Where the Clay was Dug from Earth

The road winds through dusty hills. 
Miniature rock mounds line the fields of crops;
 Yellow and green striped melons; 
Rows of grapes;
The houses the same color as the dried grass. 

This time of year, the sky is always blue 
and in contrast to the color of the raw sienna hills, 
that have not tasted rain in months, 
it appears a brilliant, unbelievable cerulean.  
Turkish folk music crackles through the low quality speakers 
and the baby blue fake shag carpet, 
that adorns the drivers area of the bus, 
dances in the breeze from the open windows.   

This is my first time into the Turkish countryside.  

We reach a fork in the road 
with a three foot terracota jar at its center 
and follow the sign to Avanos.  
I am traveling to the place where the clay I am using is pulled from the earth.

a small town 45 minutes from where I am living in Turkey, 
feels far from the hustle and bustle of Kayseri.  
Pottery has been produced here for over 3,ooo years.  
Its cobble stone streets meander on hilly banks of the Kızılırmak, the Red River, 
named for the red clay that colors its water.   
Kızılırmak is the longest river in Turkey and the clay is a smooth, slightly waxy, dark terracotta red.  
“Işlik" (workshops) line the streets, 
punctuated by barber shops and tea houses, 
where men are gathered for afternoon tea and backgammon.  

I get off the bus, 
eat lunch at a local kebab shop, 
and wonder into one of the many cave studios, 
mazes of dimly lit rooms, 
carved into the hillside.  
This area's soil is made from volcanic stone 
and people through the centuries have carved into this soft earth, 
creating underground dwellings.  

I sit on a kilim covered bench and watch a man throwing a small jar, 
softly manipulating the lip into a petalled rim.  
However, my eyes are more captivated by the collection of images and objects that adorn the walls and ceiling. 
hanging dried plants, 
small statues,
"nazar boncuğu" (evil eye amulets) laced into weavings. 
A saz (Turkish guitar) hangs in a corner like a 9 month pregnant belly.  

There is an erie atmosphere in this dimly lit space.  
The only source of light,
 cascading down the Iznik tiled steps,
 comes from the open doorway.
It is as if this cave represents 
the physical space of memories in a potter's mind 
and I have been invited in. 

Meandering through the rooms,
 rows of crock pots, 
quickly thrown forms 
that all all unglazed.

The next room is
filled with Iznik influenced plates. 
Blossoming tulips 
erupting through mechanized patterns 
 adorning the molded forms like a formal dress.
The bright pigments of red, blue, green 
 sitting stagnant like dried glossy paint on the surface.

Through a small rounded opening,
up I climb into another room.
The light filters through the shaggy ceiling illuminating a 
 a nest of hanging hair,
pinned delicately with names and photographs
to the cave walls.   

I have entered into a 30 year old, 
and growing, 
collection of human hair,
 every inch covered in auburns and chestnut browns, 
highlights of strawberry blondes.
A subterranean reliquary to the female foreigners that kindly donated; 
the physical marker of their hair as memory of their past presence.  

In a culture where woman's hair is hidden from public eyes
 behind black bands 
tightly stretched below the hairline 
and silk flowered scarves, 
these foreigner's locks take on a different meaning.  

I walk very slowly 
so as not to cause the hair to sway in my breeze. 
The strands grace my head and I quiver as I crane my neck lower.  
 I have a heightened awareness of the air in my nostrils for fear of inhaling dander.  
I feel repulsed. 
In my gut there is a growing feeling of perversion.
My mind is stupefied.
Who is this male artist collecting foreign women's hair?
I walk back out from where I came.

.   .   .

Later that afternoon, 
a friend and I visit a large pottery workshop
 on the crest of a hill overlooking the river valley.  
In the back room three men are hunched over three foot wide plates 
with small brushes in their hands.  
The designs have already been laid. 
Now they are painting precisely into the negative spaces, 
filling every millimeter with ornamentation.  
One plate may take several months to decorate. 


a curly haired potter introduces himself and his wife Lilian.  
Lilian offers me apple tea.
 The three of us walk slowly around the gallery.  
She explains that Avanos is experiencing a renaissance in pottery making.  
It sure does look that way,
 their inventory in the massive seven roomed showroom trumps even the largest show at NCECA.

Galip is a 5th generation potter born in Avanos.  
He started potting at age 6, 
but left Avanos to receive a university education.  
His wife, also a ceramic artist,
 is a foreigner, 
but has lived in Avanos for over 25 years.

The afternoon sun is getting low in the sky and it is Ramazan.  
Soon a call to prayer will echo through the air
signaling that it is time for an entire country to break their fast in a simultaneous meal.  
In the shadowed light,
 blankets will dot parking lots and sidewalks, 
families will gather at home,
and people will sit to eat.

We thank them for their generousity 
and walk through the hallway of Iznik inspired plates;
turning before exiting the door to give two check kisses,
and two hugs. 

My friend whispers to me as we are leaving,
"Galip is the man that made the hair museum".  

I look back and his kind eyes are looking back at me
He is waving to us. 
His gray curly hair billowing in the breeze.

Chez Galip, 5th generation potter in Avanos