Tuesday, April 23, 2013

End Of An Era

My wonderful, indispensible, reliable, cheerful, friendly, unflappable workshop technician, Fiona, is leaving on Thursday. She's found a better-paid job with more promotional prospects and she'll be superb. The students will all miss her and they arranged a lunch for her today, which was great fun.

Goodbye, Fiona - 1

Fortunately, we have someone else in mind for the job but unfortunately, we have no idea of when they will start (I can't even give gender details as we haven't interviewed yet), so we are running without technical support for a few weeks at least.

On the way to work this morning, I found a nut in the gutter, a somewhat unusual nut in that it was very narrow. It became my first solitaire:

Solitaire - 3

Solitaire - 4

Well, my first iron solitaire. I've made plenty of gold and diamond ones in the past.

I also managed to finish something I started in Istanbul: 

Istanbul Charm - 2

The file was bent and the nail attached as part of a demonstration in Hrac's workshop when I was there. The rest of it was finished today, with one of the quartzes from the stone-dealer in the Grand Bazaar and an antique blue-glass bead against the evil eye which Ayse gave me.

Istanbul Charm - 3

I also managed to start another project which has been in my mind for a while, the "Oracle" bangle: 

Oracle - WIP - 2

This was largely made from bits and pieces I had found over the weekend on a gap-site in glasgow. The quartz sphere is one of the ones I bought in Istanbul.

Finally, I received an email today from an online associate, an artist whom I really admire, Randy Reiger of NuPenny toys fame. His last NuPenny installation is to be held in Wichita on Friday and he invites anyone who happens to be in the area to visit. I would love to.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Back To Normality...

The crazy Easter Holiday is over, back from Istanbul, Brighton and the Bowie exhibition at the V&A - quite wonderful, well worth seeing if you are a Bowie fan, probably best avoided if you are not - and back into the workshop. I've been there for a week now, but it has been so hectic that it feels like I've never been away.

My first morning back, I had agreed to help the Physical Education department to train their new personal trainers, so I was sweating buckets on a rowing-machine for the first hour of the day. Oddly enough, it put me in a really good mood for the rest of the day, however. Despite the trainee trainer telling me that I had dreadful posture and poor breathing (in far kinder and more polite terms, of course). The good thing about that is that we have been working on that for a couple of subsequent sessions and I realise that I do have terrible posture. Not helped last Saturday by spending a couple of hours picking up rusty nails on a derelict rail-yard in glasgow...

It was good to take stock of everything that had happened over the previous two weeks and to look over my Istanbul treasures, fantastic bits of metal, a huge chunk of chain from the loom we found, and lots and lots of books and gemstones.

Istanbul Treasures - Included Quartzes - 16

Included quartzes galore...

Istanbul Treasures - Included Quartzes - 15

Aquamarines as big as boiled sweets...

Istanbul Treasures - Aquamarine - 7

Phenomenal tourmalines...

Istanbul Treasures - Tourmalines - 4

Gifts of rusty metal and glass beads...

Istanbul Treasures - 2

And some beautiful enamelled watch parts from Umut:

Istanbul Treasures - Watch Case - 25

Now I have to think about using them!

I've also been catching up on commissions, largely smaller stuff which came on the back of the show, earrings, and rings and a re-make of my "File Pendant" which I made last year. I really like the new one better than the original.

New File Pendant - 1

More later in the week!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Istanbul Friday: Exploring the Hans

Galata Tower

Friday morning, I set off early to cross the Bosphorous and set foot in the Asian continent, the "Asian side" of Istanbul. The weather was clear and warm, by far the nicest of the week, and I boarded the ferry to Kadikoy.

Sunrise Over Asia

The journey takes around 20 minutes and I wasn't quite ready for the actual difference between the east and west sides of the city. The eastern side seems much more laid-back, much less crowded than the west, though the driving is just as bad!

