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by Kathleen Menéndez

Pyrography News From Around the World

Newsletter No. 40, Page One of Two


Page One
The Hüsnü Züber Living Museum of Turkey

Page Two
Solarbud: "My Medium Is My Message."
Lynda Gibbs Eaves (1953–2006)

The Hüsnü Züber Living Museum of Turkey

Selahattin Olceroglu At the Entrance of Hüsnü Züber House
(Hüsnü Züber Evi) "Living Museum" ("Yasayan Müze")

Restored house in the Muradiye district in the city of Bursa in Turkey

Image courtesy of Selahattin Olceroglu from a photograph taken by Hüsnü Züber

The Sequel

It was a beautiful day in July 2006, when Turkish pyrographic artist Selahattin "Sel" Olceroglu arrived for the first time at the door of the Hüsnü Züber Living Museum in Bursa, Turkey. He had made this special trip to this cultural city in the mountains by driving some 75 miles—including taking the ferry across the Izmit Bay—from the grand city of Istanbul that morning.

It had been 47 years since Sel at age 13 had first seen Hüsnü Züber's art work at an exhibit in Sel's hometown of Eskisehir. It was about four years since Sel had received a visit to his studio in Istanbul from the artist whose richly textured designs, burned in wood so many years before, had sparked the inspiration for Sel's own pursuits in this art form.

This is the sequel to the story begun last July in Pyrograffiti. It tells how Sel decided to answer the query about the Living Museum by paying a visit to the famous artist to see the unique Hüsnü Züber House "Living Museum" for himself.

Hüsnü Züber in the Parlor of the Living Museum

Notice the intricate woodwork on the ceiling
Second story of the restored house in the Muradiye district in the city of Bursa in Turkey

Image courtesy of the artist

Hüsnü Züber at Home in The Living Museum

In 1988, Turkish artist Hüsnü Züber acquired a classic 19th Century Ottoman house in need of major repairs. By 1992, he had had it carefully restored to historical accuracy by the architect Recayi Coskun. Hüsnü himself designed the interior decoration, landscaping, and displays for his collection of pyrographic works for public viewing. Because it is also his place of residence, it is called the Living Museum.

View from the Upstairs Parlor Overlooking the Muradiye
Hüsnü Züber Living Museum

Image courtesy of Hüsnü Züber

The Beginnings of Hüsnü Züber House

From an upstairs window of the Living Museum is a nice view of the old historic center of Bursa. That area of the city is referred to as the Muradiye where many places of cultural interest still draw tourists and scholars. Some of these beautiful sites—including Hüsnü Züber House!—were recently filmed for sites.nurris.org where they can be viewed in "immersive" images that revolve 360 degrees.

The 19th Century house that Hüsnü Züber acquired was built in 1836 as a Government Guest House. In 1877, it became the Russian Consulate. In the 20th Century, it was in private ownership, but, unfortunately, in the fourteen years before Hüsnü Züber acquired it, it had been in the hands of renters, who treated it very badly. The restoration was extensive.

Shown in the image immediately following is one of the large displays designed by Hüsnü Züber for the lower level of the house.

Display of Pyrography in the Lower Level
of the Hüsnü Züber Living Museum, July 2006

Image from a photograph by Hüsnü Züber

A Shower of Sparks

Hüsnü Züber made his living as a cartographer engineer with the Turkish military where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before he retired. It was during a period of some six years, when as a surveyor he was required to travel throughout the country, that he became interested in the villages and various forms of folk art he encountered, especially the wooden spoons.

During the early 1950's, when he was a guest at a wedding, Hüsnü was given a plain little box with sweets in it as a wedding favor and remembrance. Seeing that little box sparked his idea of applying a burned design to embellish it. After he developed an interest in traditional wooden spoons and other artifacts of folkloric art, he decided to apply his idea for burning designs on them, too.

A Display of Spoons
by Hüsnü Züber

Pyroengraving on traditional Turkish wooden spoons

Image courtesy of the artist

The Tradition of Spoons

Hüsnü Züber began studying the spoons he had observed in his work-related travels and came to realize their historic cultural importance and appreciate their intricate folk designs.

Spoons as implements, of course, are a necessity in any place; spoons as an art form, however, came to be very valued in Turkey. There, spoonmaking as an industry occurred in regions where forests abounded but where arable land did not.

Beautifully carved and painted spoons, which were originally decorated by artists for important presentations, were later adorned by common people, as well, with guidance from their mullahs and imams. For this reason the motifs were religious ones, such as mosques, Quranic inscriptions, and Mevlevi dervishes ("whirling dervishes" as they are known in the West).

During the time of the Ottoman rule, spoons were still valued as presentation gifts, but spoonmakers of Istanbul often replaced the wooden ones with still more luxurious spoons of horn, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, coral, gold, and silver. Their motifs were more likely to be designs of birds, monograms, and geometrics.

