A Journey From Vastness Of The Blue To The Generosity Of The Heart Pearl Artist: (Sedefkar) Fatma Ayran


Mother-of-pearl has been a popular and used material for centuries with its place in Turkish-Islamic culture, high spiritual value and as well as its aesthetic beauty. It has been in demand throughout our history as an ornamental form in our traditional culture and has been referred to as the work of aesthetics and spirituality, not a craft requiring mastery. The pearl craftsmanship has been used in many architectural structures, especially on the doors, windows, lectern, pulpit, and shelves of mosques from the Ottoman period to the present day. Rather than its decorative functions in the palaces, there are handicraft works of pearl artists on several artifacts of art such as swords of sultans, thrones, tables and coffee tables, mirrors and clogs. On the art of mother-of-pearl, which has evolved into a visual art of decoration, rather than being functional, and can be visualized on furniture, plates, cutlery, jewelry, pens, calligraphy artists of wooden boxes, we talked to one of the young pearl artist (sedefkâr), Fatma Ayran, about the long journey of mother-of-pearl from the depths of the seas to the skilled hands of its masters.

Love Of Art Fals Into The Heart Of An Artist During Childhood
Mother-of-pearl, which is known as the oyster shell with pearls pearl inside, is also the name given to a shiny, stiff substance obtained from outside mollusks such as sea mussels and snails. In the Qur’an, pearls and corals fished out of the sea are mentioned as the grace of Allah.  It is a material, of which its spirituality in folk stories and allegorical expression in folk stories as an element of mythos, used for centuries. The pearl artist Fatma Ayran thinks that performing this art is a blessing given by Allah to the pearl masters. The art of mother-of-pearl, which she fell in love and affection during her childhood and meticulously performed, shaped her future and attracted her to the realm of spirituality.

“I was a child. There were handicraft shops around the small Hagia Sophia Mosque. It is an environment in which classical handcraft works came to life. Growing up in such a neighborhood must be the most important factor shaping my future. In my spare time as a child, I used to watch artists from the windows of these workshops, dreaming and envying them. At that time, I had no idea of becoming a pearl artist. Much later, my path somehow intersected with the ornamentation artist, Hatice Aksu. I watched this magical harmony of writings for a long time. Then I had the chance of being her student. During this period, I met the pearl masters in various fairs and workshops. Watching them while working made me feel the spiritual realm of this art. I cannot forget the first time I had the chance to take mother-of-pearl in my hand and cut it. I was enchanted by its beauty, shine and the way it gave me peace. The moment I went to my first master, Ahmet Sezen, and asked him ‘Do you need an apprentice?’ was the beginning of everything.”

The Pearl Artisanship From Tradition To Future
The artisanship of pearl is an intricate art that incorporates different disciplines. Patience and meticulous work habits are sins qua non. There is another skill of the pearl artist that come to the fore at every stage of the art of mother-of-pearl. Wood craftsmanship, carpentry, jewelry arts, lapidary-jewelry, and hand skills are blended with imagination. Then the mastery of the pearl emerges. The pearl artist, Fatma Ayran, who has gained ground this long and spent a laborious way with the master-apprentice teachings, refers to the fine craftsmanship of the pearl.

“I was trained by Salih Balakbabalar, one of the masters of this art, for a while. He was my idol. His work discipline, his attention to work while working, and his graceful and detailed style became very influential in my working order. It was very difficult to make him like what I made. Since he was the best in this art, he helped me to work more carefully, deliberately and disciplined. Later on, as witnessed my artworks, which were produced in the workshop, being admired and purchased gave rise to me to work harder with enthusiasm and to become a master. When my master was convinced that I improved myself, he started to let me accomplish bigger works. We used to work together mostly on musical instruments and spent busy shifts. I had the opportunity of advancing myself very quickly in this art. I used to work a lot, and in my spare time, I used to decorate small objects in the workshop.

The art of mother-of-pearl, which unites many other arts, has consistently taught me new things. Since there is no end to learning, the affection I have been having with this art has always remained fresh.”

The Elegance Of Women’s Hand In Mother-Of-Pearl
As in most of the traditional arts, pearl artisanship is an art that men are more interested in, while women, in the case of Ottoman-Islamic habits, prefer to like its visuality rather than performing it. In its tradition, the number of women, who are involved in pearl artisanship, are quite a few. As a pearl artist, Fatma Ayran, who is a young pearl master, believes that her being a pearl artist is mainly related to meeting with the right people so that she has devoted herself to this work and gained ground.

