Nancy Jardine is a Detroit-born artist who has infused the art of making ketubot (Jewish marriage contracts) with a personal spiritual dynamic. She holds a degree in Fine Art from Madonna University and currently works as an art teacher at a Christian school. Nancy first encountered a ketubah when she was asked to repair one that had faded due to sun exposure. Within a few months, two different couples asked her to design ketubot for their weddings, and she soon placed an ad in the Jewish News for three weeks.
I was contacted by two women from the Sisterhood of a large Reform synagogue, two local Jewish gift shops, and a smattering of individuals seeking something original and affordable,” Nancy says. And so, her ketubot business was launched. Using ink, watercolor and metallic acrylic accents, Nancy draws her designs from her love of creation and geometric shapes. Although she can imitate a traditional style if asked to do so, her inspiration comes mainly from descriptive passages in the Bible and, incredibly enough, from seed catalogs. “Oh, the colors and images and the variety of growing things photographed way up close that I pull right out of my mailbox! It’s great inspiration!”
“I like to accommodate people’s tastes and hear the excitement in their voices,” she continues. “For example, one couple may like a bright pallet while the next prefers a pastel color scheme.” Couples can choose the colors, text and Scripture they want, making each of Nancy’s works unique. She can usually finish a ketubah within a week, but prefers having a month’s notice. Depending on the complexity of the design, her prices range from $250 to $500.
Nancy’s ketubot business still mainly comes from the local Sisterhood that responded to her original advertisement. She also makes bar and bat mitzvah gifts, incorporating the Torah reading and art into a gift similar to a ketubah in form, but commemorating a coming of age instead of a union of lives.
It seems that Michigan is quite a hub of messianic ketubah making! Alexandra Harris was also born and raised in the metropolitan Detroit area. She runs a flourishing messianic ketubot business from her home studio in one of Detroit’s suburbs. Alexandra started working with watercolor while studying filmmaking at the University of Michigan, and she continued her painting in Paris following graduation. Later, while living in New York City, she began creating watercolor jewelry and developed a knack for packing as much intricate design into an area as possible. “This was probably owing to the size of my apartment,” she jokes.
About five years ago, Alexandra’s artistic interests shifted towards Judaica, and in particular, to the ketubot of antiquity. “Initially, I followed the patterns of antique Persian and Russian ketubot,” Alexandra explains. Gradually, she added her own variations, and her work developed into what she calls “Proclamations.” Today, between the traditional styles and Alexandra’s own ideas, she has about a dozen designs for couples to work with when choosing a ketubah.
“A couple usually selects one design, then we set about personalizing it,” Alexandra says. They can choose the colors, the size and the Scriptures, and can opt for either the traditional ketubah text or one of their own choice. Alexandra has also designed ketubot with Spanish, French and Greek text.
Alexandra’s ketubot are done in watercolor and ink, using intense color and accents in gold, silver or bronze. Her “Proclamations” take from two to six weeks to complete and range from $400 to $800 in price.