How to become a handicraft master in Turkey
Arts in the Ottoman Empire were always encouraged by sultans and noblemen. At court, great value was given to the artistry and it was cultivated. A few of sultans were skilled craftsmen as for example sultan Suleiman who mastered the gold-work (jewelry).
Turkish craftsmasters were open to all new things and used to learn from European craftsmen and adopted culture and experience of other nations willingly. Hundreds of outstanding craftsmen from all over the Ottoman empire were living and working at court permanently. Different cultures, traditions, philosophies and lifestyles were mixed together creating a unique wonderful “cocktail”. Every hand-work or ceramic vase, miniature, gem or brassware contained the spirit of the whole civilization inside and they were filled in with symbols and sacred meaning.
In one word, folk arts in Turkey has its valuable foundation and sustainable development. That is why almost every Turkish master whom I talked to was able to boast of a long descent and that their skills passed from generation to generation.
Manufacturing of amulets (Izmir, Turkey)
So it was for the family of the glassblower Huseyin Kochak (Hüseyin Koçak) from Izmir, one of the oldest cities in the Mediterranean Sea. Since his childhood he has been blowing glass and making traditional amulets from “evil eye” — Nazar Bondzhuk – glass beads of different sizes in the shapes of concentric circles of blue and white or yellow with black spots in the middle, symbolizing the apple of the eye. Images of this amulet can be seen in houses, shops, cars, interiors, clothes; they are also woven into all kinds of accessories, jewelry and even depicted on an aircraft fuselage. Turkish masters have been making such amulets for hundreds of years.
Hüseyin’s grandfather was one of those artists. We managed to speak with the great master’s grandson during the International Festival of Culture and Arts, which took place from June 28 to July 8, 2013 in Büyükçekmece in Turkey.
From early childhood Hüseyin kept watching his grandfather’s work closely, and was so carried away by it that since his 9 years of age his parents allowed him to learn from his grandfather the knowledge and skills: from selection of colors to creation of glass forms. And, on top of that, Hüseyin has special ability of his hands — he knows how to heal people: he relieves headaches and some eye diseases. People believe that through his hands the amulets that he makes acquire special medicinal properties and power to protect from negative energy. Probably that is why, as he said, he and his two brothers are the best known masters for the production of amulets in the city. Hüseyin says that his gift is handed down from generation to generation through the male line. He is the only one in the family who owns it. And after 60 years, he will be entitled to pass this gift to his children.
Avanos, central Turkey
They say that the fate of man is partially determined by the place of his birth. If it is written in the stars for you to be born in Avanos, the Turkish province of Nevsehir, then there’s a chance of 90% that you will become a potter.
Indeed, for a long time this city has been famous for its pottery manufacturing techniques which, as assured, remain unchanged from Hittite times. The clay is extracted from the shores of the local river Kyzylyrmak (literally — Red River), which flows through the city. It is nature itself that has taken care of the fate of local people, providing them with material for creativity. According to local artists, 50% of people in Avanos are involved in pottery, considering that the whole population is 15,000 people. It is hard to imagine so many potters in Ukraine where it is good if we can find several hundreds of them across the whole country.
23 years of his age Hilmi Körükçü from Avanos has lived following the classic scenario of this town: together with his brother they have been helping parents to create pottery and earn their living. "I think once I’ll teach this my son» – Hilmi is thinking out loud. But meanwhile the guy from the pottery province dreams of another job — a banker. So, for this purpose he is now studying at the university.
"My friends say: why do you study? You better quit it and work”. However, nowadays there is not much fortune in pottery. Often owners of souvenir shops in Avanos complain that they cannot earn enough money. And some people completely close the business. “Even if I become a professional potter and make lots of items, who will sell them? – says Hilmi. There are many problems that must be solved. That is why most of young people are not interested in this art and obtain other specialties. I’m also planning to do something else after my graduation, and the pottery will be just a “hobby "- the young potter shares his plans with us.
According to Hilmi, now the pottery is less in demand because of the dominance of cheap plastic utensils. However, I believe, under any circumstances, there will always be true aesthetes and connoisseurs of the beauty.
The decor of any, especially Turkish, ceramics bears the impress of nation. Hilmi’s mom is keen on decorating items. Often she is drawing in the style of ancient cave paintings. “These motives are especially popular among fans of ceramics” — says the potter.