“I am grateful to all of my teachers who have enabled me to learn and practice this art. If they had not seen me as worthy since I was a woman, I would not be able to reach the level of sharing my ideas about this art today. The most important reason why women are not known as a pearl artist is that this art requires physical strength. I think this view shall not prevent us from performing this art. The fact that women and men are different in nature also reflects on their work of arts. Allah created women graceful and fine. The interest in the produced artworks is directly proportional to the women’s rendering performance of pearl artisanship. In recent years, when people meet a female pearl artist, they have been paying more attention to both art and artist. It is very valuable for me to witness this.

Mother-Of-Pearl Is Processed In The Heart Of An Artist
Since the art of mother-of-pearl has strict discipline, patience, and heartfelt work, it opens its doors only to those who aspire to its mastery and uphill struggles with many years. According to the pearl artist Fatma Ayran, the pearl artisanship is not merely enough to perform this job. There are also some burdensome responsibilities, such as claiming this long-lasting ancient tradition and passing it on to the next generations.

“some people who want to be acquainted with this art started with me as an apprentice, then many of them left it. Very few of them were able to keep continue. Because the materials of the art of pearl are too expensive, new generations may not be attracted to it. As an artist of this work, I try to draw people’s attention by making tailor-made designs. These works, which I made according to various purchasing powers and tastes, enable this art to reach more people. There are people who come to buy a souvenir to leave it for their children. Those who want to make special jewelry with their calligraphy letters and ornamentation patterns will have the opportunity to meet the art of pearl when they come to my workshop. I’m hoping that maybe this art touch one’s heart who requests this artisanship. In my humble opinion, I recommend that the candidates who wish to give their hearts to this art should first learn about the mother-of-pearl and explore it. It is very important to remind that this art, which is an heirloom from our ancestors, requires a lot of labor, and it should be performed with love and affection. Discipline, patience, persistence and, most importantly, setting your heart on are the basis of pearl artisanship. Then the attachment and love you raised will show you the way.”

The art of pearl is one of the brightest areas of the traditional art styles, and it is an area that is the most attractive, patience required and evolution needed. It is not just to be a handicraftsman, but it is to have a rich imagination, and it is the job of being captivated by the harmony of beauty. Indeed, as being a woman pearl master, the artist Fatma Ayran is the master who devoted her talent and delicate heart to this art.


Who Is The Pearl Artist Fatma Ayran?
In 1991, she was born in Mersin. She learned about pearl artisanship through a master – apprentice relationship. She studied ornamentation with Hatice Aksu between 2002 and 2006 and learned mother-of-pearl training from Ahmet Sezen and Salih Balakbabalar between 2006 and 2009. Mrs. Ayran, who also took ornamentation lessons from Münevver Üçer, opened her own studio in 2010. Having received the ‘Certificate of Pearl Artist for Mother of Pearl Inlaid’ from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 2013, and hold on several exhibitions, the artist has continued her works in her studio near small Hagia Sophia Mosque through combining the pearl art with other side disciplines in its classical and modern designs.

What Is Mother-Of-Pearl, Pearl Artist, And Pearl Artisanship?
The twinkle, white, and stiff substance, which are found in the shell of sea creatures such as mussels and oysters are known as mother-of-pearl. Placing these mother-of-pearls into the appropriate carved wooden design is called the art of mother of pearl inlaid. The mother-of-pearl inlaid has several definitions known as pearl artisanship, mother-of-pearl processing or pearl mastership. The master who makes the mother-of-pearl decoration is called pearl artist.

Patience, Labor, Love
“Love is the beginning of everything; because when you deal with a job you love you also learn patience and labor. Sometimes, I work slowly so that I do not let finish the pieces I cut because I want to mingle with and spend more time with those mother-of-pearls. I watch the work of arts I have finished and then deliver them.”

Sizing The Intent To Grasp The Love
“When starting the mother-of-pearl artisanship, your intention and why you want to learn it is very important. Is it for glory, fame, or money? or because it gets you closer to Allah? Or is it for reflecting your heart-beauty to people? If you want to grasp love, you should size your intentions. If your intention is righteous, then art will reveal its secret to you and gives love and affection.”

By: Özge Öztürk

*This article was  published in the  November-December issue of Marmara Life

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