Mother of Pearl
Between the 14th and 16th centuries, Franciscan friars from Damascus are credited with introducing the mother-of-pearl industry to Bethlehem, bringing teachers of the craft from Genoa to train local artists. From that time, mother-of-pearl, silver, glass and mosaic artistry joined the traditional olive wood crafts in Palestine, and all of these arts flourish still today. Bethlehem women’s employment in the mother of pearl industry dates back to at least the 17th century. The role of craftsmen from Genoa and Damascus was well recognized historically, but during the 19th and 20th centuries Palestinians mastered the craft as they passed it through generations. Palestinian products include crosses, frames, boxes, jewelry, models of religious monuments and many other forms.
Nacre, the iridescent, strong, resilient substance known as mother of pearl comes from the inner shell layer of mollusks and abalone. Shells used in this craft were originally taken from the Red Sea, but are now imported from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Brazil. The entire production process is based on cutting, designing, gluing and polishing. This is carried out in local workshops mostly in the Bethlehem area.
BFTA works with 20 mother of pearl workshops in the Bethlehem area. Learn more about the craft here.
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