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By Shirley Rimer
in: Alberta Craft - Culture in the Making
Winter 2003 Issue

[...]

From Ankara we headed to Cappadocia. I knew of the famous underground city of Derinkuyu, built to house a community of Christians fleeing persecution, but I had no idea of the mystical and amazing environment in which I'd find myself. Our home base for a week was a town called Avanos, nestled on the north bank of the Red River.

Avanos is a town focused on potters (although they are also known for their onyx and carved alabaster). There are literally piles of pots around telephone polls, against the walls of storefronts, piled around just about anything you could pile pots around. The town center has a monument to a well-known potter in town and two very large pots surrounding the monument are also made by a senior potter in town. The fountain in the center of town is made of stacked pots with the spout made of two pots joined together. Many people in town collect their water there every day.

From Avanos, in late afternoon of each day, we travelled to a new and captivating landscape. The ground is all lava and ash, windswept and rolling. In many areas around towns in Cappadocia, such as Goreme, old monasteries have become outdoor museums. Early Christians carved cross-shaped churches, stables and homes into the cliffs and cones. It's truly fascinating to imagine living in such an environment but the scale and craftsmanship in this architecture is really hard to fathom. One day we all got into horse-drawn carts and travelled deep into the hills built of ash. Throughout this undulating world of huge grey hills of ash and rock were orchards of apples and melons, as well as caves carved into the rock and churches filled with frescoes.

In Avanos, whilst not out and about being inspired by the landscape, we spent several hours a day in a studio testing the local clays and trying a little creativity of our own. Erdogan Gulec, our host, presented us with an intriguing space in which to work. There's barely a wall in Avanos that doesn't hold one of Erdogan's murals (a slight exaggeration) and he is a generous an warm-hearted man. He not only offered us the run of his studio but tea and raki were in endless supply.

I parked myself at the end of a long table, next to an old Armenian fireplace. As in many of the buildings in town the space was carved into the lava rock, with beautiful curved alcoves along the sides. Going to the studio in the morning, we'd walk from our hotel through the town, up a cobblestone street, under a lovely little bridge and into a little courtyard (where there was always a morning kiss, on both cheeks). Immediately there was tea served and I was inspired and comfortable. Without being overly verbose, I must say that the surroundings made me feel comfortable and at home in a very special way, as if I was meant to be there.

I have to mention Ali Fuat Illeez. Ali is a carpet salesman of great charm. He has a huge smile and a big heart and is a young man who made our stay in Avanos extra special. To get to Erdogan's in the morning, we had no choice but to pass by Ali's shop. Always out the door with a big smile on his face, it was hard to pass by without stopping for chai, Turkish coffee, or cherry juice. In the evening his shop was the social stop, adding raki and wine to the offerings, as well as a saz (Turkish stringed instrument) player whenever it could be . arranged. He never tried to sell us a carpet but I did buy a small kilim and quite a number of us bought several. Of course the kilims and Turkish carpets are truly beautiful and Ali was an expert in passing on tips on quality and craftsmanship, as well as design.

Even the Sofa Hotel, where we stayed in Avanos, was unusual and delightful. The lobby, hallways and rooms were piled with antiques of every description. To get to my room was truly a trip; first up and down stairs and down hallways, then through a long tunnel with large and very odd shaped stairs carved out of the rock, then out through a courtyard, up more stairs to a lovely balcony. From the window in my room I could see the river and much of the town. I could see the sunrise and hear the morning call to prayer echoing through the town. It truly was enchanting.

[...]

Shirley Rimer is a long time member of the Alberta Craft Council. She lives in Red Deer where she actively pursues her pottery career. She has travelled to many areas of the world including Mexico, Greece and now Turkey, to share and exchange ideas and methods of working in clay.

 


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