The Story Behind The World’s Largest Collection of Hebron Glass Now Displayed at Saper Galleries
Sunday, December 27, 2015

  Roy Saper stands with second and third generations to the elder Hamzeh Natsheh, all involved in the family glassblowing business just as were the many generations of the Natsheh family before them over more than 700 years. They are preparing to package the 30 Hebron glass vases. Saper suggested that he would be back later to pick them up.  He was told he would not succeed in getting through the checkpoint back into Israel with them. They were shipped.

By TNCP Staff

For more than 2,000 years hand-blown glass has been made in Hebron, the largest city in the Palestinian West Bank.  Although, the beautiful glassworks are rarely seen outside of the Middle East, Hebron artisans created 100 of the unique, swirl-colored hand-blown glass vases, decanters and pitchers for the opening of The Hebron Glass Collection at Saper Galleries located at 433 Albert Avenue in downtown East Lansing.

However, according to Roy Saper, the owner of the gallery, there is so much more to the story, and extraordinary events led him to find and seek out these beautiful works of art.  He has always worked intuitively when choosing the pieces for his gallery.  Motivated by the traditions of the ancient craft of glass blowing Saper was willing to take the arduous trip to find the historic glassblower's shop that held the art that represented struggle, life, death and history within the vessels.  

Saper's desire to bring the vividly colored art back to Michigan was a journey that he and his family will not soon forget.

The Trip

Due to political, security and other challenges in the Hebron area, it is difficult for the glass artists to export their creations and the lack of tourism reduces the opportunity for the world to see, enjoy and collect the hand-blown glass that artisans have learned to create from their parents as passed down from prior generations.

In 2012, Saper and his wife, Nell Kuhnmuench and son, Jay, visited the one remaining family-owned business, which is still making glass in Hebron, a small hot and dusty town, in the West Bank of the Palestinian territory.

Saper said, “On a very hot afternoon we went through shelves of glass and hand-selected 51 vases to be sent to us in the United States for the visitors to Saper Galleries.”  

Saper said, "I was immediately captivated by the swirling colors achieved by the glass-blowers, unlike any other blown glass I've seen before or made in any other country." 

"This glass truly is unusual and is also Fair Trade.  The glass blowers are paid fair wages and use sustainable methods in their operation."

Saper's son was selected to serve as an intern for an American Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Nablus, West Bank where he collaborated with local university students to teach young Palestinian refugees.  Jay's focus was teaching the arts, particularly music and drama, to young children in an ancient city known for training suicide bombers during the Palestinian uprisings 12 years ago.  Saper and his wife went to Nablus toward the end of the summer of 2012 to pick Jay up after his couple month experience of teaching and working with the Arab children.

It was not an easy trip for the couple.  After picking up Jay in the West Bank they were detained for three or four hours at an Israeli check point near an Israeli settlement.  They were ordered out of their car.  

Saper said, “Nell and I were separated from Jay and each put in metal holding cells while we were each interrogated and searched before we were eventually permitted to pass into Israel after quite an extensive ordeal that caused me to wonder if we would ever be reunited with our son.”

The harrowing experience included the presence of dogs, automatic weapons, and guards who kept them in place until another interrogator would arrive to ask them more questions after they grilled Jay.  

The concern of their interrogators was whether they would be a risk to the security of Israel after having spent time in the West Bank said Saper.  

“My camera showed that we were associating with Arab Muslims such as an artist who showed us her city including the rubble of bombed out homes that were destroyed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  The Arab artist from Nablus became a friend of my older son, Adam, who also interned at the NGO a couple years earlier.  We were in an area where there were no tourists, certainly no Americans, and we posed a concern to the IDF at the checkpoint who were there to protect Israel from any potential risk,” said Saper.

The Long History

Hand-blown Hebron glass is a Palestinian tradition that is centuries old.  The artisans today blow glass in Hebron just like their parents and grandparents and prior generations did before them.  Hebron glass dates back 2,000 years and the city is said to be the oldest continually occupied city in the world.  It is mentioned in the Bible 87 times and is said to have been founded more than 3,700 years ago.  

