Anatolian Artisans



In the early 1980s formerly a squatter neighborhood at the outskirts of Istanbul, Sultanbeyli has become an ethnically diverse district of Istanbul with a population of 300,000. The social and economic status of women is worse in a low income conservative neighborhood like Sultanbeyli than those implied by national averages. Formal employment opportunities are scarce for women given their limited education. Encouraging home-based production of handicrafts is a feasible option to create employment for these women. Anatolian Artisans (AnARt) is assisting the low income women in Sultanbeyli to improve their knitting skills and produce marketable products. The Project trained twenty women selected by AnARt’s local coordinators based on the participant’s income and skill levels. Anatolian Artisans works with international designers who have a track record regarding marketability of their designs. In this project we worked with Sue Heathcote, an outstanding designer from Scotland who specializes in wool products. Accessories such as scarves, shawls, gloves, hats, bags and tops are some of the products that are being created in this project. Our designer worked with the knitting group for one week in Sultanbeyli training them to produce prototypes of new products. Meeting international quality standards are particularly emphasized in training. During training, the participants were paid minimum daily wage. As a result MUDO Department stores are marketing the Sultanbeyli hand-knit products and the knitters are happy to finally generate income through their knitting. We thank MUDO President Mustafa Taviloglu for his corporate outreach programs that gives opportunities to low income artisans to make a living through their traditional skills.

Knitters interviewed by Susan Boyette

42-year-old Kiyafet has been knitting since she was 16. She already knew how to knit, sew and crochet, as well as producing the Turkish lace, oya. As a result of the AnARt program, she learned new designs and new techniques: how to measure, how to sew, and how to iron. What she’d like is a new course on designs. 20 years ago, she said, there were no jobs. Having the chance to get paid for her work is new for her. She has 3 kids, 2 boys and a girl. One of her boys is in the military, the other in school. Her daughter has 2 children. When the daughter knits, her son plays with wool.

As a result of the AnARt program, their work is being sold by Mudo (a Turkish department store which is something like a mix of Crate and Barrel and Banana Republic).

Songul Kilic has been knitting since age 15. She has an 18 year old who knits; but finds that generally young people are not interested. She’d love to send her daughter to art school but doesn’t know how. She learned how to sew pieces together, how to iron flat / measure. She likes shawls best - they are easiest. A bolero takes her a day or two. She has a neck pain, for which the doctor suggested she stop knitting; but of course she won’t. She’d like to have new designs and more work. She’d like to make money to help her daughter, and to marry her son (in Turkey traditionally it is the boy’s family who pays for a wedding). Her husband supports her, and even gives her ideas. When she is measuring for a sweater she uses him as a model.

Fatma comes from Erzurum, near the Palandoken Mountain (site of skating for 2012 Youth Olympics). She has twins, a boy and girl, who are 17, and another son and a daughter. Her daughter, Furkan, 14, loves colors, clothes, hopscotch. Elif, the youngest, is 11. Fatma says, “When it is winter and cold, I give my daughter needles and she knits for her doll. Before AnART, we just knitted without a plan. As a result of this program I learned to plan, to measure. I learned tricks for good knitting.”

Anatolian Artisans (AnARt) supports established Turkish artists to gain international recognition for their exceptional work. However our projects in Turkey are designed to assist the low income artisans to turn their traditional skills into income.

Meliha Coskun

Meliha Coskun received her formal training at the Faculty of Fine Arts at Marmara University in Istanbul in Contemporary Ceramics. She later studied at a traditional Iznik school and developed her own style of Iznik, early Ottoman and Seljuk pottery traditions. Today she is one of Turkey’s renowned master ceramic artists, and her works have been showcased all over the world, including Smithsonian Institution. She also participated in the Smithsonian Silk Road Festival in 2002.

As a ceramic artist Meliha Coskun is known to utilize the quartz close to the way it was done in the 16th century. It is a challenging process that gives depth and whiteness to her ceramics. In addition, she uses all natural colors and produces her own blue, turquoise, black, green, and red colors to produce unique adaptations of Iznik designs.

Tile making has been a tradition in Turkey for more than a 1,000 years and Iznik-Nicaea during Byzantium- was the center of tile making for 400 years. Meliha Coskun works at nearby Bursa .

To learn more about Meliha Coskun and purchase her work, please visit here



Mehmet Gursoy

Click here to learn more about Mehmet Gursoy and his finely painted Iznik pottery.

Meral Saatci

Meral Saatci’s earrings tell a story.  One, a simple silver circle, represents the sun; the other is a wavy disc representing the sea; attached to it by a delicate chain is a tiny fish.  This comes from her new jewelry line, Summer in Kusadasi (Kusadasi is a lovely Turkish fishing village on the Aegean coast; near Ephesus, it is a popular stop for tourists).  She defines her style as simple-outrageous; it could also be described as casually elegant; fun, beautiful.

Ms Saatci became an artist because she was very choosy about her own look; she didn’t want to wear what everyone else was wearing. Unable to find what she wanted she’d make things for herself; and friends repeatedly wanted her things.

