Ariela and I have known each other since sometime in the fall of 2004. Our friendship has outlasted a total of 3 serious relationships, as many as 6 casual ones and has been going strong through two marriages (when for some reason, friendships can fall apart). We've kept in touch across an ocean, the distance from Boston to Chicago, and across a few New York City blocks. Even back in 2008, when I was dating someone who is now happily married to someone else, Ariela had claimed "dibs" on my ketubah. I was working at The Judaica House at the time, and knew just how valuable a gift I'd been offered. I also was in a unique position to know exactly what I wanted out of my ketubah. Unsurprisingly, what I thought I wanted turned out nothing like what I ended up with. This is because Ariela is one of the best artists I know, and an incredibly intuitive person when it comes to design. It's also because what Matthew wanted out of the ketubah he was going to be giving to his future wife wasn't like the image I had in my head in 2008.*
I had been thinking about a standard text in a fairly unique font with intricate border art that had lots of hidden images of things that were meaningful to me and my future husband. Mostly these things were geeky - every man I've seriously dated was just as big of a geek as I am. After Matthew proposed, I got an email with this sketch attached:
The sketch came from the wild corner of Ariela's brain where her muse lives, and is the back of a cuckoo style clock with a dragon nesting in the base. There are a few balls of yarn in the eaves, and a scribbled firebird coming out of the dragon's nose.** She apologized that it wasn't at all like the original designs we had thought of, but I reminded her that when I'd conceived those designs it was three years ago and I was a different person then. Now I wanted something that Matthew and I would enjoy.
I asked Ariela if there would be visible clock gears. She informed me that some of those scribbles were meant to suggest them. I thought that there should be books in the eaves, because while I love to knit for Matthew, he doesn't have the same feeling about yarn that I do. During a brainstorming session with the three of us, Matthew mentioned that he liked dolphins, and Celtic knot work. I wanted there to be a few things in there that brought back how we met. If you look very carefully, you will see that one of the books is Women At the Seder. Matthew and I first really became friends at a seder, and that's the haggadah I was using that night. Matthew wanted some specific comic collections among the books (can you guess what they are?), and I asked for some Manheim Steamroller sheet music, because it reminded me of my father. There is a stuffed bear that Matthew bought in Australia that has always reminded me of Paddington Bear, so Ariela drew that bear with a similar hat. The biggest nod to Matthew is something that was part of the design since its inception, though the sketch doesn't show it. All around the clock is a Hebrew verse from שיר השירים, Song of Songs, rendered in binary. The verse states: "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine."
After the brainstorming, the process was largely hands off for me until sometime in July. Ariela would send me sketches of the progress she was making, I would send back lots of exclamation points and typed squeeing. Sometimes I would remind her that while this might be a difficult design, at least I wasn't making her paint a dozen red roses like some of our friends. When she had trouble finding something specific (the sheet music), we tried to figure out a way to include the idea, if not the precise object. When Ariela told me that the font I had long lusted after really didn't mesh with the art, I trusted her.
In July, I sent Ariela the text for the personalization. In early August, she had the art painted and the text ready for me to proofread. At that point, it was done and I didn't think too much more about it. I was dealing with wedding dress fittings, the fact that I was invited to three weddings on either side of my own, and the myriad other tiny details one has to worry about when getting married.
My wedding photographer really digs on process shots. There are a whole bunch of pictures of my getting my makeup done, my mom putting my earrings in and fastening Matthew's boutonnière into his jacket, stuff like that. When he found out that my friend was painting and calligraphing my ketubah, he asked if she could bring it to the wedding with some inking left to do so he could get photographs.
I honestly couldn't have asked for a better ketubah, one that really tells the story of my relationship with my husband and suits our style and the general decor of our home. It is a beautiful piece of artwork and a wonderful wedding gift from one of my best friends.
*For one thing, he was dating someone else entirely.
**Based on this LiveJournal post.