Hebron artisans use long metal hollow tubes to pick up a slurry of molten recycled glass in an 1,800 degree furnace and blow through the tube to expand the glass, turning the tube and using metal tools to form the glass into the desired shape.  Additional molten glass is added to the blown shape and is swirled into the magical designs that define the style of Hebron glass.  The functional glass vessels are often of ancient Phoenician designs and are largely amber, green or blue colors made from molten recycled glass and cobalt.

An article written by Gail Simmons entitled “Hebron's Glass Factory” in ARAMCO World, the writer was told, “Twenty-five years ago, hundreds of tourists came to Hebron every day, and we had no export market. Now that Hebron is off the tourist map, we're trying to open new markets, exporting to European countries, the USA, Canada."

The owner of the glass studio Saper visited Hamzeh Natsheh who told him that all the glassmakers other than his family are no longer making glass.   

From the above referenced article, Natsheh said: "When I was born, there were around 15 glass manufacturers in Hebron, based in the old city  Now, my cousin and I are the last two glassblowers in our family. This is a very hard job."

The glassmakers in Hebron were dealt a big blow when the unrest began.  Most of the glassmakers in Hebron are out of business as there is no tourist traffic to Hebron.  However, that did not deter Saper from taking the time to pause and reflect before his trip to Palestine.  His goal was to bring a family heritage of glassblowing going back centuries to this country.  The deeper-rooted issue of the unstable nature of the area and the fact that artisans were able to push beyond those limits and still create were in the forefront of his decision to pursue the creative glass pieces. 

The Future

There is clearly a chance that glassblowing in Hebron will cease to exist.  Natsheh 's family has been making glass in Hebron for 700 years and it will continue only if the younger generations maintain the traditions of their ancestors and keep the family glassmaking secrets in production.  Natsheh told Saper he is concerned about China mass producing glass and the possibility of that cutting into the market for original hand-made Phoenician glass from Hebron.  

In an effort to increase demand for Hebron glass, Natsheh's family is at the early stages of engaging in some export while starting to expand the range of items made in their glass furnaces.  But as the elder glass blowers age, their reliance on the younger generations in their family becomes critical in keeping the tradition of Hebron glass alive. "We are fortunate to have the original Hebron glass still being produced, but as the younger glass blowers face competing interests in a more global society, the future of Hebron glass as it has been known for 2,000 years is at risk,” Saper noted.

Saper was pleased to see young people working in the shop, he said, “I was at Hamzeh's glass workshop, I was also served by what may have been his son and his two grandsons, all working.  The grandsons looked to be school-age children -- and the future of Hebron glass.”

The Reality

The reality is that terror and danger in and around Hebron and throughout much of the Palestinian territories is destabilizing for businesses.  The United Nations provides weekly reports showing evidence of the continual daily conflicts between Israelis and the Palestinian territories.  

Saper recounts, “When I was walking to my car parked in a large area of building rubble, two Arabs starting running fast toward me and when they approached me they looked scared and pleaded for me to do whatever I could to help them from the terror they are experiencing in Hebron.  The Muslim Arabs were in fear because of the terror they were experiencing from Israeli settlers and the IDF.”

He added, “In all the interactions and exchanges I had with Arab Muslims driving throughout much of Palestine, they each were peaceful, welcoming, warm, sharing drinks and fresh figs with us during Ramadan (when they were not able to eat or drink), wanting to have their photos taken with us.  We were invited to homes, given food to take for the road, taken to places we wanted to visit, and treated like invited guests.”

While there does not seem to be an end in sight to the conflict, Saper remains optimistic.  

He said, “Since visiting Hebron three years ago I have since re-ordered nearly 200 glass vases and pitchers to be made for me by Hamzeh's family of multiple generations.  Hamzeh sends me photos of glass that they've made over the years and I select the styles, colors, and sizes of those I like -- and several months later the boxes start to arrive.  Each glass vase was made explicitly for us based on what I love -- and know others will as well.  There is no collection of Hebron glass anywhere in the world as large as what we have here.  As long as Hamzeh's family continues to make them for us, we will continue to have them on display at Saper Galleries.”

The hand-blown Hebron glass collection will be available at Saper Galleries through February [or until sold out].  Videos showing the glass-makers creating the glass in the ancient tradition are on the Saper Galleries website, http://sapergalleries.com/HebronGlass.html.   The gallery, now in its 37th year, is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the first Sundays monthly from 1 to 4 p.m. at 433 Albert  Avenue in downtown East Lansing, MI.  The gallery, fully accessible and welcoming to all, may be contacted at 517-351-0815 and roy@sapergalleries.com.  

