Sculptor Tumay Yalcin: Turkish hands in the Caribbean

POSTED: 05/11/14 7:34 PM

St. Maarten / By Jason Lista - At the far end, in the basement of one of the buildings on the island at Princess Port de Plaisance resort, Turkish born artist Tumay Yalcin has her workshop and studio. Walking inside is like walking into a curiosity shop of old, the kind that traps the eyes and makes them wander off here and there; the smell of wet clay and dried ceramic is reminiscent of a wine cellar; odd and delicate looking tools required for detailed sculpting rest on shelves; and classical music wafts on the air, barely loud enough to hear. Yalcin is busy with some students, a mother and her son, who are taking pottery making lessons from her. Her hands are stained with clay.

She is from the coastal city of Izmir in Turkey, a country that has always been at the cultural crossroads of Asia and Europe since ancient times. That sense of cross cultural influence never left her. She moved here in 2001 and set up her studio on the resort premises. Her studio has two types of kilns where she either super heats the clay, ceramic, or porcelain sculptures to harden the material into a kind of eternal permanence, or where she can melt glass into a near infinite array of colors, shapes, and textures to produce spectacular results. “All my work is one of a kind,” she said, showing one of her most recent works, a clay sculpture of what appears to be a mermaid with handcrafted shells and sea stars.

“Since childhood, I have known that I would have become an artist,” Yalcin reminisced. “I never wanted to be a sculptor,” she said, though. “I was a very sensitive child, never wanting to touch clay. I was more kind of into paint. You know, painting, drawing; all my kind of things.” But it was not so easy in socially conservative Turkey. Her father, a mining engineer, felt that art school would be a waste, and that she would be better off with a “real” job. “What are you going to do with that?” was a question often heard in the household when talk of an art diploma came up.

So she entered business school, graduated, but was unhappy with it. She later convinced her parents and attended art school where she was accepted to the sculpting department, but not painting, an ironic twist of her childhood dreams. An inspiring teacher told her to “think about your past, and it will tell you the right place to be.” She recalls how she would accompany her father on the job, and she was knowledgeable about geology and various earthly materials through him, and becoming a sculptor made sense. Her father was delighted, she said, when he heard that she would have to study chemistry and materials science, a field similar to his own, and he began to see which of his ceramics contacts he could use to hire her. “No daddy, I will have my own studio! If I gave up, I would never be a success. You never give up,” she said of her career and choice to be an independent artist.

Her studio, in fact, is like a mini factory and laboratory where she experiments and creates her own new paints, colors, or glazes for her works. And her skill set is highly technical, requiring knowledge of the materials she works with and how they will change and react to various temperature ranges. Because of this, she says her work is “long lasting, nothing will happen to the colors over time. It will never fade. I love quality!”

When asked why a lot of her works feature a fish, she laughs. “My sign is, how you say, Pisces,” Yalcin says, holding up a ceramic bowl with the outline of a fish carefully engraved in its inside. “I’m Pisces, always with the water, everything.”

Yalcin’s glass works range from the technically sophisticated, like layers of variously colored panes melted into a fused whole, to the relatively simple, but ingenious, like transforming an old Heineken bottle into a unique letter holder for a desk, complete with her signature fish symbol attached to it further adding to its charm.

Midway through her lesson, an elderly American couple, who have a sailing yacht moored at the resort’s marina, stroll in, eager to take lessons while they enjoy their stay on the island. They are delighted with some of the examples of Yalcin’s work on the shelves, and inquire where they can purchase her works.

Yalcin also works with students and hosts workshops, including working with the Charlotte Brookson Academy and Learning Unlimited. She has recently partnered with Nicole de Weever of the Art Saves Lives Foundation, and will be the featured locally based artist to teach and, hopefully, inspire, the students at this year’s summer program.

She has also collaborated with the Be The Change Foundation as well, teaching workshops and using the proceeds from the sale of the children’s ceramic works to fund various much need school improvements.

“I feel like this is my second home,” she says of St. Maarten.

Tumay Yalcin’s work can be found on sale at the Roland Richardson Museum in Marigot, Lapierre’s Marble Art Gallery, and Art Box Gallery at Bobby’s Marina in Philipsburg.


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