|Monday, November 20, 2000 - feature
Walking sticks and works of art
Antalya - Turkish Daily News
"Not just for the elderly but the accessory for today's well groomed person." These are the words used by master craftsman Rustu Celibi to describe the walking sticks made in his workshop at Devrek, 50 kilometers south of Zonguldak on the Black Sea coast.
Oscar Wilde, Phillip II of Spain, Sultan Caliph Abdulhamit II, Beau Brummel, King George V, James Abbott McNeil Whistler, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Sir Alfred Munnings former President of the Royal Academy, William Wordsworth and Ataturk, just to name a few, thought the same. Is a walking stick a useful thing to have? It is, and it can also be a symbol, a instrument to point with and to prise apart bramble thickets, a mannerism, an instrument for self defense against dogs and other vermin as well as an aid to the hillwalker, traveller, the elderly, the blind and the infirm.Workshops and the wood
"Celebi Bastonlari," Celebi walking sticks are not just sticks but works of art with some individual sticks taking a month and more to make. There are more than 20 master craftsmen and over 100 cirak (apprentices) practicing the art of stick making at Devrek. The workshop of Celebi Bastonlari contains five people: three "usta" master craftsmen and two "cirak" apprentices, who between them can produce 35 plain sticks a month. Although, depending upon the particular design and the degree of decoration, the more elaborate walking sticks take much longer. All five people are involved in the production process of each stick. Wood from the Cornel cherry tree (Lat. Cornus Mas) "Kizilcik", which grows up to five meters tall, is used to make each stick. The wood to make the stem is cut from the straightest branches in November till January when the sap is low, and then left to season for three years. This time prevents the stick from warping after it has been carved and decorated and also lightens the weight of the stick.
In Turkey there is a traditional saying that describes the strength of a Cornel (Kizilcik) stick: "Yaramaz insani kizilcik sopayla doveceksin" (The troublemaker should be beaten with a Cornel cherry stick). Although Cornel cherry grows in other parts of Turkey, the trees that grow around Devrek are ideal for walking sticks, due to the vagaries of the climate particularly rainfall, altitude and soil. Because of these factors, Devrek has been the source of the material for making walking sticks since the time of the Ottoman sultanate. A stick is divided into three sections: handle, stem and tip. The apprentices carry out the basic work trimming and turning the seasoned Cornel branch so that most of the excess wood is removed from the stem, this task depends on the thickness or thinness desired for the stem of the finished stick.Handle, stem and tip
The next step is to turn both ends of the stick to form a thinner section (waist) at each end, to receive the handle of the stick and the tip. The ends of the stick are glued and then slotted into the sleeves cut in the handle and tip so that the surface of the stick is level. The handles are made from Mese (Oak), Akgurgen (Hornbeam), from the tip of a Manda boynuz (water buffalo horn) or from bone. The handles range from the plain and T-shaped to handles carved in the shape of horse, eagle, wolf, snake and lion heads, and knob-shaped handles. Other forms of handles are carved on demand, such as three headed handles, thought to be used by the Prophet Moses. The water buffalo horns are sold by the kilo when the local herds are slaughtered. The tip of the stick is always made of water buffalo horn.Styles of decoration
The wooden handle and other parts of the stick are then painted with nitric acid. The area is then flamed for a few moments by a blow torch. This process darkens the wood. Then the master craftsmen begin to decorate the stem of the stick. The difference between a cheap stick and a costly stick is not that the materials used are sustantially more expensive, but because of the ammount of time it takes for a master craftsman to fully decorate a stick as a work of art. The same seasoned cornel wood, buffalo horn for the tip and oak for the handle are used to produce a stick that costs TL 10 million or one that costs TL 50 million, or the superbly decorated stick that costs TL 80 million or more. The types of walking stick produced by Rustu Celebi's workshop conform to Henry Glassie's classification of three styles to be found in Turkish traditional art: Sade (plain), Canli (colorful) and Ciddi (masterly).
The decoration of the stem is carried out in a number of ways and on some sticks all these different methods are used to decorate various registers of the same stick. One process has been outlined above, the use of nitric acid to color areas of the stick; another involves the use of "Zift," a bitumen paint, applied to the stems of plain sticks to create an "ebru" or marbled paper -- which appear in the shades of brown and cream. Another is the application of a black paint made from a proprietory powder. When this paint is dry, an "oyma sablon" or template design, drawn or photocopied on paper, is stuck to the area to receive the decoration.
