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Palestinian artist turns olive leaves into silver jewels

Nadia Abu Ghattas turned her handicraft hobby into a profession that reflects her love of olive trees.

Palestinian artist Nadia Abu Ghattas has been turning olive leaves into silver-plated rings, bracelets, necklaces and earrings since 2005.

For her, the olive tree is a symbol of the Palestinians’ resilience and their attachment to the land. Just like olive trees, the Palestinian people can survive under difficult conditions.

Abu Ghattas, who lives in Beit Jala, northwest of Bethlehem in Palestine, descends from a family of stone engravers. Growing up in a house surrounded by olive trees, she learned to appreciate the land and trees. From an early age, she noticed that she was good with handicrafts. She worked with fabrics, glass and mosaics to recreate the images of nature around her. Her first attempt at jewelry making was trying to silver plate a plastic button to use as a necklace.

“Ever since childhood, I have been interested in crafts. But I lacked the knowledge to craft the designs I wanted,” she told Al-Monitor. So Abu Ghattas attended a jewelry workshop at Al-Kahf Arts and Crafts Center at the International Center of Bethlehem. She then participated in another workshop that taught her more jewelry-making techniques.

While designing jewelry, Abu Ghattas thought about doing something related to the olive tree, which she sees as a symbol of the city of Bethlehem. She started working on designs based on the shape of the olive leaf. Then she started using leaves from the trees that surround her home.

Asked about the stages of jewelry making, Abu Ghattas said, “There are more than 15 stages that olive leaves go through before turning into silver jewelry. First, the olive leaves are picked and cleaned in a basin for 10 minutes. Then they are wrapped in [a special mix of] plasticine and put in the oven at a high temperature for 10-20 minutes. Afterward, the leaves are cast with the silver.”

The process of converting leaves to jewelry requires creativity — particularly given that no two leaves are the same in size and shape. This becomes an issue when she makes earrings. Asked how she hides the dissimilarity between the leaves, Abu Ghattas said, “I try as much as possible to choose leaves that resemble each other, and then I choose whether the leaf will be transformed into a bracelet, a necklace or other accessories.”

She also introduces beads, gemstones and even olive pits into her designs.

Abu Ghattas has participated in exhibitions in Italy and Mexico, where her jewelry has received international interest. Locally, she has participated in several exhibitions in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Abu Ghattas' jewelry is gaining attention both in the Palestinian territories and abroad through online sales. She was the first Palestinian woman to join the Palestinian Precious Metals Union in 2012.