Waiting to meet Umut and Ufuk, I wandered around the area of the ferry terminal, exploring the many derelict buildings there.

28 - 28

After we ate breakfast in a lovely open-air restaurant, we headed to Umut's flat so that I could see her workshop-gallery space and see the rabbit her father made for her last month. She was unsure about why he had a moustache and when she asked her father, he told her, "It makes it more masculine".

Mad Rabbit

The gallery and workshop space in the flat is given over to the work of both Umut and her husband, James (Thurman) and there are loads of exciting experiments, half-finished projects and completed work by them both, as well as works by their friends, both local and international. At the moment, Umut and James are working with two other artists on a collaborative project which sees elements being passed between all four parties to make single completed pieces in which each artist has a distinct contribution. I was very taken with the one completed piece which I saw as it appears to be a unified item with no hint of any disconnect in vision between the contributors. I have no pictures of this work, but am sure that Umut will post some soon.

After this, we met up with Ufuk again and headed off for lunch in a bustling area of food shops and stalls.

Fresh Almonds

Returning to the European side of the city, we returned to the Grand Bazaar to explore the hans (khan) or the little trading centres which operate around the area, generally away from the busy sections of the bazaar. Hidden away from the general view, up steep stone staircases, generally arranged around a central courtyard, these places are home to many workshops of all sorts.

In The Hans - 7

In The Hans - 11

As before, we heard the "tap tap tap" of the chasing hammer and went into a tiny doorway to find two men discussing a piece of work. Much to my surprise one of them - who turned out to be the head of the "Jewellers' Chambers", a local trade organisation - recognised me from one of the magazines which had featured my exhibition, which was both surprising and really satisfying.

Workshop Meeting

The silversmith was working on decorating a traditional silver jug.

Silversmith With Traditional Pot

In another workshop, we met with a spinner. He was keen to show us finished product rather than the process, which I would rather have seen.

Spinning Workshop

In some ways, this visit to the hans was the highlight of the week in Istanbul, especially when Ufuk wrangled us access to the roof of one of the hans...

In The Hans - 29

Istanbul From The Rooftops - 5

Ufuk On The Roof

Istanbul From The Rooftops - 6

On the roof, we found a collapsing room...

Istanbul From The Rooftops - 9

And in the collapsing room, we found a fantastic, corroded loom with fabric still on it.

Rooftop Loom - 2

Rooftop Loom - 5

Needless to say, quite a lot of this loom came back with me!
Back inside again, Ufuk took some excellent photographs of me and Umut in a saintly style:


After this, we returned to the gallery for dinner with Ayse and her friends.

Sexist Placemat

We met up with Ufuk in a pub afterwards and took a taxi back to the hotel, quite the most terrifying ride of the visit, a journey so frightening that Umut and Ufuk got out of the taxi at the hotel and took another one!

With heavy heart, I packed my things away, ready for the shuttle to the airport and a return to an icy UK, leaving my friends in the warm - in all senses of the word - city that I quickly came to love.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Istanbul: Topkrapi Palace

Thursday and the second day I had to be a tourist in the city, I headed off to Topkapi Palace, a place which has held much fascination for me since Dingo introduced me to the 1960s caper movie, "Topkapi", a favourite fun film for both of us. Naturally, as a jeweller, I wanted to see the famous treasury and, as a metalsmith, the armoury.
I can't say that I was disappointed in the objects on display, but I can say that it was one of the most horrible tourist experiences of my life, beating even the restaurant of the Metropolitan Museum in New York for complete ignorance and rudeness of both staff and other tourists. To be fair, most of the staff were helpful and cheerful; most of the other tourists were well-mannered but the few exceptions made the whole experience dispiriting and angering.

I started off by getting there really early, so was one of the first people in the complex. It was partly my own fault that things were bad as I decided to visit the Harem first and the Treasury later: had I done it the other way around, it might have been less difficult.

