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Artists Spotlight
Ahmet Şahin
Ahmet Şahin in his studio. Şahin participated in the 1986 Folklife Festival as a cultural conservation participant.
Ahmet Şahin in his studio. Şahin participated in the 1986 Folklife Festival as a cultural conservation participant.
Photo courtesy of Henry Glassie

Ahmet Şahin dedicated his career to reinvigorating the atrophied art of çini in the twentieth century. As apprentice to respected potter Hafiz Mehmet Emin in 1921, Şahin gradually ascended to become son usta: ultimate master among Kütahya’s ten thousand potters. Early twentieth century Kütahya witnessed the burgeoning popularity of its çini throughout Turkey when Emin’s tiles flanked mosques in Kütahya, Istanbul, Izmir, Bursa, and Konya.

Despite widespread fruition of Kütahya çini, the unstable political climate following the First World War and Turkey’s War of Independence brought the çinitrade to peril, reducing the number of active ateliers in Kütahya to two. Equally detrimental to the trade were Emin’s death in 1922 and the departure of Armenian potters, who at the time constituted half of the potters in Kütahya, to Jerusalem.

Responding proactively to these adversities, Şahin partnered with Emin’s son, Hakkı Çınıcıoğlu, in 1927 to revive the waning ceramic tradition in Kütahya. The two masters supplied the city’s potters ornately designed vases as models of artistic practice and quality. Şahin’s created numerous original designs, seventy percent of which he insisted were adapted in plate and tile decorations in Kütahya and disseminated further in Turkey. His calligraphic designs bearing Besmele in Kufic—earliest form of Arabic script—bedeck the interiors of the city’s mosques: Hisarbey Camii and Dönenler Camii.

Kuthya Plate
Hafiz Mehmet Emin Efendi, Kuthya Plate, twentieth century (private collection, Athens, Greece).
Photo courtesy of Ceramopolis

Completely invested in the process of making, Şahin concerned himself as much with the material choices he made as with the conscientious execution of his designs. He welcomed the chance to share his creative process with others, a duty he considered intrinsic to the role of a master. In the 1940s he trained then-fledgling potters in the art’s methods while remaining active in his own studio practice.

Since his death in 1996, his earnest students have arisen as masters, bridging past and present as they lead the city’s art.

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