Fourteen years ago opportunity knocked when Ms Saatci met someone who used to work at Beymen, the most luxurious department store in Turkey (think Bergdorf Goodman).  He liked her work and recommended her to the company.  Her contact at Beymen said her work was beautiful but didn’t match their line.  They primarily sell outfits, they said, and don’t want their jewelry to surpass the clothes.  Taking this as a polite brush-off, Meral went home and forgot about it until 10 days later when she got a call, asking, “Where are your samples?”  Without skipping a beat, she said, “Just give me two more days to finish them.”  She has been designing for Beymen ever since.

Beymen does a summer and a winter line, with specials for holidays like Valentine’s Day, Christmas, New Year.  Each season Ms Saatci designs some 30 or 40 new pieces to sell through their 50 stores in Turkey.  Besides Beymen, Saatci sells to Que, a younger, sporty line in the Beymen family.  She also sells her pieces through IKSV, the Institute for Culture and Arts Foundation; in museums like the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, and in Switzerland, Scotland, England, Italy.  She also has pieces at the National Museum of Women in Washington DC and at Anatolian Artisans.

Ms Saatci works with metal and precious and semi-precious stones.  She works with one assistant, Fedai Kırömeroglu, who does polishing for her.  For Beymen she will study their collection, the colors and styles, and design accordingly; but for her individual work, the process is different.  She works with wax to create models; from the models comes a name for a specific line, and designs follow.  One line, Karma, involves silver wire twisted into spheres.  Another, Woman, includes a curved silver brooch – is she pregnant?  Perhaps.  Her current summer line, Summer at Kusadasi, is bright and shiny, simple and clean.  Made with polished silver and blue topaz, it incorporates playful little fishes attached by tiny chains.

Her creations start with a little rectangle of green wax, 2.5 by 6 inches.  On it she draws the design, and works until it is perfect.  From it she makes a plaster cast, heats it, and the wax melts.  She then injects silver into the mold, cleans it, and sands it smooth.  From start to finish may take a week.

Her Kusadasi brooch attracts closer examination.  In a silver diamond a seagull hovers against a cloud.  Dangling below it a chunk of blue topaz symbolizes the sea.  And below that is another of her playful fishes on a thin chain.  Another piece is called a Dilek Agaci, or wishing tree.  It was inspired by the old Turkish tradition of tying a piece of bright cloth to a chosen tree in order to make a wish.  Meral’s piece, a brooch, is a graceful silver (oak) tree with tiny, brightly colored pieces of cloth tied onto its branches.  She has another piece, a silver ring with what looks like a bright red rose made of cloth; but the ‘cloth’ is actually metal; titanium so finely worked it looks like fabric.

Ms Saatci invents new techniques as she goes.  She is currently working on melted wax in water, playing with textures.  This also comes from an old Turkish custom, in which lead is melted, waved over someone’s head, and poured in water – this is said to bring good luck.  Meral learns from Beymen, and from her own experience.  Beymen has been like a school for her:  if this opportunity had not arisen, she’s sure she’d have accomplished less.  It has made her concentrate more, produce more, work harder. 

This is clearly a woman who thrives on her work.  She gets so excited, she can’t wait to sit down with her wax and get to work.  Her eyes sparkle even when she talks about it; her passion is clear.  She is also strengthened by feedback; when people like what she does, she works harder.  She considers herself exceptionally lucky to have met the right people at the right time and place. 

This gets at her whole philosophy of art: we don’t do it for ourselves, but for others.  When they like what we do, they spur us on to produce more.  Some artists choose to produce very few things and sell them for a high price.  Ms Saatci decided she’d rather produce many pieces and make them more accessible to a larger population; she wants her art to be worn.  To her, the pieces she produces are more than just accessories; her art has energy.  She feels her art is not a reflection, but rather a completion.

Wearing design, she says, is very important.  It should make you happy.  Don’t wear everything at once- just go for one thing that you love.  A great necklace or a pair of earrings can make your look.

Anatolian Artisans’ bringing her work to the US could be the beginning of a new era for her.  Her work has been well-received in Turkey, but now, to know that people in a faraway place like her work, and actually buy it, is a wonderful feeling.  Also, because of AnARt’s cooperation her work has appeared in magazines, there are articles about herself and her work. This makes her think of the slogan: The more you share, the more you have to give.”

“It is such a miracle that the more I share my work, the more readily I am able to create.”

To see Meral Saatci’s work look at her website:
or write to Anatolian Artisans at


Hrach Aslanyan – A  Master Craftsman in Istanbul

Hrach Aslanyan is both a sadekar* and designer who was trained by his uncle while he was studying in his third year in the primary school. During the period of his apprenticeship, he fell in love with his art . Now he is a master artisan training other enthusiastic people in the newly founded art house, Mahrec Sanat Evi (Mahrec Art House). He is currently working to revive the old Ottoman art form murassa, which means studded with precious stones. 

*Sadekar is the master in jewelry who works with precious stones and sets them on metal objects. Sade means plain.  Products which are not yet adorned with stones or glazed are called sade.

Interview by Burcu Yilmaz

How did your career begin?

