Pottery from Menemen - between utility goods and works of art

Pottery from Menemen - between utility goods and works of art

After a restful night with some dream episodes, which in our memory all revolved around the topic of pottery, we were invited to breakfast in the beautiful tangerine plantation in the morning by Sabahattin Vardarlı, our host and his family.

Our tour guide through the Menemen workshops, Mr. Ertan Saruhan, also showed up punctually for breakfast, as our daily program was supposed to continue today. First of all, however, we paid more attention to our host Sabahattin, whose pottery work differed greatly from the everyday objects we had come to know.

menemen izmir 21The artistic aspect was clearly in the foreground in some of the exhibited works by Sabahattin Vardarlı, which, as we were to learn a little later, was even clearer in the past. As one of the two master potters in Turkey, the art of Sabahattin Vardarlı was considered particularly worthy of preservation by UNESCO, so that his work is under UNESCO protection. Already in the course of breakfast we should learn more details from his life, which can also be described as an ups and downs with regard to his "career". After an initially very successful, artistically active time in Istanbul, Sabahattin ended up in this country location between Menemen and Foca, where he initially continued his artistic work. However, while people in Istanbul appreciated their art and were prepared to pay for it, the people in the Menemen region initially had little understanding of the handicraft of pottery.

One day, when a visitor asked about the price of an extraordinarily artistic work by Sabahattin, who tried to explain that it was not for sale as a representational piece, a dispute almost broke out. The lady insisted on naming a price, which was then named after discussion. This was clearly too high for the lady, which prompted Sabahattin to ask what she really wanted this work for. The lady's answer was as hurtful as it was typical of certain groups of people: "There's my friend's wedding. I'd like to throw this object out there on the terrace for the sake of the bachelorette party."

menemen izmir 22Even today, Sabahattin can be seen very well how much these words hurt him, which ultimately led to a considerable loss of motivation, which is partly reflected in the works on display. The once artistic, imaginative processing of the natural product clay changed more and more in his activities towards the usual objects of daily use.

It became increasingly clear to us that motivational work was really needed for an entire region to rebuild an entire guild through new ideas and thoughts. It was not without reason that Ertan Saruhan told us about the loss of large orders from Germany and neighbouring countries, when Chinese products were increasingly crowding out Menemen goods due to the price. It was clear to us long ago why we were being shown around with such motivation and all the small workshops and the master craftsmen who worked there.

menemen izmir 23A little later we were already on our way towards Menemen, where Ertan Saruhan introduced us to another master. In addition to the obligatory workpieces, the rather artistic note in his exhibition was also recognizable. Nevertheless, there was an order to form long-necked bottles, which had probably happened in the last few days. After the first few days of drying and hardening, this master placed the bottles on the turntable again to make fine adjustments. The luster of the clay material also came to the fore clearly. In his presence, there was talk for the first time of a Menemen pottery festival, which would be good for both the region and the image of the arts and crafts. We have been playing with ideas and considerations of a similar nature for a long time. As a small guest gift, we received a piggy bank in the shape of a bulbous bottle, which we will probably present to visitors at future events as a donation or tip box.

Our talks towards planning a Menemen pottery festival continued as we drove into town. For the first time we were able to get an impression of Menemen, a city of around 125,000 inhabitants, which a hundred years ago was much smaller but consisted of almost 50% Greeks. But more on that later.

A caravanserai as the cultural center of Menemen

menemen izmir 26Ertan Saruhan took us straight to the city centre, where he surprised us by visiting a completed, restored building: a former caravanserai, now used for handicraft display purposes and for some catering establishments.

The local pottery association, headed by Ertan Saruhan, also had offices and showrooms here. You could also see his enthusiasm for the historic building when he showed us various rooms, introduced us to the people who were there and also reported on the concept ideas we had just created. A great "location", as one would say in modern German. Centrally located, accepted by the local population and easy to find for guests, in short: very suitable for a first pottery festival in Menemen.

menemen izmir 28A little later we also entered the exhibition of a shell setter, at least that's how one could describe the activities of this artist, who creates figures of small and large kinds from a wide variety of shells. From dancing people and multi-headed dragon figures to lamps and entire house duplicates, shells wherever you look. Partly slightly kitschy but also quite artistically interesting examples could be found here.

A few rooms away there was a craftsman who still made bedspreads in the traditional way. Ruffled or embroidered, just as you wish. Then we came across an artist who was exhibiting the pictures she had painted herself. Full-time professor of art and painting at a university in Izmir, in short, there have already been some interesting approaches for a developing cultural centre.

menemen izmir 29We now went again to the workshop of the brothers from the day before, who were active with a group of interested young potters. Children and mostly fathers had put on their aprons and were now trying to give the natural material the desired shape. First, clay rings were glued to each other, which were then smeared from the inside and outside.

Others were already busy structuring the surfaces, for which special tools were made available by the masters. In general, everyone involved was more than clearly enjoying what they were doing, which was also supported by the two masters who were present. Fathers who go pottery with their daughters on Sunday afternoons are really still the big exception in Turkey, so we take our hat off to the event initiated by the pottery association.

menemen izmir 27Our "representative" Menemens also showed us a new building complex with a hotel-restaurant and a large swimming pool, huge parking lot and viewing terrace in the centre of Menemen, which he could also "organize" for a pottery festival. Maybe a house number too big for a first festival. In any case, we used the restaurant to strengthen ourselves extensively after an interesting course of the day. Our second day in Menemen was slowly coming to an end and we were drawn back to the caravan in the tangerine plantation, the ideas of helping to shape a cultural pottery festival in our heads.

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