The Art of Flowers Blossoming in Fire: A Journey through Kutahya Ceramics
Human civilization developed with the use of water, then earth, then fire. The combination of the three, coupled with human imagination and skill, gave birth to immortal ceramic artifacts. The making of ceramics in Anatolia is almost as old as human history itself with the oldest pieces dating back approximately 8 millenia, back to 6,000 B.C.E. With its fertile lands home to countless civilizations – from Lydians, Hittites and Urartians, to Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans – Anatolia became a melting pot of diverse cultures, and the ceramic craft flourished.
The clay required to make these pieces of ceramic employ a very delicate formula that requires exact proportions of precious quarts to be ground and then mixed with clay. The general principle is that two different types of clay should never be mixed, for they have different drying times. Uneven drying can lead to cracks and fractures due to different thermal expansion rates. In the Kutahya tradition, the mixture proportion uses more clay than quartz, while a glaze as thin as possible is an indispensable rule. This dough is then shaped into objects like pots and bowls by master craftsman. To prevent the raw objects from cracking, the kiln must be slowly heated to 400°C [752°F] over 8 hours. Once this point is reached, the heat is instantly increased from 400°C to 980°C [1,796°F] and the items are baked for another 5 hours, after which the kiln is left to slowly cool on its own. Once the temperature falls to exactly 70°C [158°F], you open the kiln. The complete heating and cooling process takes about 3 days. Now the dried and fired pieces are ready for coloring and decoration in a separate workshop where the objects are all meticulously painted, glazed and fired again at high temperature. The entire process takes about 2 weeks.
Kutahya, an ancient Turkish city located in the center of the Anatolian mainland, is home to one of the most ancient crafts in the world dating back to the 13th century. The designs and colors of initial creations resembled the style of Iznik, the leading ceramics center of the time, which is dominated by blue and white colors, symbolizing respectively eternity-freedom and purity in Anatolian ceramic traditions. In later years, however, Kutahya’s artisans began to part ways with the Iznik style and turned to darker colors with different meanings:
- Red (Vitality & Dynamism)
- Purple (Nobility & Dignity)
- Navy Blue (Authority & Productivity)
- Black (Power & Passion)
- Pink (Joy & Comfort)
Kutahya’s introduction of new colors to the craft added a distinct feature to Ottoman ceramics, valued for their durability, as many have lasted for centuries, and the unique style of unfading and glittery floral patterns and figures.
By the 17th century, Kutahya was one of the Ottoman Empire’s main ceramic centers. Iznik started declining in popularity while Kutahya was pushing almost 100 workshops and bustling with commerce, solidifying its position as a major center for a new, modern style of ceramic art. Many women, especially housewives, have empowered themselves economically in Kutahya and its vicinity thanks to the craft. “The Art of Flowers Blossoming in Fire,” as the craft is called in Kutahya, is the vessel through which the region’s people have immortalized their creativity and sense of beauty for centuries. The term perfectly describes the moment in time when these pieces turn from dull bisques into stunning and beautiful pieces of art.