Q. Why don’t you start by telling us about your family?
A. My family was my imma—my mother, Rebekah—and my grandfather. His name is Hur, but I call him Sabba. But I didn’t grow up with them because I was sent to the palace when I was about seven. I saw my family maybe once a week.
Q. What is your best memory of home before you left?
A. I vaguely remember a few times walking on the riverbank with my abba before he died. Just before flood season, when the water is at its lowest, we’d go there after the evening meal and watch the herons catch fish. He laughed a lot. I remember loving his laugh … a lot.
Q. I understand you don’t like living in the palace. What’s not to like about a palace?
A. Well, it’s beautiful—and it should be, since I made a lot of the art in it—but everybody here hates me because I’m an Israelite.
Q. Yeah, I heard you don’t get along very well here.
A. I have what you people call an “anger management” problem. Sabba, my grandfather just says I have a temper. It gets me into trouble quite often, and a look at my back will prove it.
Q. Sounds painful.
A. No kidding.
Q. How old are you now?
Q. So you’ve been here twelve years?
A. Yes. Twelve long, lonely years.
Q. Anything you do to make it more bearable?
A. I do have a secret thing I do.
Q. What’s that?
A. On every piece of art—jewelry, wall art, a dish—somewhere on it, I place a tiny mark. It’s hidden so well no one would ever find it, but I know it’s there. It marks that item as mine, no matter where it goes, and my pieces have gone to every nation on earth as gifts to visiting rulers. So when I think my life is worth nothing, when I think I will never leave children behind to carry on my name, I know that there will be art with my mark on it, even if no one else ever knows it.
Q. What’s your favorite material to work with?
A. You might think it’s gold, but it’s not. I like working with ebony and ivory quite a bit, but it’s a rare occasion that I get the chance. The black against the creamy white—it’s just magnificent. That stark contrast is hard to beat. But I like the gemstones the best. They come to me while still in raw rock form. To most people, they look ugly, worthless. But I can see the beauty locked inside, the endless possibilities that a little hard work and a knife can reveal. But not everyone can do it. It takes years of practice, and a certain natural skill. Otherwise, you just ruin the stone.