Store-Bought Menorahs Don’t Hold a Candle to These One-of-a-Kind Designs

ANK Ceramics’s bespoke menorahs are influenced by the modernist sculptures of Ruth Duckworth.

Ariela Nomi Kuh of ANK Ceramics sculpting one of her menorahs
By Adrienne Perron
Photographed by Meredith Brockington
From our December 2022 issue

When Ariela Nomi Kuh was a painter, she loved working with oil paint more than any other medium because of its physicality — its thickness and vibrancy, how the working properties of every paint tube are unique. Then, in 2008, while living and teaching art in Philadelphia, she took her first ceramics class and realized her painting days were through. Working with clay took the physicality of oil painting to the next level — no tools to get in the way, just Kuh manipulating the medium with her hands. “It was thrilling the first time I made a cup and drank out of it,” she says. “It was a revelation to make something that could be used.” Kuh took more classes and a job as a potter’s studio assistant while living in Philly, and when she came to Maine 11 years ago, she opened ANK Ceramics, a pottery studio in Camden, where she lived before moving to Portland last winter. At first, she used a pottery wheel to make funky pitchers and vases, elegant plates and bowls, and colorful mugs. Then, she began dabbling in hand-building, or forming clay without a wheel. These days, all of her pieces are hand-built.

Kuh’s menorahs are influenced by Ruth Duckworth’s modernist sculptures. “Something about the spirit of her work inspired me when I was figuring out what I wanted my menorahs to look like.”

A couple of years ago, Kuh heard from Jesse Kivel, the Owls Head–based founder of the online shop Judaica Standard Time, which sells high-design Jewish ceremonial objects. Could Kuh make a stylish Hanukkah menorah? Initially, Kuh, who is Jewish, came up with a menorah design that she produced over and over again, but last year, Kivel’s shop hired another artist to make Kuh’s original design in bulk, freeing up Kuh to focus on one-off menorahs. Some are rough like stone, with abstract cylinders twisting and leaning against one another, while others are glazed to be smooth, resembling traditional menorahs, with four concentric arches. “While they do have a specific function for Hanukkah, I design them like anything else I would make,” she says. “Something that makes people happy to look at. Something that can be appreciated as an object.”

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Ariela Nomi Kuh

Ariela Nomi Kuh of ANK Ceramics with one of her menorahs

What’s the hand-building process like?
For menorahs, I roll out a slab of clay and start drawing on it with a needle tool, to figure out what the gesture will be. Then, I’ll start carving with the needle tool or a knife, finding where it looks balanced and where it doesn’t. Once a carved piece is completely dry, I fire it in a kiln — once for bisque drying, to remove water and carbon from the clay, and then again after I glaze it, at a higher temperature, so the clay is fully vitrified.

Why do you prefer to hand-build?
The centrifugal force of the wheel lends itself towards round pieces. Hand-building has a wider range of organic shapes. When you work on a wheel, you spin clay at high speed and ask it to work fast and absorb water and dry out without unintended warping. With a hand-build, you’re not adding much water, and it feels more holistic — taking what is there and moving the shape around.

How popular are nontraditional menorah designs?
I grew up with a straightforward brass-candelabra menorah, but my grandpa had a kitsch collection — menorahs with every candle held by a soccer player, for example — as well as a range of serious menorahs. Now, a lot of contemporary designers are rethinking what a menorah can be. It’s fun to imagine that there are menorahs out there that might reflect my sensibility. There need to be nine candle-holding spaces — eight nights plus one extra — but otherwise, there is a lot of freedom in how a menorah can look.

Kuh’s menorahs cost between $200 and $300. These and other ceramic pieces can be purchased at ankceramics.com or judaicastandardtime.com.


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