Jewish Ceramicist Sells Crosses

Sue Berk didn’t expect to make ceramic crosses for a living, but that’s just what the Jewish Park Cities resident does.

“Everything I’ve been really successful at I’ve kind of fallen into,” Berk said.

Berk was working in high-tech marketing for Texas Instruments, Nokia, and Sprint in the ‘90s, when she decided to flip a house. Her engineer friends at TI convinced her that she could do a lot of the work herself, which is how one day she found herself buying a kiln and making her own tiles.

“I went to this little ceramics store in Richardson and the woman was stern — she wasn’t very encouraging at all,” Berk said. “But I just kind of learned as I went along.”

Women hand paint Sue Berk’s designs on ceramic crosses at a factory in China. (Photo Courtesy Sue Berk)
Women hand paint Sue Berk’s designs on ceramic crosses at a factory in China. (Photo Courtesy Sue Berk)

Her chutzpah earned her a place on the Discovery Channel’s Interior Motives with Christopher Lowell.

“It’s funny because I found the tape the other day… and I played it for my kids, and they were like, ‘Ooh you look so young mama,’” she said. “The [tile] style I did was so ugly. I don’t know if I want anyone to see that!”

Not wanting to return to the corporate world, Sue decided to try out a few craft shows and started with the Hyer Preschool Association’s Happy Hollydays Bazaar.

“I’m Jewish, so I sold mugs, and pots, and lamps, and then I made a few crosses because you know, I’ve seen them around town,” she said. “And the crosses just kind of flew out the door.”

They were such a hit that Berk decided to specialize in them. One of the first shops she went to sell at was Logos Bookstore, where she consulted owner Susan Lewis on which Bible verses to use.

“It was fun. I just adore her,” Lewis said. “Her baby crosses are the best selling baby crosses we see and they’re very important.”

The demand for crosses soon took over her life and her house, which she describes as always dusty no matter how much she cleans. Hitting a wall, she went in search of a factory. She looked in Mexico and China, but settled on China.

“A lot of people think, ‘Oh China,’ but China has a really rich history with ceramics, like you think of Ming pottery. They’re amazing,” she said. “You think it just magically happens. The handwriting is a decal, but all the other [things] they literally sit and hand paint them.”

(Photo: Don Johnson)
(Photo: Don Johnson)

But working with the factories can have its downsides. When her old factory started raising prices a few years ago it almost caused her to go out of business.

“The prices are going up all over because people in China can go get a job doing something versus sitting there and painstakingly painting all the time,” Berk said.

Luckily Berk found a new factory and used the opportunity to relaunch last fall with a series of new crosses with fresh colors and designs.

“What she provides to the community is such a unique product,” Lewis said. “We’ve always personalized them at Logos, but now she’s making ones with space to personalize.”

Berk now also sells baby blankets, wood frames, and leotards. She said she tries to match styles to what’s popular in children’s bedding.

“Quatrefoil is really popular right now, and gray is in,” she said. “There was a time where brown was really in and I overbought on these [blankets]. So I still have them.”

The bustling entrepreneur also has to juggle being a mom to two Hyer Huskies, a task Lewis says she does well and with creativity. Working from home allows Berk to communicate with China during their business hours, her afternoons.

“I do work a lot, but I am there for my kids so I kind of feel like I have the best of worlds,” she said.

To keep the business going, Berk spends about a month of the year at trade shows. Being known as the Jew who sells crosses, is still something that seems strange to Berk.

“Most of my customers know,” Berk said. “I’m very spiritual and my husband is too, so if there’s a mom who gets one of my crosses and they’ve really prayed for their baby and they’ll tell me how meaningful it is, that means a lot to me too. Even if that’s not my religion.”

Next on the agenda for the busy mom: building a house.

“It’s kind of a side business,” she said. “We bought a lot on Mockingbird, and I’m going to be the general contractor, so I can hardly wait!”

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