In addition to traditional wringing articles on potter's wheel, Hilmi with his father and brother are creating special ceramic casting molds for mass production. This greatly speeds up the production process.
Kütahya, Iznik, Western Turkey
Kütahya – is an another famous pottery center in Turkey along with Iznik and already referred to Avanos. But before we talk about it, there are a few words about Iznik. This town is located not far from Istanbul and the global glory of the Turkish ceramics begins with it. All the amazing tiles that still decorate the Sultan's palace, mosques and houses in Istanbul, were made here. Due to the high quartz content Iznik’s ceramics is very durable, waterproof and it defies chemical and thermal influences. It can preserve its excellent appearance for centuries.
Ceramics making in Kütahya began in 18-19 centuries after the fall of Iznik’s ceramics as an alternative and it has its differences. Firstly, it is produced with a lower silica content and with higher clay content accordingly, and secondly, it differs from Iznik’s ceramics in motives and painting techniques.
35-years-old Hatidzhe Bal (Hatice Bal) of Kütahya has been painting ceramics for the last 15 years. While being a student at the university, she mastered the pottery and decided to completely surrender to it, leaving the study. She assures she has never regretted it. Now she has 300 pupils who are taking over this fine painting.
Hatidzhe believes in the common origin of a man and clay — from the ground. She says that under the influence of fire the clay becomes beautiful, same as a man burning with a certain feeling – sadness, happiness – becomes beautiful. The master is confident that the definition of «a person» or “a man” can come through understanding of clay and pottery.
Her favorite color is blue; and she has been looking for its novel shade for her ceramics through experiments for a year and a half. Blue sea and sky: this color symbolizes freedom. And Hatidzhe seems that the human soul is also blue, because all people are always striving for freedom. Perhaps it is because of this that blue color is so popular in Turkey.
40-50% of the Kyutahya’s people (out of 200 000 population) are engaged in manufacturing and painting pottery. Ceramic souvenirs are supplied from here to other tourist cities in Turkey and abroad.
Wood works (Taraklya, Northwest Turkey)
Ismail Yildiz from Taraklya, that is in northwestern Turkey, cuts different utensils out of wood — spoons, spatulas, bowls, and creates flat shapes of musical instruments. He says his family has been in this craft for at least 100 years. His 71-year-old father still does not spend a day without this craft.
Weaving with cones (Akseki, Anatalia region, south-west Turkey)
75-year-old Hasan Erdogan is the only master in Turkey who creates his products with cones. In the past he was suffering from respiratory illnesses and constantly needed oxygen, for which he usually went to the pine forest. And once he noticed bumps under his feet, which are usually abundant in the woods. So he thought that it would be interesting to do something out of them. This happened in 2000 and since then he has been in the author's craft. He makes baskets, bowls, plates, chandeliers. They are things that are both decorative and practical — containers for biscuits, bread, dry goods, fruits. Such things provide genuine eco-mood in any modern interior.
During the festival you could see how this old man sat and went through cones — from small to large, twisted them up with a wire and formed rounded shapes for a future product. This craft is not only for the soul but it also imposes additional costs on the master.
However, Hasan does not distribute his items to stores, he does not want them to profit. That is why he sells the items himself.
This year in the local university the master began teaching this craft to students. Hasan collects cones in June and July, keeps them at home in bags. He is 75 years old, but with a smile he says he feels like 45.
Turkish shadow theater (Istanbul)
Karagoz (transl. – “black-eyed”) — the protagonist of the Turkish shadow theater — the name of the theater, in fact, is derived from the name. The first mention of Karagoz and description of the play refers to 1623. Performance in the shadow theater is played by a man, who controls puppets and turns all the characters voiced by changing his voice. Often performance’s scripts depict the discontent of the masses towards existing orders and governors. Shadow figures are made of fine calf or camel skin painted with bright colors (usually red and green). Their heights can be from 20 cm to 1 m. Dolls are set in motion by means of rods attached to the back. Moving shadow figures are projected to the illuminated white screen. Art critics say that from an artistic point of view, shadowy figures of Karagoz come short of refined Javanese or Chinese ones. And the play is rougher.