The design on the paper forms the model and through this paper the master cuts with a drill and a series of drill bits, following the outline design and then cutting through the void areas of the pattern, following through the black paint to expose the white wood beneath. After the paper is removed the black areas of design contrast with the void areas of exposed white cornel wood. The whole stick, however decorated, is then sunk in Gila varnish and left to dry. Each walking stick carries the place of manufacture, Devrek, the workshop's name, Rustu Celibi and also the name of the purchaser of the stick if this is desired. The words are are made by drilling through the black paint or are written with an electric glowing red-hot point which burns the name into the stick. The same instrument is used to outline the scales of the snake skin which is a feature of many of the carved sticks produced by this workshop.
Other sticks carry snakes carved twisting around the stem. The snakes are made by applying sticky tape in a series of curls around the stem of the stick and this tape is used as a template for the outline of a snake. Along the edges of the tape a cut is made and then the tape is removed. The cut is then widenened by the use of four different grades of wood file to form a groove on either side of the rounded body of the snake. After the filing, a flat steel edge is used to scrape the surface of the wood and finally the craftsman uses two differant grades of sandpaper. Areas of the stick and handle are treated with nitric acid, the scales are added to the snake's skin by the electrically heated point and then the stick is varnished. Other sticks are painted black and have carved cobra skins in relief around their stems. These raised cobra skins are decorated with mother of pearl scales each of which is surrounded by twisted copper wire made to look like gold.
One walking stick, called an "Ozel fantazi" would turn heads at any opera house in the world. The upper part of the stick has been decorated with four diffent types of snake skin, some inlaid with mother of pearl, others carved with detailed scales made with the burning point. The grip on the stem is made of carved diamonds forming a white wood band while much of the rest of the stick is black. The lower part of the stem is decorated with a stem, leaves and series of open convolvulus flowers made from mother of pearl and twisted wire set into the surface of the stick to form a smooth rich reflective passage. Below this is a series of black interlocking arabesques on the cornel wood background and then the water buffalo tip. This stick, a "Ozel" or individual fantasy sells for TL 78 million.Why walking sticks with snakes?
The master craftsman Ersin Sahin, who works in Rustu Celibi's workshop, kindly showed me the various processes used in the art of stick making as he sat at his "Tezgah", a wooden work bench. With a few relatively simple tools and quality materials and with the eye of the craft he created another stick. The reason snakes are used, Sahin says, is because they symbolize the wand or Caduceus carried by a Greek or Roman herald and also by Hermes-Mercury, the messenger to the Gods, which today is used as the international symbol for doctors. Ironically, Rustu Celibi is a doctor. In a way, the snake motif can be thought of to ward off danger from the bearer of the stick, like the wand serving as Hermes's safe conduct pass. These walking sticks with snakes also serve to remind of the Koran Sura 28 verse 29, "Moses, I an God, Lord of the Universe. Throw down your staff." And when he saw it writhing like a serpent, he turned his back and fled, running on and on." Ersin Usta was a "Cirak" apprentice for two years and at the end of this period he produced his masterpiece, that piece of work that shows the apprentice is now a master craftsman, which was a walking stick that carries the snake motif. For the last nine years he has been making walking sticks.
The prices of the walking sticks produced by Rustu Celibi's workshop range from TL 4 million for a carved miniature stick, TL 9.75 million for a "Sivama" which is covered with a "Zift" finish (Sivama meaning laid like plaster), TL 13.4 million for a "Yilan" or stick carrying carved snakes, TL 18.3 million for an "Oyma" stick, TL 18.3 million for a "Burma" or "twisting" walking stick, a "Kobra" at TL 45. million with mother of pearl scales on the cobra skins carved on the black stem of the stick and finally the "Ozel Fantazi" sticks with a combination of several types of decoration on the same stick. Prices for this type of walking stick begins at TL 66.95 million and reach TL 200 million for some of these made to order walking sticks.Rustu Celibi, Devrek Bastoncusu, Cumhuriyet Alani Yemicami Yani No:17/B 67600 Devrek.
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