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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 38, Page One of Three


Page One
Selahattin Olceroglu Recreates Orientalist Works of the Ottoman Empire

Page Two
James "Jim" Ward--From Woodcarving to Pyrography
Cheryl Dow--A Pair of "How To" DVD Videos

Page Three
Susan Millis: Pursuing a Unique Degree

Selahattin Olceroglu Recreates Orientalist Works
of the Ottoman Empire

An Ottoman Bride
by Selahattin Olceroglu, 2005

Pyrography on wood panel,
27-1/2 in. by 21-1/4 in. (70 cm. by 54 cm.)

After a 19th century engraving by Thomas Allom (1804-1872)

Image courtesy of the artist

Orientalist Art

Turkish artist Selahattin "Sel" Olceroglu a retired Industrial Designer and Interior Architect from Istanbul introduces WOM readers to pyrographic paintings recreating 19th Century scenes of Turkey during the great Ottoman Empire. These scenes were originally captured by European artists of that time in engravings and oil paintings--which came to be known as Orientalist works--when demand in Europe was high for pictures of places considered exotic for them.

Some of the scenes portrayed formal events, such as this intimate view (above) in An Ottoman Bride of an elegant bride in a mood mixed with happiness, excitement, and maybe a little trepidation, in the anticipatory moments before her wedding.

Other Orientalist works captured moments of everyday life in 19th Century Istanbul, such as the work below entitled Grocer, the Pawnbroker.

Grocer, the Pawnbroker
by Selahattin Olceroglu, 1997

Pyrography on wood panel,
80 cm. by 60 cm. (31-1/2 in. wide by 23-3/4 in. high)

After a 19th century pencil drawing by John F. Lewis (1805-1876)

Image courtesy of the artist

The Living Museum

My research had revealed there was a certain artist by the name of Hüsnü Züber who did pyrographic art for many years. His classic Turkish house had been renovated to display his collection of pyrographic works for the public, and a pyrographic artist was working and living there--hence the name Living Museum.

In the hope that Sel might know of this place, I wrote asking if he had ever heard of the Hüsnü Züber Living Museum of Bursa. (Bursa is a city in the mountains about 200 miles from where Sel lives in Istanbul on the Bosphorus Strait.)

Quite to my surprise, he wrote back that he knew Hüsnü Züber himself and that the famous artist had come to visit his studio in Istanbul about four years ago!

A telephone call from Sel verified that the 76-year-old artist is still living in Bursa, that 450 of his works are there on display in Bursa, and that Hüsnü Züber himself is the pyrographic artist living in the Hüsnü Züber Living Museum!

The wonderful story of Sel's recent trip by car to visit and interview Hüsnü Züber, which came about as a result of my query, will be the focus of a later issue of Pyrograffiti. Our focus for this segment is Sel's first glimpse of Hüsnü Züber--when Sel was only 13 years old.

A School Excursion

In 1959, the fine arts teacher Ms. Naime Saltan took Sel and his classmates to an art exposition in his hometown of Eskisehir. It turned out to be an exposition of pyrographic pictures done in a Cubist style by none other than Hüsnü Züber!

After 47 years, Sel still remembers Hüsnü Züber then as a tall and thin young man in his late twenties. He also has a striking memory of something very important for him--something life altering--the color of burnt wood.

He was only a youngster of 13; however, Sel's imagination was already at work thinking that "if the woodburning techniques would be improved in order to obtain the different tones of this color, then it would be possible to make excellent looking pictures with these exquisite colors." He observed that the wide blade mounted in a wood handle and heated in a charcoal burner that he had seen demonstrated that day by Hüsnü Züber could not produce all of the variations of the color that he thought could be produced if only there were a better tool. He was already planning to revisit these possibilities when he grew up, at which time he imagined there would be such a tool available.

By the time he left the exposition hall that day, Sel says that two things were indelibly engraved in his memory:
"The name of Hüsnü Züber and the must of improving the woodburning techniques."

The Fountain
by Selahattin Olceroglu, 2006

Pyrography on wood panel,
70 cm. by 54 cm. (27 in. by 21-1/4 in.)

After a 19th century lithography by Amadeo Preziosi (1816-1882)

Image courtesy of the artist


It was in 1965, when then 19-year-old Selahattin "Sel" Olceroglu left his hometown of Eskisehir and arrived in the grand city of Istanbul for the first time in his life.

He saw for the first time "those magnificent old mosques, fountains, the St. Sophia Church, and many other historical structures, as well as those beautiful engravings of Old Istanbul made by European Artists in past centuries."

Suddenly the ideas Sel had at the time of his visit to Mr. Zuber's exposition started blossoming, and he thought that "the color of burnt wood would be the best color for drawing the pictures of those old monuments and for reproducing those engravings of Old Istanbul."