By the Nineteenth Century, European flatware was introduced and later popularized, ultimately resulting in a decline of interest in the national wooden spoons. By the Twentieth Century, however, Hüsnü Züber—recognized as the Pioneer of Pyrography in Turkey—arrived to change that.

Detail of a Spoon
by Hüsnü Züber

Pyrography on a wooden spoon

Image courtesy of the artist

The Traditional Designs

Four hundred fifty art works are on display in the Hüsnü Züber Living Museum. It is important to note that, although the carving and painting of wooden spoons are old traditions in Turkey, the technique of pyrography—on spoons or on anything else—is not traditional. The designs Hüsnü Züber adapted for burning on the spoons and on other wooden Turkish artifacts displayed in his Living Museum represent some six hundred traditional Turkish textile and faïence motifs.

Hüsnü Züber's Tools

Display of metal pieces used for pyroengraving,
as well as a (French) Le Franc electric, temperature-controlled tool
used in later years.
In the center is a piece of leather used by the artist
to grip the hot metal implements while pyroengraving

Hüsnü Züber Living Museum
Bursa, Turkey

Image courtesy of the artist

Hüsnü Züber's Tools

Hüsnü Züber's choice of tools is by far the most remarkable technical aspect of his work. He would probably say that he did not choose his tools at all, but simply worked with whatever he could find, because, indeed, his tools were found objects by any definition. However, in contemporary art, the term found objects usually refers to the materials employed in the making of it, not the tools used to make it. Hüsnü Züber's work is neither random nor haphazard nor rough; the designs neither elusive nor abstract. Although his works could perhaps be described as rustic, they are carefully drawn, highly detailed, mostly symmetrical, and traditional. Why then did he never adapt or modify the tools in any way to suit the work at hand?

Many artists use unlikely tools for various reasons: Samuel Anderson of Ghana chooses the challenge of working with nails, while Aleksis Ponze of Peru files nails to make different points for the temperature-controlled pyrography tool he had custom made. Tayseer Barakat of Palestine who, in the spirit of the Intifadah, finds random iron pieces to burn with in junkyards and either random or sometimes—when he can find them—historically meaningful wooden objects to burn on to make his contemporary abstract works. Durf and Solarbud work in public with magnifying lenses as a type of performing art. For lack of electricity, the traditional numuw artists of Mali work with sharp knives heated in charcoal stoves, whereas Deb Fanelli works with a heavy angle grinder for special effects of bold burned shadows on contemporary works.

There does seem to be one partial explanation for the use of unlikely tools in pyrography, and that is the isolation in which most every pyrographic artist usually works.

Hüsnü Züber at Work

Early photograph of the artist pyroengraving a table

Notice how he grips the hot metal implement
using a piece of leather like the one shown in the previous image

In the background is the iron stove
where he was heating his metal implements

Hüsnü Züber Living Museum,
Bursa, Turkey

Image courtesy of the artist

Hüsnü Züber's Answer

Sel relayed my questions on this subject to Hüsnü Züber and later wrote back with his reply:

"The temperature-controlled tools were not available in Turkey when I started pyrography back in the late 1950s. As a matter of fact, I was not even aware that such tools were available in European countries. Thus, I started working with these primitive tools. I often used to go to junkyards to look for pieces of iron in different shapes that would be suitable for my art work, and felt very happy when I would find a "new" one, even if it was dirty and rusty. I generally worked with those tools to decorate smooth, large surfaces, because, of course, they definitely inhibited my art work. I had originally intended to make some very fine motifs on small wooden objects, too, but it was not possible to do that with those coarse tools. At one time, I had asked a friend of mine to produce a temperature-controlled device I could use for my finer motifs, but it did not function properly. Then the day I saw the Le Franc tool in France I immediately bought it. Although up until then I had been somewhat successful in applying Turkish motifs onto wooden spoons, that Le Franc tool helped me very much to achieve my desired results on spoons."
Despite all of the difficulties using the heavy metal implements that he described above, in the period 1960–61, before acquiring his Le Franc tool, Hüsnü Züber did a series of figurative works depicting folkloric vignettes of Turkish life and customs, all using only the original found iron pieces for tools. Those works are on display in the Hüsnü Züber Salon in the E-Museum, and prove yet again, that the most important tool—the only tool that really matters—is always the hand of the artist.

Detail of a Large Spoon
by Hüsnü Züber

Pyroengraving on bowl of large wood spoon,
showing the work achieved with the metal implements

Image courtesy of the artist


During his artistic career, Hüsnü Züber showed his works in nearly 70 different types of exhibits in Turkey and abroad. One special exhibition, organized by the Turkish Union of News Reporters, was on board a Mediterranean cruise ship where his works were exhibited in Algeria, Tunisia, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Genoa, Marseilles, and Naples.

