RIVER NORTH — Like many folks before their Jewish weddings, Sarah Pifer had a hard time finding the perfect ketubah.
"I was doing a Google search online for ketubahs, and I kept finding websites that had some really ugly designs," said the Lincoln Park resident, who was married Aug. 10, 2013.
So Pifer did more research, typing in the key words "unique," "modern," and "contemporary." And, lo and behold, that led her to "Cool Ketubah!" — a River North-based company created by Lakeview resident Jason Pickleman.
"It was the only place I found online that had ketubahs that didn't look like they were designed in the 1950s," Pifer said.
Justin Breen explains what a ketubah is, and why its special to couples:
Pickleman does not make ordinary ketubahs, which are artistic marriage contracts usually signed by the bride and groom, rabbi and possibly close friends and family members. Cool Ketubah! features six designs — from the "Flourish Ball" that Pickleman described as a "calligraphic jumble of flourishes" to the "Read Between the Lines."
"It's a formal and linear composition utilizing bold, all-caps sans-sarif typography that is justified left to right and in which all negative spaces are filled in with opposing colored blocks," is how Pickleman, 49, described the design.
Pickleman's ketubah business began in March 2009 when a friend at the Museum of Contemporary Art was getting married and asked him to make his ketubah because "everything on the Web sucked."
So Pickleman, whose main career is as owner and head designer of JNL Graphic Design — which has created ad campaigns and logos for Skinny Pop, Wow Bao, Big Star, Avec, Publican, the Harrington School of Design and Expo Chicago — began using his skills to design ketubahs for what he called "Urban Jewish Hipsters."
Pickleman, who is Jewish, also writes the ketubah's text, tailoring it to his clients' needs.
"I understand I'm playing on sacred ground," Pickleman said. "I didn't want to come off as being flippant or irreverent. It occurred to me from the beginning that I had to write the text, and that comes to me with a heavy heart, knowing you are writing a contract that will hang on people's walls as long as they're married."
Pickleman, who does no advertising of Cool Ketubah!, said he's sold 110 ketubahs in five-plus years. Every ketubah, which comes on 300# Museum Rag paper that doesn't yellow or fade, sells for $375, with the exception of the $750 "Star Light Star Bright" design. Pickleman only will make 18 — a number that represents good luck in Judaism — of those ketubahs, which also come with a special silver ink pen for signing.
Pifer bought that particular design and said many of her wedding guests "commented on how different it was from the other ones they've seen."
That thought was echoed by Lakeshore East resident Mary DeYoe, who was married July 19 and bought the Flourish Ball ketubah.
"I knew I wanted something that felt personal and unique. After attending several weddings, you start to see the same ketubahs over and over," DeYoe said. "We wanted something that felt more like us and was something that we would want to hang in our home — something that looked like a work of art we would want whether or not it was a ketubah."
Pickleman said he'd love Cool Ketubah! to take off, with an ultimate goal of selling one a day. Of the 110 sold, only about 10 have been bought by Chicago residents, with other customers coming from New York City, California, Washington, D.C., Florida, Texas and even South Africa and Canada.
Unlike many of his other business dealings, Pickleman said all of his ketubah clients have been great to work with.
"They tend to be very, very nice," Pickleman said. "I mean, they're getting married. They're not worried whether the design is going to work in the marketplace. It's always nice conversations."
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