An Excursion by Ox Carts
by Selahattin Olceroglu, 1998

Pyrography on wood panel,
60 cm. by 45 cm. (about 2 ft. high by 1-1/2 ft. wide)

After a 19th century engraving by Thomas Allom (1804-1872)

Image courtesy of the artist

Technical Notes

Tool. Sel had made his decision at age 19 that the color tones of burnt wood would work perfectly to create the atmosphere of those works of old; however, as he soon noted: "Nobody had improved the woodburning techniques until then, in order to obtain those colors. So I decided to create the tones of burnt wood with my own efforts and started working [that same year] with an ordinary 100 W soldering iron."

Technique. "The years passed with my insistent efforts for improving my woodburning techniques. Completing each pyrographic painting taught me the new secrets of this technique. Finally one day, I thought that I got the required experience and dexterity level and started working semiprofessionally after getting retired from my main profession in 1995."

Dino Muradian. Sel compares his technique to Dino Muradian's in that they both work with a customized soldering iron tool and only one customized tip or point that each has modified "to produce all the color tones on the wooden canvas." (Sel uses the word 'canvas' metaphorically referring to the wooden panels on which he does his pyrographic paintings.) Their techniques are similar, too, in that they both produce a pyrograph (rather than a pyroengraving) because the final result is smooth, not textured, and the surface is shiny.

Sepia and White Technique. Sel wanted very much to define his technique. He generally avoids calling his works pyrographic paintings because he feels the word 'painting' would in itself be misleading because no paint is used in the process. So he arrived at the expression 'painterly method of pyrography' to designate panels done in the pyrography technique to create a work of fine art the way a painter would. He explains it this way: "For me, the painterly method of pyrography is the different application of the classical black and white (pencil work) technique. The only difference is that, a wooden canvas [panel] and a hot metal rod [point] are being used in the painterly method of pyrography, instead of a sheet of paper and a pencil." While a pencil produces black tones on white, a pyro-pen produces sepia tones on white (light) wood.

Finish. It is up to this point that Sel says that he and Dino have self-trained in the same way and that they are "on the same road proceeding towards perfect pyrography." But here the road suddenly forks and he takes another course from Dino's. Sel prefers to lacquer his wooden panels while Dino finishes his work without the lacquering process. Sel says this about Dino's preference: "...I think I know why he doesn't lacquer his works. Lacquering the canvas spoils a little bit the natural appearance of the work because it is coated with a different type material. On the other hand, the lacquer may yellow in time, if you don't use the correct type. And of course, this causes a change in the original color of the wooden canvas and the general appearance of the work." In defense of his own position on this issue, he continues, "I know also, what happens if you don't lacquer your canvas. No matter how clean the environment is, the canvas gets dusty and dirty in time and you cannot clean it with a piece of cloth, because it causes the dust particles to stick on the panel very badly. You can never use detergents or other cleaning spirits either. [Note that in our recent dialogues, Sel learned that Susan Millis is researching some of these very concerns and he is hoping, as we all are, that she will learn the answers to some of these questions in the next couple of years.] For now, Sel concludes that--without lacquer--the deterioration of a wood panel would be hastened.

Vocabulary. Sel's web and email addresses all have the words yakma resim (written as one word), which are the Turkish words for burnt picture. He explained that yakma daglama, the other two words I had seen used in the Turkish sites I was visiting to research Hüsnü Züber, refer to pyroengraving and also the type of designs produced by a tip like a little branding iron in a particular shape, such as a spiral or a heart, for example, where a decorative artist creates a border with a repeated pattern.

Sultan Aysegul
by Selahattin Olceroglu, 2005

Pyrography on wood panel,
90 cm. by 70 cm. (35-1/2 in. by 27-1/2 in.)

After a 2002 newspaper photograph and elements of 19th century engravings

Image courtesy of the artist

A New "Old" Picture

Posed as a sultan (above) is a lady by the name of Aysegul Tecimer--a well known collector of antique Ottoman objects. She is fond of having photographs made of herself dressed in vintage Ottoman garments.

Adapting a 2002 newspaper photograph of "Sultan Aysegul" posed on a sofa, Selahattin worked on the above pyrograph in the same technique he has been utilizing to capture his 19th Century Orientalist works and created his own Orientalist composition by surrounding the "sultan" with additional objects and designs from actual mid 19th Century engravings of Istanbul.

Galata Tower and Bereketzade Fountain
by Selahattin Olceroglu, 2004

Pyrography on wood panel,
69 cm. by 45 cm. (27-1/4 in. high by 17-3/4 in. wide)

After a 19th Century lithography by Eugène Flandin (1809-1876)

Image courtesy of the artist


Selahattin "Sel" Olceroglu has his own very beautiful bilingual Turkish-English website at www.yakmaresim.com.

The Selahattin Olceroglu Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art is another site that features his outstanding work.

