Jordan's relationship with the olive is one that cannot be overstated. History shows that for 6,000 years (nope, not a typo) olive trees have dotted these rolling hills. And over a two-week period recently, we got to pick them, cure them, and even witness their prunings being turned into beautiful figurines. It really is amazing to see all that the little unassuming olive has to offer. Our first "all things olive" adventure, took us to a modest little workshop in western Amman. It was wedged in the back alley of an industrial neighborhood amongst dusty marble and wood workshops. (It actually brought back fond memories of Cairo's alley explorations with shopping guru, Francine.)
Glad Tidings Holy Land Designs (www.holylanddesigns.net) specializes in olive wood products. They have a small display shop in their workshop, but rely mostly on craft fairs and bazaars and Internet sales for their business. They've been in operation over twelve years and primarily make ornamental figurines, such as camels, angels, nativity sets, etc., as well as some jewelry, and household items like salad servers and small bowls.
They use only the trimmings from olive trees, and with the end of the harvesting season approaching, they will soon fill up their warehouse entirely with cuttings from the post-harvest prunings. They make everything right there in their workshop, where they have specialized machines and saws and some employees who've been working with olive wood for over thirty years. They have over twenty employees currently and the pieces start with the men carving out the basic shape of the camel, angel, spoon, or whatever, using electric saws and machines.
Then the women (who are the majority of the employees), take on the task of sanding down each item by hand revealing details and the intricate wood patterns each piece holds. The random patterns in the wood are what give olive wood pieces their stunning beauty and distinction. The pieces are all sanded five times, ensuring a smooth, almost satin-like, surface. Then they're allowed to rest, letting the wood settle and finish drying out. If any cracks appear, they are filled carefully with an epoxy before one final sanding. The final step is the veneer coating which helps bring out the wood grain designs. For most pieces, the process takes at least a month for completion.
On our tour, we were shown all the steps. From seeing the piles of olive wood cuttings stacked up to the ceiling, to watching a gentleman effortlessly carve a spiral spoon out of a block of wood, to watching a man use a jigsaw to cut out pieces of a 3-D nativity ornament, to seeing how the women sand and sand and sand the pieces until they're completely smooth.
It was an impressive set-up, but even more impressive were the final products. There's something about seeing exactly how something is made, and what goes into it, that gives you a whole new appreciation. My husband was so taken with the man who carved the salad spoon that he said he thought we could use a set. Personally, I was eyeing the camels, but I'll always say yes to a beautiful set of salad servers, so we added it to our basket.
By the end, we had a nice little assortment of their products, and not one gift among them. I figured we'd be back before the holiday rush, and by then I'd have my complete list of camel receivers versus angel receivers versus salad server recipients.
(See "All Things Olive, part 2" next)