Karagoz has set up military look, it is a hooligan and bully, but at the same time the embodiment of people's natural humor and wit. It is said that the prototype of Karagoz was a real Turkish blacksmith. He lived in the mid-14th century at the court of Sultan Orhan and worked at the construction of mosques. He was keen on chatting with his friend – a stone-crasher Hadzhyvat. They told each other jokes and amused other workers so the work was very slow. Sultan found this out and decided to execute both of them — not for jokes, but for poor performance. They were executed; but afterwards Sultan regretted his action. However, it was too late. To comfort the Sultan, one of his servants cut figures of Karagoz and Hadzhyvat out of leather and demonstrated the performance in which friends were living and telling their jokes again. They say it relieved the Sultan, and since that time plays with Karagoz and other historical characters are shown throughout Turkey.
“Theatre of Shadows is still popular among the Turks. Children watch these performances since early childhood. However there are not many craftsmen that make the characters out of leather and they are mostly old people” — Veral Safie, an artist from Istanbul, says. She and her husband all their lives have been making toys for shadow play and teaching this art at the university. During Ramadan this creative couple show their performances on the streets of Istanbul's tourist district — Sultanahmet. Their puppets for shadow play are sold not only in Turkey: orders also come from the U.S., Germany, Italy and England.
Turkish shadow theater «Karagoz» is under the protection of UNESCO.
Jewelry (Erzurum, eastern Turkey)
Residents of the eastern Turkish city Erzurum for the past two thousand years have been earning their living mining black amber and turning it into fine jewelry. Stone is mined at a depth of 60-150 meters in the mountains, near the border with Georgia.
Jeweler Metin Chelebi (Metin Celebi) from Erzurum manufactures fine jewelry, framing the semiprecious stones in silver and gold same as his ancestors did several thousand years ago. “However, now people buy less of such jewelry; instead they prefer jewelry that is made of black Chinese plastic” – says Metin. And in vain! It is believed that black amber has healing properties – it neutralizes negative energy and reduces stress (internal pressure). And the price is reasonable; for example, simple earrings cost 20 liras (about 80 hryvnas).
Combs of horn (Denizli, south-west Turkey)
You cannot make money with this art, however alredy for 20 years Hyuseyin Merttyurk (Hüseyin Merttürk) hasn’t been able to quit the art that passed from grandfather and great-grandfather to his family. Combs of cow and goat horns protected hair from lice in wartime, and now they can serve as nice souvenirs. Master apologizes, but he cannot afford to sell them for less than 20 liras (80 hryvnas), because of the time-consuming production process. The manufacture of combs takes at least one year and a half: during this time horns that are collected from cattle are conditioned. And only afterwards horn working starts.
For one kilo of horns the livestock sellers charge about 1 lira (4 hryvnas). It's affordable to buy, but not everyone is able to bring it to a good art condition and due to the above mentioned reasons not everyone can afford this. Hyuseyin says, he is the youngest master of this craft, and there is not even 10 masters of this speciality in the whole Turkey.
And for Hyuseyin himself this is not the main business, he makes a living producing so called cold steel — knifes, swords.
Dolls of shingles (Ankara, central Turkey)
Saliha Tokat cannot transport her products in airplanes, but even if she dared – she could take only a dozen or so. Each of her dolls weighs almost a kilo, because its core is of shingles gathered at the Turkish Black Sea coast. The artist dresses the Dolls’ stone skeletons in folk costumes and headdress. Using special viscous material prepared with glue, she is forming volumes and folds. The artist does not reveal any secrets of the substance recipe, instead she invites everyone to her workshops.
This art is quite young. They started creating these dolls in Turkey only 35 years ago. But Saliha does not know who exactly invented them. She began creating dolls 12-13 years ago. “As soon as I saw these dolls – I was anxious to learn this art.” According to the artist, her art is not easy and requires a lot of patience. You must know many kinds of Decorative Arts to be able to make dolls «alive».
Saliha describes her puppets in traditional costumes that represent different regions of the country, each one is unique. Before getting started, the artist is researching, studying costumes and regional specifics. On a by-order basis she can make dolls of different ethnicities. Creation of one doll takes at least one week. In Ankara she has her own studio, where she sells her products.
At the fair, about eighty artists participated in the festival. Among them were Turkish masters as well as artists representing the cultures of Hungary, Georgia, Moldova, Macedonia, Northern Cyprus, the Netherlands, the Republic of Adygea (Russia) and Ukraine.
The 14th International Festival of Culture and Arts was held from June 28 to July 6, 2013 in the town of Büyükçekmece in the province of Istanbul.
Kateryna Kachur, Bohdan Hdal, Rukotvory
Translated by Evgenia Koval