By TNCP Staff

For more than 2,000 years hand-blown glass has been made in Hebron, the largest city in the Palestinian West Bank.  Although, the beautiful glassworks are rarely seen outside of the Middle East, Hebron artisans created 100 of the unique, swirl-colored hand-blown glass vases, decanters and pitchers for the opening of The Hebron Glass Collection at Saper Galleries located at 433 Albert Avenue in downtown East Lansing.

However, according to Roy Saper, the owner of the gallery, there is so much more to the story, and extraordinary events led him to find and seek out these beautiful works of art.  He has always worked intuitively when choosing the pieces for his gallery.  Motivated by the traditions of the ancient craft of glass blowing Saper was willing to take the arduous trip to find the historic glassblower's shop that held the art that represented struggle, life, death and history within the vessels.  

Saper's desire to bring the vividly colored art back to Michigan was a journey that he and his family will not soon forget.

The Trip

Due to political, security and other challenges in the Hebron area, it is difficult for the glass artists to export their creations and the lack of tourism reduces the opportunity for the world to see, enjoy and collect the hand-blown glass that artisans have learned to create from their parents as passed down from prior generations.

In 2012, Saper and his wife, Nell Kuhnmuench and son, Jay, visited the one remaining family-owned business, which is still making glass in Hebron, a small hot and dusty town, in the West Bank of the Palestinian territory.

Saper said, “On a very hot afternoon we went through shelves of glass and hand-selected 51 vases to be sent to us in the United States for the visitors to Saper Galleries.”  

Saper said, "I was immediately captivated by the swirling colors achieved by the glass-blowers, unlike any other blown glass I've seen before or made in any other country." 

"This glass truly is unusual and is also Fair Trade.  The glass blowers are paid fair wages and use sustainable methods in their operation."

Saper's son was selected to serve as an intern for an American Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in Nablus, West Bank where he collaborated with local university students to teach young Palestinian refugees.  Jay's focus was teaching the arts, particularly music and drama, to young children in an ancient city known for training suicide bombers during the Palestinian uprisings 12 years ago.  Saper and his wife went to Nablus toward the end of the summer of 2012 to pick Jay up after his couple month experience of teaching and working with the Arab children.

It was not an easy trip for the couple.  After picking up Jay in the West Bank they were detained for three or four hours at an Israeli check point near an Israeli settlement.  They were ordered out of their car.  

Saper said, “Nell and I were separated from Jay and each put in metal holding cells while we were each interrogated and searched before we were eventually permitted to pass into Israel after quite an extensive ordeal that caused me to wonder if we would ever be reunited with our son.”

The harrowing experience included the presence of dogs, automatic weapons, and guards who kept them in place until another interrogator would arrive to ask them more questions after they grilled Jay.  

The concern of their interrogators was whether they would be a risk to the security of Israel after having spent time in the West Bank said Saper.  

“My camera showed that we were associating with Arab Muslims such as an artist who showed us her city including the rubble of bombed out homes that were destroyed by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  The Arab artist from Nablus became a friend of my older son, Adam, who also interned at the NGO a couple years earlier.  We were in an area where there were no tourists, certainly no Americans, and we posed a concern to the IDF at the checkpoint who were there to protect Israel from any potential risk,” said Saper.

The Long History

Hand-blown Hebron glass is a Palestinian tradition that is centuries old.  The artisans today blow glass in Hebron just like their parents and grandparents and prior generations did before them.  Hebron glass dates back 2,000 years and the city is said to be the oldest continually occupied city in the world.  It is mentioned in the Bible 87 times and is said to have been founded more than 3,700 years ago.  

Hebron artisans use long metal hollow tubes to pick up a slurry of molten recycled glass in an 1,800 degree furnace and blow through the tube to expand the glass, turning the tube and using metal tools to form the glass into the desired shape.  Additional molten glass is added to the blown shape and is swirled into the magical designs that define the style of Hebron glass.  The functional glass vessels are often of ancient Phoenician designs and are largely amber, green or blue colors made from molten recycled glass and cobalt.

