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Life of the Olive Wood Artists

Bethlehem is a haven for artists who wish to earn a living for themselves. It attracted a large number of buyers all the way from Israel and other parts of the world until the Palestinian takeover. Nevertheless, the artists there continued to thrive by making out a living with the skills that they have been blessed with.

The olive wood artists started practicing their craft from the start of the fourth century. This skill was taught mainly by the monks who came to that area. The monks taught them how to cut and shape the olive wood so that they can create beautiful statues.

Larger artists had only one major problem, how to bring buyers into Bethlehem to see their work. In the case of the smaller artists, they faced several roadblocks (pun intended). They faced problems in getting tools to do their job.

Since they were not as well established like a few others, they could not get enough buyers as many chose to buy the lovely olive wood gifts from the established artists. So, these smaller artists had to do with what little they have. Many of the smaller artists work from their own basements or little nooks. They do not have the resources to have a separate office or workshop.

Many of the houses in Bethlehem have a basement. So, the artists make use of these basements to work on the lovely products. Even a little space somewhere in their homes is more than enough for them to work. As an example, one artist had a small workshop measuring only about 3 meters by 3 meters (just under 30 square feet). You can barely call this a workshop he made do with whatever space that was available to him.

His gift was making little crosses. He used to get olive wood from the market. Once getting the olive wood transported to his 'workshop', he used to carve them until they came to the shape of a cross. Once the shape has been achieved, he used to smooth them until the edges are perfect. With a little laquer and a few more finishing touches, the gift would be ready.

Then, he used to take it to the market to see if he could get any buyers for his products. Since he was a smaller artist, he would not attract many buyers immediately. Another artist had so little space for a workshop that one needed to duck in order to move inside it. There was not even space for an average adult to walk upright inside his basement workshop. But, a little space was all that was needed for him to make his gifts. He used to sit in his little wooden desk and carve various Mother of Perl pendants, earrings and broaches. Even the smallest artists can make do with a little ingenuity.

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