From the pages of NCR-02, a conversation between architect Aslı Kıyak İngin and craftsmen/designer Artin Usta.
The specific and local craft and design practice has always been knitted with local community and everyday life practices in Galata. The conversation between architect Aslı Kıyak İngin and craftsmen/designer Artin Usta reveals an archeology of local network production, memory and projects the now, future of urban thresholds.
Aslı Kıyak İngin: Artin Usta, could you tell us about yourself, how you came over to this region, and how you began this profession?
Artin Aharon: My father was a shoemaker, and we were a poor family. I did not continue my education after primary school. At the age of 13, I entered the craft in Perşembe Pazarı (Perşembe Hardware Market), worked for seven years, then went away for my military service. When I came back from the army, I set up this shop. I’ve been here now for 42 years. Our work does not conform to a standard; so when you always make custom work, you gain a lot of experience. We never mass produce, we always produce custom-made goods. We’ve only just been talking about it today. The students who came here told us themselves: “We can’t get these done at the factories. We need these ateliers”, they said.
AKİ: What kind of craft did you take up in Perşembe Pazarı?
AA: We produced door handles and locks. Perşembe Pazarı addressed the needs of all of Turkey. At the time, the very first industrial estate was opened in Topçular. When we first set up the shop, clients preferred Ankara Asfaltı. New factories were opening in Göztepe and Maltepe.
AKİ: What was the scope of the production in Perşembe Pazarı at the time? Were the ateliers serving the construction business?
AA: In all honesty, say you were building a house in Erzurum, you’d still have to come to Perşembe Pazarı and buy your door handles, locks and hinges there. Because you couldn’t find them anywhere else. But now, even around your own neighbourhood, you have maybe ten hardware stores. At the time, Perşembe Pazarı was the only place with hardware stores. There were five stores in all, in the whole of Turkey. And then there was Tahtakale where they sold cheap quality goods. The quality goods were here. I used to only make hinges at the time, we would clean them off the diecast. In fact, Galata is also connected to Perşembe Pazarı. And let me indeed tell you this, there was an industry here even 200 years ago. They used to make nozzles and pipes (lüle). The very name of my street is Lüleci Hendek Sokağı for instance. In the basement of some of the old houses here, there were furnaces. You can still see the traces. I have one here, too. It was underneath the ground. I am keeping it at home. It is a souvenir of this place.
AKİ: Artin Usta, you could build a little exhibition corner here with all the objects you found and collected.
AA: Yes, they should indeed be here. To show the people here.
AKİ: You have this special knack for collecting old materials and pieces. Recently you proposed to one of the German teams we collaborated with, to use a wooden piece that belongs to a 100 year old house. And this piece of oak has now been revived in the exterior of a tea house in Şişhane.
AA: Because I like this profession, this craft, I know that piece is valuable. I tell myself that I will definitely use it somewhere. I had taken it when a 100 year old house was about to be demolished here. If I hadn’t, it would have burnt away. Sometimes I even give away pieces of that wood to makers of musical instruments here. “Here, there is a 100 year old wooden piece to make the neck of the instrument”, I say. The older the tree is, the better it is for the instrument.
AKİ: Can you tell us a little bit about the neighbourly relations on the street where your atelier is located?
AA: When we set up this atelier, there were houses on this street. Also artisans, like turners, for instance. In general, there were Jews. We must have had good relations with the residents, because we used to always drop by their houses. They would call us over to change the taps, or fix broken things… And the residing families here were also artisan families. They also had shops, either here, or in Tahtakale. We used to stop work after 7pm or we would be careful not to make too much noise. There would be no trouble between us and them. I am still careful, you know. But neighbourly relations are different now. New neighbours have come. There are also foreigners living on this street. Sometimes they want to come and work in the atelier when I am free. I have a musician with me for instance, Okay Temiz. He came and saw the atelier. “I can have interesting musical instruments made here”, he said. For example, he sees an instrument in Africa, I replicate it from the picture. I made 4 or 5 instruments for him. A nice restaurant is opened right next to me. I eat there. Relationships go on like this.
AKİ: And Onnik Babikyan Usta who was influential in your opening the atelier here. When did he come to this street? Were there other ateliers here at the time?
AA: He must have arrived nearly 80 years ago. He used to make meticulous work at the time when massive steel goods were first being launched. Now his productions are antiques. There was also an ironmonger called Süleyman who used to make horseshoes on the furnace. For the stallions in the police force. I even have one of those as a souvenir, hung up on the wall here. People are amazed to see it, they can hardly imagine a horse so big. It is not an easy kind of workmanship. They work with wrought iron. And the Jews would paste broken pieces of dishware together. It would be just as new. There would be a visible line where it had broken but it would do its job. At that time, 50 years ago, porcelain was very expensive, very precious. So if you broke an oval dish, you went and got it repaired. I also knew this chandelier maker called Vahiy Usta. If he were alive, he would be 90 years old now. He had married into a family here. His father-in-law had brought a moulder from France. At that time, the chandeliers had majestic arms and engravings. He would make special moulds. Those who trained with him are now the most distinguished craftsmen in this sector.