An article written by Gail Simmons entitled “Hebron's Glass Factory” in ARAMCO World, the writer was told, “Twenty-five years ago, hundreds of tourists came to Hebron every day, and we had no export market. Now that Hebron is off the tourist map, we're trying to open new markets, exporting to European countries, the USA, Canada."

The owner of the glass studio Saper visited Hamzeh Natsheh who told him that all the glassmakers other than his family are no longer making glass.   

From the above referenced article, Natsheh said: "When I was born, there were around 15 glass manufacturers in Hebron, based in the old city  Now, my cousin and I are the last two glassblowers in our family. This is a very hard job."

The glassmakers in Hebron were dealt a big blow when the unrest began.  Most of the glassmakers in Hebron are out of business as there is no tourist traffic to Hebron.  However, that did not deter Saper from taking the time to pause and reflect before his trip to Palestine.  His goal was to bring a family heritage of glassblowing going back centuries to this country.  The deeper-rooted issue of the unstable nature of the area and the fact that artisans were able to push beyond those limits and still create were in the forefront of his decision to pursue the creative glass pieces. 

The Future

There is clearly a chance that glassblowing in Hebron will cease to exist.  Natsheh 's family has been making glass in Hebron for 700 years and it will continue only if the younger generations maintain the traditions of their ancestors and keep the family glassmaking secrets in production.  Natsheh told Saper he is concerned about China mass producing glass and the possibility of that cutting into the market for original hand-made Phoenician glass from Hebron.  

In an effort to increase demand for Hebron glass, Natsheh's family is at the early stages of engaging in some export while starting to expand the range of items made in their glass furnaces.  But as the elder glass blowers age, their reliance on the younger generations in their family becomes critical in keeping the tradition of Hebron glass alive. "We are fortunate to have the original Hebron glass still being produced, but as the younger glass blowers face competing interests in a more global society, the future of Hebron glass as it has been known for 2,000 years is at risk,” Saper noted.

Saper was pleased to see young people working in the shop, he said, “I was at Hamzeh's glass workshop, I was also served by what may have been his son and his two grandsons, all working.  The grandsons looked to be school-age children -- and the future of Hebron glass.”

The Reality

The reality is that terror and danger in and around Hebron and throughout much of the Palestinian territories is destabilizing for businesses.  The United Nations provides weekly reports showing evidence of the continual daily conflicts between Israelis and the Palestinian territories.  

Saper recounts, “When I was walking to my car parked in a large area of building rubble, two Arabs starting running fast toward me and when they approached me they looked scared and pleaded for me to do whatever I could to help them from the terror they are experiencing in Hebron.  The Muslim Arabs were in fear because of the terror they were experiencing from Israeli settlers and the IDF.”

He added, “In all the interactions and exchanges I had with Arab Muslims driving throughout much of Palestine, they each were peaceful, welcoming, warm, sharing drinks and fresh figs with us during Ramadan (when they were not able to eat or drink), wanting to have their photos taken with us.  We were invited to homes, given food to take for the road, taken to places we wanted to visit, and treated like invited guests.”

While there does not seem to be an end in sight to the conflict, Saper remains optimistic.  

He said, “Since visiting Hebron three years ago I have since re-ordered nearly 200 glass vases and pitchers to be made for me by Hamzeh's family of multiple generations.  Hamzeh sends me photos of glass that they've made over the years and I select the styles, colors, and sizes of those I like -- and several months later the boxes start to arrive.  Each glass vase was made explicitly for us based on what I love -- and know others will as well.  There is no collection of Hebron glass anywhere in the world as large as what we have here.  As long as Hamzeh's family continues to make them for us, we will continue to have them on display at Saper Galleries.”

The hand-blown Hebron glass collection will be available at Saper Galleries through February [or until sold out].  Videos showing the glass-makers creating the glass in the ancient tradition are on the Saper Galleries website, http://sapergalleries.com/HebronGlass.html.   The gallery, now in its 37th year, is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and the first Sundays monthly from 1 to 4 p.m. at 433 Albert  Avenue in downtown East Lansing, MI.  The gallery, fully accessible and welcoming to all, may be contacted at 517-351-0815 and roy@sapergalleries.com.  

This was printed in the December 27, 2015 - January 9, 2015.

 

 

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