The Harem is probably the most interesting part of the palace architecture, being relatively "pure" Ottoman architecture with little of the rococo and baroque excesses which later came from Europe to change the style.

Topkapi Palace - 9

After leaving the Harem, I went to the Treasury to see the jewels and jewelled objects. By this time, a sizeable queue had built up outside the place and there was a 20-minute wait to get in. Unfortunately, photography in the treasury is forbidden, so I have no images to show you, but there are plenty available online to see; not that is mattered - the aggressive guards never stopped shouting at stupid morons who insisted on taking photographs with their flashes in the dark environment against glass-fronted displays. By far the nastiest moment was when I was trying to look at an emerald pendant of some magnificence: on stopping to look, a guard barked at me, "Keep moving,.. keep moving... if you are going to stop, go home". He wouldn't listen to me when I tried to explain that the point of a museum is to LOOK at the objects therein.
It might sound strange, but I was reminded of a story I was once told about someone wanting to see Lenin's embalmed corpse: the guards wouldn't let you stop there either, so the people developed a sort of Michael Jackson "moonwalk" in order to spend more time while appearing to be moving.
What is the point of a museum in which one is not allowed the time to look at, absorb and process the objects displayed?
The general tourists themselves do not help, happy to spend less than three seconds per cabinet, unwilling to look as they have been divorced from their cameras, the medium through which they appear to need to filter their experiences. The queue whisked round and I developed strategies to allow me to study the objects without incurring the wrath of the guards. Just as I thought things couldn't get any worse, a party of about 60 Japanese children came in, all around 5 or 6, too short to ever hope to see into the cabinets, disinterested, shouting. Stepping back to look at a particularly splendid sword, I caught the back of my legs on the rope to which they were all clutching, knocking one of them over. Bring on the hysterical, screaming teacher, a female not fit to be in charge of a dog in public, let alone a party of disinterested primary-school children. Once more, the aggressive guards hastened to the scene and a fight broke out between them and the teacher. I slipped away...

Topkapi Palace - 29

Overall, the palace is well worth visiting. The metalwork in the armoury, the tiles, the harem, are all wonderful. The work in the treasury is wonderful but it was an effort to look at it, what with the numbers of people and the aggressive guards.

Topkapi Palace - 19

That evening, I went back to the gallery to see Ayse and meet with some people who were interested in the work. She met me in the town centre, not realising that the President of Turkey was going to be in the city that day and the roads would be blocked off, police everywhere. It took us 2 hours to travel less than 2 km in a taxi!

Gilded Finial

After the gallery, I went to dinner with the lovely Steven and Nevra. Steven is a Scot who married a Turk and who has lived in Istanbul for many years. It was great to be able to talk about the details of Turkish history, politics and econimics.

Bed after another long day.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Istanbul: Tourist At Last

Wednesday, I had the chance to relax a bit and be a tourist in the city, heading off first thing to see the amazing Hagia Sophia, the wonderful Orthodox church, turned mosque, turned museum.

Hagia Sophia - 49

The building is famous for its enormous Byzantine dome, dating from around 540 CE (AD) though there had been a church on the site for several hundred years previously, an impressive piece of architecture and for nearly a thousand years, the largest dome in the world, as well as for its crazy history of conversion to mosque and then to museum, during which things have been added, removed, painted over, uncovered...

Hagia Sophia - 20

Like Turkey itself and Istanbul especially, the Hagia Sophia is a mashing together of so many influences, themes, ideas and philosophies, a situation which I found incredibly exciting: primitive Christian crosses fade through the over-painted 15th Century Islamic designs:

Hagia Sophia - 7

Strange angels with their faces painted out - it being forbidden to represent the human body in Islamic art - have their faces reinstated:

Hagia Sophia - 16

Hagia Sophia - 15

I love the idea of the palimpsest, of things being erased to allow new creations and, most especially, of things fading, rusting, corroding. Hagia Sophia is, in a way, a monument to this more than anything else: crumbling mosaics, corroded metal doors, fading paint, the clash of imagery.