The Orientalist Artists. At this link for Amadeo Preziosi is a very nice article describing the Orientalist painters and the fascination of 19th Century Europe with Istanbul. Here is an excerpt: "They stayed sometimes a few months, sometimes a few years, and left a legacy of paintings and engravings illustrating the city's mosques, palaces, fountains and squares. But there was one who fell in love with the city, settled down and spent the rest of his life there: Count Amadeo Preziosi."

Here is a link for Thomas Allom who is Sel's favorite Orientalist artist.

This link for John Frederick Lewis has a long list of his beautiful pencil sketches of scenes from Andalusia that are in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco. Each title is linked to its corresponding image.

Here is the first of two sites for Eugène Flandin another Orientalist artist whose work Sel admires greatly. The second link is to the Cornell University web site's Making of America series, where on page 695 is a reference to Eugène Flandin's publication L'Orient.

Hüsnü Züber Living Museum. Link here to the web site of a cultural site featuring a great picture of Sel's inspiration Hüsnü Züber relaxing in his garden, followed by an exterior picture of his classic Turkish house, and then an interior picture showing one of the exhibit rooms. To find this segment, scroll down about three-quarters of the page and look for the name Hüsnü Züber Yasayan Müze (Hüsnü Züber Living Museum) to find where it starts. The text is in Turkish.

Coming soon! Look for the story of Sel's meeting with Hüsnü Züber at his Living Museum in Bursa in an upcoming issue of Pyrograffiti.

Topkapi Palace, Kubbealti
by Selahattin Olceroglu, 1996

Pyrography on wood panel, 90 cm. by 60 cm. (about 3 ft by 2 ft)

After an engraving by 19th Century artist Thomas Allom (1804-1872)

Image courtesy of the artist

The Painterly Method of Pyrography

Sel has strong beliefs about the importance of pyrography, the importance of the pyrographic technique employed, and the obligation of pyrographic artists to stay true to their art form. He does "not see those artists as true pyrographers who use paints on their pyrographic works." He likewise believes that "pyrographers must not work for money. They must dedicate themselves to working towards creating 'The Mona Lisas of Pyrography'."

By this, I assume he means that they should not in any way compromise their art form in order to sell their work or work on commissions that would require that but instead work to perfect their art form and create works that will be admired by future generations the way the Mona Lisa has been admired.

He believes that pyrographic artists should work to standardize the term "painterly method of pyrography" for encyclopedias where long explanations and many wonderful examples of this art form will be admired through the centuries as the wonders of the painting technique of plastic arts are today. "Otherwise," he says, "this exquisite technique will never grow up and will stay as a dwarf technique forever and it will never be accepted as a true art technique and a branch of the plastic arts."

Sel is championing the cause of the pyrographic technique. He says, "We must introduce the painterly method of pyrography to the critics and experts of the plastic arts in its original, pure, and innocent appearance, if we really want the painterly method of pyrography to be accepted as a new branch of the plastic arts." For him, "Adding paint to a pyrographic work detracts from the nature of this beautiful art technique." He is what we generally call a "purist," and throughout the centuries of our art form, there have always been others who think the way he does.

Self Criticism

"If I criticize myself on this subject," Sel writes, "I will simply say that I must immediately quit working on reproducing engravings of Old Istanbul and create my own genuine works to participate in the efforts to achieve the targets mentioned above."

"I am aware of this obligation of mine for years, but I couldn't do it until today because I love those engravings very much. I want to introduce them to younger generations in a different appearance, and I want to state my personal appreciation to the memories of those European Artists because they have created these beautiful documentary artworks, published them in their countries and have acted like our honorary ambassadors by introducing the wonders of Istanbul in their own countries more than a century ago. As a matter of fact, I have been dreaming of a big project about them."

A Dream for 2010

"The European Council has declared the city of Istanbul as The Cultural Capital of Europe for the year 2010. For this reason," Sel says, "many cultural activities will be taking place in Istanbul in that year. I have been dreaming/planning to participate in these activities with my own artworks."

"I want to make a minimum of 20, if possible, 25 pyrographic reproductions of those engravings in the next three and a half years" Sel continues, "and exhibit them both in Istanbul and in the countries of those European Artists. Because the British Artists like Thomas Allom, William Henry Bartlett, John F. Lewis, etc., have made many remarkable engravings, they will be represented in this exposition with 10 or 12 reproductions, and the balance will be shared among the artists of the other European countries. This project will be the best way of showing my personal appreciation...but it is in the dreaming phase yet, because I can't afford all the expenses by myself." For this reason, Sel plans to make an agreement with a big company, such as a British company operating in Turkey, that would sponsor and organize such an international event.

In the event that this plan should fail, Sel says that he will then have the time to devote to making his own original pyrographic pictures.

Hüsnü Züber and Selahattin "Sel" Olceroglu
On the Ferry Returning to Istanbul by Car from Bursa, July 2006

Photograph courtesy of Selahattin Olceroglu

Detail from An Ottoman Bride
by S. Olceroglu

Click here to go to page two

2006, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.