Robert Saslow’s career didn’t start out the way you might think. He was working as part of the art staff at a Jewish summer camp in 1983 when he saw the art director making a ketubah for a client outside of camp. “It fascinated me. It was like a love letter. It wasn’t a torah or tefillin or a mezuzah, which are only in black and white, but rather a beautifully colored illuminated manuscript,” was truly something that inspired him.
“I got my sense of detail from my dad, and my color, composition, and sense of design from my mom.”
The timing couldn’t have been better with his mother getting remarried that summer; it would be the perfect gift to her. After presenting it to her at the wedding, friends began to line up to have ketubot made by Saslow for their upcoming nuptials. The timing may have been kismet but his talent is no coincidence. “Both my mom and dad were artists in water color, painting and architecture. I got my sense of detail from my dad, and my color, composition, and sense of design from my mom.” He is the perfect merge of the two and proud to carry on their legacy in the arts.
To bring the history of writing, parchment, quills and papyrus, to a new generation is something Saslow loves.
Besides intricate and popular ketubahs, Saslow started making baby naming certificates 22 years ago, the very first of which was for his niece. “I thought it was something different and new for a gift. Ya know, a nice thing that Uncle Robbie could give.” Clearly it was much more. “There is such a personal and good energy and honor in this new gift in these people’s lives. I go into their homes and they are still hanging on their walls even though they’ve grown up, in high school, or off to college.”
Saslow uses design and inspiration from everything from biblical names to animals in the zoo. He has 300 different drawings divided among the 26 letters of the English alphabet, available in Hebrew and Spanish versions as well. What better way to continue a relationship with a customer than to “commemorate another life cycle event marker with beautiful art work into a family’s lives?”
There is something really personal knowing that there were human hands going into the imagery and calligraphy. Someone takes the time to slow down and put a name into it. Even to print the rest and then by hand add a quotation or the couple’s names truly adds a human touch.”
Aside from designing ketubahs, calligraphy, and the baby certificates, he also teaches his craft in Los Angeles. “The idea of bringing calligraphy to lots of people is exciting. Other than a handful that do ketubot there aren’t a lot of careers in calligraphy but it’s an amazing connection to the past.” To bring the history of writing, parchment, quills and papyrus, to a new generation is something Saslow loves. “It’s fascinating to these kids how the letters have changed from Hebrew to Greek to Roman to English…Why, for example, a W looks the way it does.” After coming into a class to show the kids the teacher will often come up to him and tell him that the kids have never been so quiet! “We really bring letters to life for them. Then they get a chance to actually do some calligraphy, usually Gothic lettering because it’s easy and the letters are structured like building blocks. You see the lights go off in their heads.”
“I always try to emphasize that you may not use Hebrew a lot in your career but it expands your view on writing. Even though fewer and fewer people want hand calligraphy I include lettering because I feel like it is really special and empowering. There is something really personal knowing that there were human hands going into the imagery and calligraphy. Someone takes the time to slow down and put a name into it. Even to print the rest and then by hand add a quotation or the couple’s names truly adds a human touch.”
What a better way is there to slow down the bustle and stress of planning a wedding than to have a commemorative ketubah that truly slows you down and lets you remember all the values of your special day? And what a beautiful idea that Saslow is giving to each and every one of his couples.