AKİ: And do you think there is a relationship with the producers in Kapalıçarşı (Grand Bazaar), the Armenian craftsmen and craftsmen here? Kapalıçarşı is an older production site. Could they have come here from over there?
AA: There is no relationship between Kapalıçarşı and here. The guy in Kapalıçarşı works with 10 grams of raw material and makes rings, bracelets… Here, the guy works with kilos. What I mean is that, over there, they work on very precious gems. They are integrated into the inns, they have no relationship with this area.
AKİ: The reason why I ask is because most of the chandelier makers I’ve spoken with tell me that they’ve learnt this craft from Armenian craftsmen. 60-70 years ago there were mostly Armenian crafstmen in Şişhane. I am just curious about how they began this chandelier business or this metal production business?
AA: It may have developed in line with the demands, the living culture of the non-Muslim population in the area and the kind of goods they were inclined to possess.
AKİ: You are right. In that period, there were also foreigners living in the region of Pera and Galata. The first municipality was established here under the name “The Sixth Office” and the first implementations of street illumination were carried out here. The Galata Port is the first point of entry through which Western goods representing modern living were introduced to Istanbul in the 19th century. For this reason, it is not coincidental that goods such as furnitures, chandeliers, electrical products and the related technology were located here and consequently their repair and maintenance also took place here. Just as you explained, there is a constant need for technical mastery, production and repair.
AA: And you see, my mother was a cook. There was an Armenian family living in a villa in Moda, with servants etc… I am now 64 years old and when I was only 8 years old, there was a telephone in that house. An old type of phone with a detachable earpiece. Then they decided to migrate to Argentina. They began to sell all their stuff, they held an auction. And all the stuff went for a really low price. They got up and left for Argentina. Now, they were the kind of people who cared about arts and crafts.
AKİ: So you think that the development of the production here was in direct relation to communities living here. You had mentioned before that in the olden days, people used to dry fish on top of the roofs here.
AA: When I came here 40 years ago, there were five fishermen in Kuledibi. Now there isn’t even one. They used to make salted fish, steamed fish. They would even dye the fish. But this was 35 years ago. It’s finished now. There used to be a fish business at that time.
AKİ: Where was this business conducted?
AA: I’ll tell you right away. On the street going down from the Galata Tower to Şişhane, there were no stores at the time, just houses. And there were ateliers inside these houses. They would dry fish on the top floors.There is still someone who knows about this, he lives in the residence hall here. The fish would be salted and placed inside barrels. They would put stones on top of the barrels, leave it for a few days, then take the fish out and steam it. You know, in the fish market there is this kind of fish, a kind of mullet. It is a yellow colour, like yellow dye. That dye is not chemical, it’s a natural dye.
AKİ: What kind of work do you produce in the atelier?
AA: In fact I began with marine business. Because I like the sea. I am one of the first in that business. There was only one person before me who did what I did. There were again Armenian craftsmen in that business. I took up stainless steel. There was one person in stainless steel, called Kenan Çırpıcı. We began to produce here and sell to Kenan Çırpıcı. I would make everything to do with sailboat’s mast gear. I was the number one craftsman for the sailboat. I would go and install the mast, make the badge myself. Now there are hundreds of ateliers doing that job.
AKİ: What kind of machines do you have? Do you make aparratuses during the production phase
AA: All my machines are antiques. The oldest one is 150 years old. It is an unelectrical turn bench, works with a pedal. For each work, we make apparatuses and simple moulds here in the atelier. If the work will continue, we keep the mould, if not we throw it out. How are you going to keep them all? Because it is not serial production, and the number of works is not many, we prepare simple moulds to cast from iron. They don’t have much value but we use our know-how to make these.
AKİ: Recently you produced a lamp model for boats. Can you tell us about that design of yours?
AA: I spent days and nights thinking about that design and that’s how I made it. They don’t even have it in Europe. You’ve seen it yourself. A foreigner came and immediately took a photo. This is now frequently purchased down in Karaköy, in a store selling marine stuff. If the demand for this lamp increases, I will get my nephew into that business. A lot of artisans were affected by the Chinese trade. But it doesn’t affect us because we produce custom-made stuff. The client cannot get any parts from China. But other artisans were hit badly.