ARTICLE: BENAN KAPUCU
The Myriad Varieties Of Glass
It speaks the language of light. In the hands of a master it can become a work of art, a thing of beauty. Glass...
Glass is a substance that has beautified and made our lives easier for thousands of years. In its natural form, obsidian, it came about when the lava spewing out of volcanoes millions of years ago under tremendous heat and pressure rapidly cooled. Black, red and green, natural glass was used in the ancient civilizations of Anatolia for the first mirrors as well as for numerous tools. Said to have been an accidental discovery, glass was first produced by humans in the region around Anatolia and Mesopotamia in 3500 B.C. Roman historians describe how they woke up one morning and encountered the world’s first glass, formed when sand came into contact with the fires lit next to the natron (natural sodium carbonate) ingots unloaded from trading ships by Phoenician sailors moored on the coast of Egypt.
The story of glass, which began in the Eastern Mediterranean and Southern Anatolia and influenced Anatolian, Roman and Byzantine art, was also the source of inspiration for a traveling exhibition held at the ‘Glass Pavilion’ of Dolmabahçe Palace. The initiative for the exhibition, which was organized by the Directorate of National Palaces in cooperation with the Italian Culture Center, came from Didem Çapa of 3. Boyut and glass artists Gültekin Çizgen and İzzettin Baki. On its Istanbul leg, this exhibition, mounted by the Sartirana Art Foundation from the Italian city of Pavia in cooperation with the Museum for Architecture, Decorative Arts and Design (MADD), presented Paduan glass artist Angelo Rinaldi’s collection of Murano glass together with works by Turkish glass artists. The 500 years of glass production in the Ottoman Empire contributed to the story as well. The first Ottoman glass factory was established in the 1790s when Venetian glassmaking opened up to the world at Beykoz on the Bosphorus. Venice’s master glassmakers were being invited to palaces in Europe to set up glass factories, and the Ottoman Empire had for many years been eager to bring Venetian expertise to its realm as well. Beykoz glass is one of the earliest examples of the interaction between Ottoman creativity and Western art. With its roots in the tradition of Beykoz glass production, the Paşabahçe Glass Factory, known now as Şişecam, is a respected name in today’s world market.
A JOB FOR EXPERTS
Oya Şenocak Akman, who has been providing designs for different branches of the industry, including the various groups of Şişecam, since 1977, is a prize-winning designer who brings glass to life. An instructor in the Department of Industrial Design of Istanbul Technical University until 2005, Akman’s designs have found a place in both the domestic and the international markets under the brand name, Oya Design. “To me,” says Akman, “‘good design’ means an innovative, recyclable product which is producible and functional and exhibits powerful symbolic meaning while at the same time being aesthetic and adding pleasure and comfort to our lives. As a designer who has worked in the industry for many years, I favor a type of design that can add real value to production. It is only possible to develop an innovative style by knowing the limits of your technology, following the global markets closely, and then specializing in specific areas.”
Akman, who attended her first fair abroad in 1982, finally decided to set up a stand at the Frankfurt Ambiente fair and market her designs under the brand name, Oya Design. Her ‘Bubble’ glass, which won the 2003 Design Plus award from among Ambiente’s participants that year, is on exhibit today at the Frankfurt Museum of Applied Arts and the Berlin Brohan Museum. The same product was nominated by the German Ministry of the Economy for the Design Prize of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2004.
Combining the laws of physics with the properties of the material, the ‘Bubble’ glass is a starkly simple design. When a transparent liquid is poured into this glass, of which it is said in the Design Plus catalogue, ‘even if you down the contents in one gulp, the bubble is always there’, optical illusion creates a second bubble on the surface. What’s more, the color of the bubble is reflected on the bottom, making the entire glass appear to be of that color.
SKILL OF THE HANDS, LIGHT OF THE EYE
“He who knows and respects glass,” says the glass master, “will be rewarded”. The most important aspect of the art of glass is the one-on-one relationship that is established between the artist and his material. Turkey’s ‘Glass Furnace’, an international center for glass and the fine arts in general, produces glass at the village of Öğümce near Beykoz on the Anatolian shore of the Bosphorus with a staff of experienced glassmakers and a special design team. Specializing in completely handmade products, the Glass Furnace also engages in projects aimed at creating distinctive designs. The glass masters there also have an opportunity to learn new techniques by following the work of the world-renowed glass artists, who come to the Glass Furnace to train them. These training sessions, which are also open to people with no experience in glass, teach various techniques for working glass such as glass blowing, casting, molding, lamp-working, fusion and glass bead production, as well as working with mixed materials.
Lokman Kurşunlu, who was trained by the German Helga Siemel at the Glass Furnace Foundation, aims to take Turkey to an important place in the field of world glass art through the projects he has pursued over the last four years at the Kurshuni Workshops. His beads, jewelry and other objects, produced by melting down glass rods without using any molds or tools of mass production, are sold today in Ireland, Germany, Spain, Holland, Japan and the U.S.A. “There’s such a thing as understanding glass”, says Kurşunlu. “You grasp it and you make something. Glass the consistency of honey is turned in a continuous rhythm, thereby acquiring a spherical shape. With rhythm, balance and order, as in the universe in general.”
FAMOUS SIGNATURES IN THE WORLD’S MUSEUMS
Defne Koz, who works in Milan and Boston, won the 2002 Good Design award, one of the world’s four top design prizes, for her series ‘Liquids’. Her glasses, which are sold under the brand name Decorum at department stores like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman in the U.S., Colette in Paris, and the Conran Shop and Selfridges in England as well as in many world-class design shops, are also part of the permanent collection of Chicago’s Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. Containing no lead, the glasses are made entirely of handmade and blown glass.
Alev Ebüzziya Siesbye, who has produced designs for the Istanbul Eczacıbaşı Ceramic Factory, the Danish Royal Porcelain Factories in Copenhagen, and Germany’s Rosenthal Porcelain Factory, is another designer who works in Paris. Reinterpreting her trademark bowls that rise along a slender cross-section from a small base, she has now taken the art of glass into everyday life with her ‘Tigris’ series, designed for the Turkish firm, Koleksiyon. This ‘glass collection’, which also includes contemporary reinterpretations of traditional Turkish tea and raki glasses designed by Koleksiyon’s owner, Faruk Malhan, is specially produced for the firm by Paşabahçe.
The ‘eastmeetswest’ productions of designer Erdem Akan, meanwhile, one of the founders of Maybe Design, display a two-fold concept. A traditional Turkish tea glass on the inside, their straight cylindrical outer surface points to a new age of modernism.
The fascinating story of glass, which has added beauty to human life for millennia, looks like going on forever, by the sweat of its masters’ brows and the creativity of its designers.