If you've been to a Jewish wedding in the last few years, chances are you've seen a Ketubah: it's that piece of art with the Hebrew, and often English, writing on it that the couple signed before the formal "I do's." Maybe the rabbi held it up during the ceremony. Maybe the couple displayed it at the reception. Maybe the couple wasn't even Jewish--now non-Jewish couples are getting them, too (I call it ketubah envy). Well, I very well might have made the ones you have seen, because that's what I do: I'm a ketubah artist and I've been making Ketubot (plural) for all kinds of couples for over 15 years.
So what is a ketubah? About 2000 years ago, the Ketubah was a legal contract written in Aramaic, protecting the bride and her property should the marriage dissolve--think of it as the very first pre-nup. And since Jewish art in those days had to be portable in the event that you needed to grab it and run, a Ketubah was the perfect place for artists of the time to shine, since there were no rules about the decorations (that is still true today).
Now the Ketubah has become something that every couple can have at their wedding, a work of art that represents a couple's love for and commitment to each other. What it says depends on how religious a couple is or if they are even Jewish. It's signed at the wedding, then framed and hung in the home, somewhere they can see it every day to remind them why they love each other, especially when they find themselves in the middle of an argument.
I honestly can't believe that everyday, I get to work with couples at a fantastic time in their lives to create something that will become one of their most treasured objects. Because I feel it's really important to be inclusive, I have always made sure to work with interfaith, gay and non-traditional couples. I often have couples tell me that working with me was the easiest part of planning the wedding, which I love to hear. And so many couples come to pick up their Ketubah at my studio a month or so before the wedding and start crying with happiness when see it, realizing that now, they're actually getting married!
I have always wanted to make something completely different from the typical Ketubah, which still tends to be a border of Jewish themes and overly busy design around a typed text. My designs integrate the ketubah art and hand lettering in unexpected ways--so much so that, when they see the final product most people say "I didn't know a Ketubah could look like that." I try to make my Ketubot look like the art I love; to make sure that the designs have room to breathe, that they are simple enough to be timeless, and that the colors don't look like a rainbow threw up on the page.
My favorite artists tend to use just a few elements to create something simple and quiet, which of course is the hardest thing to achieve: sculptors like Noguchi and Brancusi, painters like Morandi and Mark Rothko, whose work I quote often. Others that I love are all about the color and energy, painters like Joan Mitchell and Helen Frankenthaler, Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly, whose squiggles are very calligraphic. Then there are lettering artists like Brody Neuenschwander and Massimo Polello (look them up, they're fabulous--and do what I aspire to do). I'm inspired by Japanese textiles and Eames design, the trees in Central Park and stones on the beach in Spain, the architecture of New York and the quilts of Gee's Bend.
Here are some of my favorite Ketubot that I've made over the last 10 years. This is what a Ketubah can look like. Enjoy!