I was a young child when I first started to go to my uncle’s workshop. I was going to primary school at this time. Every summer I worked with my uncle. Then, I entered the economics department, but I really couldn’t make it. My mathematics was so bad. I left school immediately and went on with my art.

I was so lucky that my uncle was my master. Master is the real leader in life and above the father. Along with the artistic support he gave me, he also instructed me in social and financial skills. He taught me to listen to classical music and read books, as well.

I witnessed many masters but my uncle was a great man. He instilled discipline. We couldn’t drink tea or coffee or even listen to the radio when he was nearby. But I like this hierarchy even though you may find it unnecessary or funny today. We had a real master- apprentice relationship. I am still supporting this system in our new founded Mahrec Art House.

What was your motivation behind “Mahrec Art House?”

Jewelry is a very good business in Turkey. Turkey is the second biggest jewelry exporter in the world after Italy. Although this is a big success, the artistic value is disappearing. Industrial production is getting more popular and many sub-branches are appearing like glazer, cutter, etc. Our profession is not suitable for industrialization. You can’t reflect your feelings to the images through this way.

The number of Sadekars are diminishing, and the art form is not properly appreciated. So, in this art house, we would like to educate, support or revive (however you call it) this art form. Mahrec Art House initiated its activities in October  2008. The Center provides training in traditional methods of jewelry making in order to  transmit  the Kapalı Çarşı (Grand Bazaar) culture,  the master-apprentice relationship to the current generation.

What is the education system in Mahrec Art House?

We have one course going on right now named “Jewelry Education Program”. We have almost twenty students. The best thing is we have people from different cities and also from different neighborhoods in Istanbul. We have people from Gazi Mahallesi, Kemer Country, Samatya, Mor Tepe, etc., which means they are all from different backgrounds, social and economic classes.
The program is quite new for Turkey. I use the same system that I was taught. The system in the Art House is based on three levels as in the traditional approach: apprentice, headworker, master relationship. The course is composed of three parts: design, workshop and sales- promotion. For example, we have design courses but also have workshop classes. Today, many schools skip workshop classes. Then, the students don’t know if their designs are applicable or not. I didn’t name it as a jewelry course.  We founded an Art House which may embrace other art forms in the future. For instance, I would like to open a calligraphy workshop. I know the last icon-master in Turkey; I would like to invite him. Also, stone-shaving in not taught in Turkey, we buy shaped stones from India. So, why not teach these arts? I also would like to add enamel (mine), mounting (kakmacılık), and filigree (telkari).

Of course, we need more than 20.000 Ytl and also a space for this. There will be discussions  with the Istanbul Chamber of Jewelry as this is a joint project.

What does Mahrec mean?

Mahrec is a word from the Arabic language. It means “school or bureau” that educates people in a specific profession.  I like the meaning very much. Also, it is not a word that is used very often. I find it very meaningful for our Art House.

I know that currently you are working to revive an old art form named murassa. First, what is murassa?

It is a dead art form in Turkey. According to the Antique Encylopedia, it refers to the objects which are adorned with precious stones and gold. Murassa glass, murassa candle-stands are some examples of this art form.

I believe the art of murassa had origins in the Ottoman times. When people were  making a pilgrimage to Mecca, if the Sultan couldn’t go, he sent murassa objects as valuable presents.

What made you decide to revive this form?

Five or six  years ago, a lady from Japan came to my workshop and told me that they were planning to organize  a “Turkish Week”. So, she asked me to produce objects that represent Turkish culture and Istanbul. She ordered candle stands.

Normally, I didn’t work with objects but, I designed two murassa candle stands. One represented  Hagia Sophia and the other represented  Dolmabahçe Palace. I sent them to Japan and people liked them very much. After this success, on one of my trips to Anatolia, I saw murassa objects. This motivated and inspired me to continue to design and work with objects.

What kind of materials do you use to adorn the objects? Also, how do you design your products?

For a candle stand, I cover them with gold designs. Then I decorate them with various precious stones such as lapis-lazuli, emerald, tourmaline, diamond and ruby.

It is a very difficult process. You spend more than a month on each  object. So, it is not logical to use semi-precious stones instead of precious stones.

In terms of design, I don’t like copying from the catalogues. I use my inspiration and design on my own.

Do you think people can be attracted to murassa objects?

Murassa objects are very special pieces. Today, people buy cellular  phones with diamonds or cars with special designs with precious materials. I am sure they  will  buy these precious objects, as well.  But the problem is that artists can’t be business  people. They can’t both produce and promote their products. Artists reflect their divine dreams to objects and canvases.

For example, I am planning to create a collection of thirty to forty murassa objects and organize an evening in a special venue. I will need a group of people to organize this event which makes it difficult. It would be a great opportunity to attract people and introduce the art of murassa.

Last words?

Founding the Mahrec Art House is a project that stirs me up very much. Sometimes, I feel like we are Don Quixotes. Working on murassa also gives me the same feelings. But I really believe that we have to keep all these art forms alive which are very special to us, to our culture and the city of Istanbul.

Thank you…

To contact with Hrach Aslanyan or Mahrec Sanat Evi, please e-mail: or