TORONTO — For some people, retirement and a disability might mean the end of creativity – but not for Aubrey Abrams. Years ago, when the retired food manufacturer temporarily lost part of his vision, his family suggested he find a hobby where he could work with his hands.
He took courses in metalworking at Harbourfront, studying with metal artist and sculptor Shao-Pin Chu.
“I’ve always been technical,” says Abrams, who practised law in Johannesburg, South Africa, before coming to Canada. With his newfound skills, he created jewelry and household items for family members in copper and other metals. He has since regained his sight, but a couple of years ago, he was seized with an urgent desire to use his skill with metal to create a bold, new seder plate design.
“When this overpowering inspiration comes over you, you’ve got to do something,” Abrams says, and what he wanted was to create a seder plate different from any existing designs. “There were existing matzah holders on the market, round ones,” but he didn’t want to make anything like those that would be “run of the mill, copying somebody else.”
That’s when the concept for the ABALABE Seder Plate came together, a combined seder plate and matzah holder in sleek, brushed stainless steel. Not only “reminiscent of the pyramids of Egypt,” the rounded triangular shape is “symbolic of the tears through the generations from Sinai… the destruction of the two Temples, the exile and the Holocaust, leading to the re-establishment of the Jewish homeland in Israel.”
The name ABALABE is a play on Abrams’ Hebrew name, Abba Leib. The set also features a separate co-ordinating triangular stainless steel cup for Elijah and six small removable dishes to hold the egg, shankbone and other ritual foods for the seder.
Though the plate, dishes and cup appear symmetrical at first, part of their appeal is that they are tapered, not perfectly regular. “They’re wider at the bottom, narrower at the top,” Abrams says. Practically speaking, that also means it’s easy to insert the small dishes – they physically can’t be placed the wrong way around. “They all look stunning, all facing towards the cup.”
Creating the set was an elaborate process that began with design and modelling, first in Styrofoam and then in acrylic, before creating the first stainless steel edition.
“One day, I have to do one in silver,” says Abrams, who has also created a brass chess set and original silver mezuzah cases.
Most of the work on the seder plates is done in his basement workshop, “using lathes and drills and all sorts of things I’ve collected over the years.” But he doesn’t have room for the laser equipment to cut the stainless steel – he buys the material and brings it elsewhere for the initial cutting. Then he assembles and polishes the sets himself. “I put a lot of effort into it, I’m quite proud of it.”
Abrams says he will make a maximum of 180 numbered, signed copies of the seder plate set. “There’s a lot of work that goes into each one… there’s a lot of work in polishing.”
He is considering several Judaica designs for his next project, which he hopes will be something simpler and perhaps more affordable as a unique gift idea or special item for any Jewish home.
“I’ve got a very wide interest in art and anything mechanical.”
The biggest challenge Abrams says his art has faced is being away from home, travelling with his wife. They go to Israel every year and they have visited India, Australia, Italy and many other destinations.
“When you travel, you don’t really do anything constructive. I like to be doing something, fixing something.”
However, one advantage of travelling is the inspiration of seeing great art in galleries and museums around the world. “I’m looking for the masters, different ideas, how different artists function and what they develop.”
But he says his wife has the better eye for design and colour. “She’s the one who tells me my designs are good or bad.”
Combining an entrepreneurial spirit with his newer talent and craftsmanship in sculpture has become even more meaningful through his exciting and modern Judaica items. Abrams says his family is very proud that his artistic impulses have taken him in this direction.
The seder plate is on display at the Petroff Gallery (416-782-1696) at 1016 Eglinton Ave. W. (just west of Bathurst).
This article appears in the April 5 print issue of The CJN