A look behind the inspiration of designer Michael Aram — who is heading to Macy’s Somerset.
Lynne Konstantin Arts & Life Editor
Michael Aram’s heritage runs deep inside him.
“Food, language, religious traditions, a sense of family — and also a sense of being ‘different’ — all contributed to my cultural identity,” he says.
The maker of decorative and functional art and sculpture delves into these depths to create his work — exquisitely detailed nature-inspired motifs and symbols of Judaic (and Christian) ritual adorn his metalworks, which he will personally engrave during a visit to Macy’s Somerset on Thursday, Dec. 6. His pieces are prized in Jewish homes because of his adeptness at bringing to life the depth and beauty of Jewish ritual.
Yet Aram is not Jewish. Born in Providence, R.I., he was raised in a tightly knit Armenian family in Westchester, N.Y.
“As Armenia is the first Christian nation, our religious imagery is tied to the Old Testament and pre-Christian religions,” Aram says. “Armenia is the land of Noah, and our primary symbols are pomegranates, olive branches, grape vines and the tree of life. For me, these are themes central to my upbringing and experience.”
“I love making objects that are central to family rituals and traditions which carry meaning and create memories for generations.”
— Michael Aram
Three years ago, Aram created a memorial in honor of the centennial of the Armenian Genocide. “Migrations tells the story of any family that was forced to leave their homelands and victimized as a result of ethnic cleansing,” Aram says. His Facebook page shows a video about the making of the sculpture — additionally striking in its parallels to the Jewish experience. “After all,” Aram says, “it was Hitler who famously justified his campaign by saying, ‘who remembers the Armenians.’”
Because there has been an Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem since the fourth century — and Jewish scholars since the second century C.E. have believed that the Ten Lost Tribes were to be found in Armenia — there has always been a “sharing and layering of culture,” Aram says. “I love making objects that are central to family rituals and traditions which carry meaning and create memories for generations.”
Aram, 55, “spent hours in the basement of my childhood home, making things, taking things apart, putting them back together again,” he says. “It was a strange passion — but working with my hands is something I still enjoy.” So he studied fine art and embarked on a career as a painter. But it was while traveling through India (where he established a home and workshop, in addition to New York City) that Aram found his passion in the exquisite metalwork he saw, still being produced using time-honored methods of sand-casting and hand-forging. He began to study metal-craft techniques.
Among Aram’s first pieces were his Twigware Serving Set, which he sold to Barney’s and Neiman Marcus — who placed the set on their catalogue cover soon after.
“Nature is my biggest muse, as is the handmade process,” Aram says. “I like telling stories with my work and enjoy incorporating symbolism and meaning into my work.
“Metal has always captured my imagination since it is very liquid when cast and then becomes a material which hardens to stand the test of time,” he says. “It captures spontaneous gestures and then traps them for eternity. I like this sense of spontaneous expression and permanence in one material.”
Before he began working in metal, Aram says, “My work was centered around themes such as nature’s elements, and the idea of life, death and regeneration. I was fascinated by how nature is a reflection of our existence.
“By representing organic motifs with the handmade process, there is an energy that is captured between the hand of the maker and the object he is making.”
The result is pieces — ranging from menorahs, Kiddush cups, mezuzahs and more to serving pieces, table settings, entertaining pieces, linens, lighting, furniture, even jewelry — all crafted with a thoughtful sensibility and lyrical form. In almost any object, it is clear it was designed by a person with a passion for narrative storytelling and objects made by hand.
In his work, Aram is fascinated with objects of ritual, regardless of the faith with which they are connected. They are imbued with a profound energy and meaning — whether it is a unique object or derived from a motif with a broad collection, each piece is created with a particular sense of reverence and care in both the function and the design.
At home, Aram lives simply. Wearing a uniform of jeans and a wrinkled cotton shirt, sometimes dressed up with a jacket and pocket square, he drinks in the characters and richness of the atmospheres he’s created.
“My home in Delhi is like a visual encyclopedia of color and texture with layering of antiques and objects and art,” Aram says. “Our home in NYC is a family space, but also very calm and neutral, as a warm and cozy urban sanctuary.”
Two distinct sides of one man’s aesthetic, but blended in a gorgeous yet functional style. Just like his work.
What does Michael Aram like to give as gifts?
“I like to give pieces that have meaning or can be combined with other things to be enjoyed at the moment then left behind to capture a memory,” he says. For example, he will frame a picture of the recipient in a beautiful frame, “or sometimes, cook a side dish and give it in a bowl or serving dish.” If he doesn’t know the recipient well, he might give a candle or olive dish — what he calls the “Aram 101” piece that everyone should start their collection with.
As for which collection he prefers to give from, he says, “I have many favorite collections. They are all my ‘babies’ so I can’t really say I have a favorite. They are all special to me for different reasons.”
Meet Michael Aram and have any purchase from the Michael Aram Collection engraved (time permitting) on the third floor of Macy’s Somerset, Troy, 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6. (248) 816-4000; macys.com.