Hagia Sophia - 33

Hagia Sophia - 46

Hagia Sophia - 6

Next on my tourist agenda was the Basilica Cistern, the subterranean water tank which supplied water to Topkapi Palace until recent times.

Basilica Cistern - 1

The cistern is notable for having been constructed of various columns which have been "recycled" from older buildings and there is a range of styles of both column and capital. My own favourite is the single strange column looking like a de-branched tree:

Basilica Cistern - 3

A couple of the columns famously rest on Roman Medusa head sculpted plinths. The heads are beautiful examples of Roman art and it is odd to think that they spent so much of their time in the mud at the bottom of a water tank.

Basilica Sistern - 5

The heads are supposed to have been laid on their sides or upside-down to negate their fearsome powers of turning people to stone!

One of the features of the city which one can't fail to notice very quickly is the presence of thousands of feral cats (and very few dogs generally). The cats are everywhere and they seem to have developed a fine relationship with the humans in the city, paying them so little heed that after a while you stop noticing how many there are. This one surprised me in the Ottoman cemetery near the hotel:

Street Cat

The afternoon was spent back at the Grand Bazaar with Umut and Hrac, who gave me a tour of some of the more interesting jewellery places in the back alleys.

Bazaar Courtyard

We first stopped at an absolutely minuscule workshop where a traditional diamond-setter and hand-engraver worked.

Engraving and Setting Workshop

This was especially fascinating as I got to learn about the Ottoman method of setting rose-cut diamonds, using a pressed, polished piece of lead behind the stone to reflect the light back through the front. It was surprising to learn that this is still done and I did notice that the rose-cut and flat-backed, facet-topped stone was still very popular here, where it has been replaced largely by variants on the brilliant-cut in Europe and the US. Of course, I love these cuts... more on them later.

Ottoman Settings

For anyone interested, it is worth having a look at this image at full size (click on it and it will take you to the Flickr page where you can do that). The lead cup is on the peg and the earrings with the rose-cut stones over the lead cup are on the top of the bench next to the loupe.
I think that the engraver was a bit annoyed that I wasn't as fascinated by his own excellent work!


As I mentioned yesterday, there are still lots of traditional Silversmiths in Turkey and we wandered off to a couple of the workshops which supply the markets like this:


First up was "Barocco", a wonderful, tiny workshop where a team of craftsmen of exceptional skill have been assembled to create some very striking works.

Chasing a Dish

The very modest chap shown above created this dish to celebrate Istanbul's status as "European City of Culture" in  2010:

Istanbul Dish

He made this dish in its entirety himself, but unlike some of the other workshops we visited, this company has a wide range of skills in their workforce. Upstairs, for example, lay the raising workshop:
Raising Copper

Umut even had a shot at putting a course into this piece too! It is going to be a coffee urn when it is finished.

The industry here is still highly specialised. Unlike the UK, where I have to be able to make my own wire, set my own stones, engrave my own surfaces, and polish everything myself, in the Grand Bazaar and the surrounding "hans" there are people who specialise in everything. I could have spent weeks talking to these specialists - I would love to have had the time to speak to the jeweller I met in the polishing workshop who was laser-cutting gold - and would love to have access to this sort of specialism myself.

Wire-Drawing Bench

Wire-drawing bench outside a wire-drawing workshop in the Grand Bazaar.

We finished off the day by visiting a fantastic stone-dealer, where I bought rather a lot of stones, some speculatively but also some wonderful prehnite, sapphires and chalcedony for my "20000 Leagues" piece. Here are some lovely included quartzes which I brought back:

Included Quartzes

After this, Hrac took us to dinner in a restaurant where he knew the owner and Umut was flirted with by the oddest waiter I have ever encountered. The taxi journey home was so fast and so hair-raising that Ümran, Hrac's assistant, took a photograph of me as if I were riding a roller-coaster!