The Hüsnü Züber Living Museum of Turkey
Solarbud: "My Medium Is My Message."
Lynda Gibbs Eaves (1953–2006)
Selahattin Olceroglu At
the Entrance of Hüsnü Züber House
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
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.
Züber in the Parlor of 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
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
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
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
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 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.
Züber at Work
Sel relayed my questions on this subject to
Hüsnü Züber and later wrote back with
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
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
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
Detail of a Large
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
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
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
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.
Züber House—The Book
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
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
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.
"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
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.
2007, Kathleen M. Garvey Menéndez, all rights reserved.