Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 113
August 1997


4th International Marbler's Gathering Istanbul, Turkey
June 1 - 8, 1997

"Beyond the Surface"

Nearly one hundred marblers and friends of marbling gathered in Istanbul for more than a week's immersion in marbling, or "Ebru", literally cloud art, as marbling is known in Turkey. Marbling appeared first in the Middle East and flourished in Turkey in the 16th century.

Turkey takes its national artistic heritage, of which Ebru is an example, seriously. Government ministries and officials from Ankara to Istanbul and beyond showed their respect and honor for Ebru art and its practitioners with their presence and concrete sponsorship. The Turkish Minister of Culture officiated at the opening of the Gathering's marbling exhibition at the Yildiz Palace along with the head of the International Research Centre for Islamic History which is housed there. Numerous others contributed as well.

While lectures and demonstrations concentrated on traditional Ebru, the juried Gathering exhibition included non-traditional marbling from the U.S., Australian and European artists. Unconventional works by Turkish artists mixed with other works in more traditional style. The exhibition, somewhat controversial because of the non-traditional works, received considerable publicity throughout Turkey and was well attended.

Other exhibitions, lectures and demonstrations focused on the philosophical, cultural and artistic context of marbling through history to the present. Traditional religious and secular Turkish music was performed during various programs, adding cultural context and richness to the experience.

The mayor of Ey¸p, a center of Islam, hosted a luncheon and tour of the holy places. There were also tours of the Topkapi Palace, the Calligraphy Museum, Turkish and Islamic Art Museum, and extended opportunities to study the thousands of historic examples of marbling in the S¸leymaniye Library. There was a visit to the studio, now a museum, of historic master marblers in Ðsc¸dar as a mark of respect for their work. Participants held an all day "Bazaar" in the exhibition palace, selling and trading their works, and the mayor of Ðsc¸dar sponsored a day-long boat trip on the Bosphorus.

After a day of lectures on marbling, including its origins and Islamic and Sufic context, the group strolled to the historic home of Sufism in Istanbul, built in 1492, which now houses a collection of calligraphy and an exhibition of the works and tools of the late master marbler Mustafa D¸zgunman. The evening ended with a performance of the Whirling dervishes.

The Istanbul House of Ebru was formally opened during the Gathering. This is a beautifully restored early 19th century Ottoman house which has permanent exhibition space for Ebru, and space for workshops, joining old and new traditions of the art of marbling.

The final two days of the Gathering were devoted to a participatory workshop on traditional Ebru given by Hikmet Barutcugil, who, with his wife F¸sun, organized the Gathering. In the Islamic tradition, Ebru is performed as a spiritual meditation. The process starts with the thoughtful gathering and grinding of pigment-bearing plants from the high Anatolian plain. Many of these time-consuming steps are omitted these days as chemical dyes and other size are used. Nevertheless, the traditional methods produce an intimate connection between the artist and the work which is an integral part of Ebru art.

Hikmet and F¸sun Barutcugil are to be congratulated for planning such a rich and varied cultural experience in the Gathering. Everywhere they went, participants received extraordinary hospitality and genuine affection. The Gathering was marked by a mutual respect and honor between hosts and participants. Something magic happened in Istanbul. Future international marblers' gatherings will have a hard act to follow.

Signa Houghteling, Fine Bookbinder in San Francisco, CA