that they’ve never seen anything like
this; a backsplash with such a watercolor effect,” Miriam Futterman, proud
owner of Ort’s first backsplash, says.
“Chaya Esther was very good at listening to me. I said I wanted the backsplash done in the style of Anna Ticho
and she did that, but made it personal
for me at the same time. I love Anna Ticho’s work and that was the only thing
I could imagine having in my kitchen.
I come in here every day and I enter
this world. The kitchen is the center of
my home; this is it. I love the Land of
Israel and bringing that into my home
is very special and meaningful.”
The collaborative process of creating a backsplash is something that
Ort stresses is of vital importance. She
begins by asking questions like who is
their favorite artist and what are their

the stove, it would be much
less. Another project she has
set her sights on for the future
is a family tile piece, where
each family member would
paint a tile. Then after it’s all
fired and glazed, Ort would
put it together as a larger piece
with varying solid colored
tiles, using watercolors or a
more abstract effect.
“That would form a family
piece of art that everyone had a
hand in making,” she adds.
“I could also do tiles of
handprints of everyone in the
family. To make something
that doesn’t look juvenile, but
still everyone helped to create
it. People talk so much about
building self-esteem in children and this is a great way to
do that; much more than putting drawings on the fridge.”
Ort wants to begin marketing her backsplash art to American women, with tiles made
from Jerusalem clay. In this
way, the backsplash is not just
art inspired by the Land of Isra-

el, but is comprised of pieces of
the land that become a part of
the house. Certainly, she is not
at a loss for ideas in her continual foray into creative territories known and unknown.
“The backsplash really does
transform a kitchen,” she concludes. “You don’t often find
art in the kitchen, but it really
is the heart of the home. To be
able to make a statement like
that on such a large canvas in
the kitchen, where we spend so
much time, is really special.
“I had the courage to try
the backsplash because I’m
not afraid in my art. God gave
me these eyes to see art everywhere I go, all around me all
the time. It’s an homage to
God. If we’re created in the image of God, who is the ultimate
creator, then being a creator in
my world is me fulfilling my
destiny. So wherever I feel an
urge to create, I’m fulfilling my
true nature.”



For her, the ‘kiyor’ in the time of the Temple is the
quintessential piece of functional art. (Chaya Esther Ort)
favorite colors. Then they start to define the final product.
“I find it very satisfying and am
naturally drawn to tuning in to what
somebody wants and helping them
find their own vision, which is sometimes unarticulated in their mind,”
she explains. “Then it’s about honing
it down, which is like excavating the
Ort’s tile art, whether backsplash
murals or individual tiles, is amazingly
versatile. For some projects, she makes
the tiles by hand from clay indigenous
to the Land of Israel. She then fires it
and paints or glazes, depending on the
design. Most of all, she likes to help
people find what they love and what
makes them feel good; remaining malleable to that collaborative process is
one of her greatest joys.
Ort has plans to do many more backsplashes in the future, and is currently
taking orders through her website and
Facebook page. She points out that a
backsplash is not cheap. It costs between $125 and $160 per square foot.
Depending on how large the backsplash is, the total cost changes. If
someone wants a backsplash only over

Daniella Faye


Kosher for Passove
Meat chalak Beit Yo


Pasha w
Order soon!

Shabbat HaGadol
and the holiday mea
Readymade food sale for Shabbat HaGadol starts Wednesday, 5/4.
Early arrival is recommended on Wednesday and Thursday
Special Passover opening hours
Sunday (9/4) 15:00-20:00 | Monday (10/4) 08:00-15:00 | Wednesday (12/4) Closed
Thursday (13/4) 12:00-18:00 | Friday (14/4) 08:00-15:00 | Sunday (16/4) 08:00-15:00
28 Pierre Koenig, Talpiot, 02-6482220 | Parking in Hadar Mall | To view holiday menus visit www.pashajer.co.il
www.jpost.com | IN JERUSALEM 13

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