He had exhibitions in many other places outside of Turkey, as well, including Amman, Jordan; Newcastle, England during Turkish Week; the cities of Hanover, Cologne, and Frankfurt in Germany for the centennial celebration of Ataturk's birthday; and New York City, as part of an exhibit on Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent. This last exhibit took place in 1987. It went very well until the end when all of his works were stolen!

Display of Musical Instruments
by Hüsnü Züber

Pyroengraving on an assortment of wooden objects, principally musical instruments

Image courtesy of the artist


The Hüsnü Züber Salon in the E-Museum of Pyrographic Art is another site that features his unique work, especially his vignettes of life and customs in Turkey, which were executed mainly between 1960 and 1962, before he had acquired the Le Franc tool. Using his large metal implements, he was able to achieve surprising detail on these small panels.

As if you're there. A wonderful Turkish web site sites.nurris.org (which is a link to an English language version) offers a 360-degree view of some important landmarks in Bursa, Istanbul, and other places in Turkey, including two views of Hüsnü Züber's Living Museum: a parlor (look for the green iron stove similar to the one where he used to heat his iron implements) and the pyrography displays downstairs. As the viewer, you simply scroll the images up and down, as well as left to right, to feel as if you're there!

Hüsnü Züber Living Museum. Link here to a cultural web site featuring a great picture of Hüsnü Züber relaxing in his garden, followed by an exterior picture of his classic Ottoman 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.

Hüsnü Züber article on spoons. Link here to the English translation of an article written by Hüsnü Züber entitled Ottoman Spoons for Antika,The Turkish Journal of Collectable Art, October 1985, Issue 7.

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

Hüsnü Züber House—The Book

The book cover, designed by Hüsnü Züber himself,
is the main entrance door and a peek into the courtyard beyond
of the old Ottoman house that is "The Living Museum" today

The "door" can be "closed" by opening the inner flap
from the back cover (the other third of the "door")
and bringing it over the right hand side of the front cover

Image courtesy of the artist

More Accomplishments

It is surely remarkable how Hüsnü Züber's enthusiasm for his pyrographic art and for the traditional spoons and other wooden artifacts of Turkey has been rewarded in ways that even he could not have imagined.

The Turkish National Ministry of Education produced a film about him in 1972, featuring his collection of pyroengraved spoons.

He himself illustrated many art periodicals and poetry books, and published two books entitled Turkish Decorative Arts and Humane Lines. He is currently working on still another book on traditional spoons; however, this time he is not limiting his research to Turkish spoons, but studying anthropological and archaeological publications to ultimately write about spoons through history and around the world.

He has been featured in other publications, such as the booklet pictured above with his biography, the story of the restoration of his Ottoman house, the Living Museum, and the story of his pyrographic work on spoons and other artifacts. This book, published in English, and, in addition, a full color, 6-page article in a Turkish magazine entitled Apameia, kindly translated for me into English by Sel's daughter Hande Olceroglu, were sources for this article.

In 1994, Hüsnü Züber was presented the Award for Folkloric Research in Creative Arts. He is the first person to have received such an award who was able to display it in his own home museum.

Reunion of artist Hüsnü Züber, retired fine arts teacher Ms. Naime Saltan, and artist Selahattin Olceroglu

Image courtesy of Selahattin Olceroglu from a photograph taken by Suleyman Alkan

Thanks once more to Sel, there was a second expedition, in August of 2006, when he and Hüsnü Züber set out on another road trip to visit Sel's fine arts teacher Ms. Naime Saltan, whom he had not seen for more than 45 years. Sel was extremely moved to see her again and gratified at how pleased she was to see his art work. She had always had high hopes that he would pursue art, and she was very proud to see how much he had accomplished.

Hüsnü Züber, too, was an old friend from those days when he was part of the social circle of all the teachers, so it was an historic reunion, and a good time was had by all.

Hüsnü Züber's Legacy...In His Own Words

"I created my pyro works and spoon collection under very difficult conditions over many years. I did endless research and made countless expeditions to create them. I visited many villages with no road in order to collect my traditional wooden objects and spoons in different shapes. My art works are my sons and daughters.

Formerly, I had been living in Istanbul, but I bought that old Ottoman house in very bad condition and renovated it for my 450 children and then started living in Bursa together with them in the same house. I want them to live forever together with that historical Ottoman house. For this purpose, I have donated my house, my Living Museum, to the Municipality of Bursa with all my art works in it. So, this unique collection, my valuable children, will live forever and ever after my death."


Husnu Zuber's Living Museum represents something very significant for the community of pyrographic artists. His collection of warm and wonderful works has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and his work in the study of folklore and traditional art manifest not only in his written works but in his pyrographic works, as well, has academic merit. His museum of pyrographic works is nationally recognized, on an official website of the Municipality of Bursa, shown on the internet in 360-degree images alongside other major landmarks of Turkey, is published in official books, and is on the tourist circuit in Turkey. We share as beneficiaries in Husnu Zuber's legacy and for that we are grateful.

Fountain Maiden
by H. Züber

Click here to go to page two

2007, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.