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Without a doubt, one of the most important branches of Turco-Islamic art is woodwork.
“Kündekâri”, an important technique in woodworking, was developed in Anatolia during the era of the Seljuks. It grew into its own and found a vast area of application, particularly on mosque doors; “mimbar,” the pulpits where the imam leads the prayer in the mosque; cupboard doors; window shutters; and trunks.
The word “kündekâri” came to the Turkish language from the Farsi word “kendekâri,” describing plastic arts such as sculpting, engraving, and woodcarving. “Kendakâriye” implies some kind of engraving in Ottoman Turkish, while the word “kündekâri” emerged again from Farsi from “künde” (log, solid wood). In time, this word started being used for fine carpentry practices like woodworking and decorative wood ornamenting. Today, this art is known as “mutenibbihe” in Iran and as “ta’sik” in the Arab world; “kündekâri” is used only in Turkey. The finest examples of this art, which requires patience and expertise, are found in Anatolia.
INTERLOCKING PIECES OF WOOD
Pieces may feature edges carved as male and female, in polygon or star shapes, ornamented with various traditional motifs—kündekâri, which is the art of fitting these wooden pieces to one another without using any glue or nails, requires a lot of expertise. The composition of the ornamentation is based on a geometric interpretation of the sky. The star, octagonal, decagonal, and trapezoidal figures used represent the stars and infinity.
AN IMPRESSIVE TECHNIQUE
The fundamental principle of the technique is based on the grain of the wood; the technique is thus based on connecting pieces of wood according to their corresponding grooves and extensions. Generally, the areas surrounding the pieces are ornamented with wooden trim, engraved arabesque figures, or enamel-inlaid centerpieces. They are then embellished by adding small wooden pieces in various shapes and colors. In some examples, carvings or mother of pearl and ivory inlaying have been added to the composition. Since no adhesives are used, no splitting is seen over time on wooden surfaces where kündekâri is applied.
AN ART STANDING IN THE FACE OF TIME
In some examples of works made using kündekâri techniques, a wooden skeleton is used in between the joints in order to strengthen the piece. The wood used is chosen so as not to be affected by heat and moisture in changing weather conditions, and cracks and swelling that appears in woodwork over time is avoided thanks to channels left between the joints.
Mostly used in doors, cupboards and scuttles, fine examples of kündekâri are seen mainly in areas that adopted the Seljuk architectural tradition in the 12th century, namely Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Anatolia, and later (until the 16th century) Anatolia exclusively. The influence of Seljuk works, in which geometric motifs were used heavily from the 11th to the 14th centuries, is seen in the Beylik and Ottoman periods too. At the beginning of the 15th century, the newly developed flower style was used both with compositions featuring Rumi ornamentation and alone. Geometrical shapes were preferred for mother of pearl and ivory inlaid works due to their technical characteristics.
Starting Patiently with the ABCs
Masters involved in the art of kündekâri, known as kündekârs, state that the starting point of this art is patience. They also complain about the lack of patience and interest among the younger generations concerning this traditional art form. In practice, say the masters, if you overlook a deviation even on the order of millimeters, you will lose control and fail to assemble the kündekâri. The technique produces pieces that are known to last for seven to eight centuries easily if not subjected to the negative effects of such things as earthquakes, fire, and excessive humidity. That it is practiced on-site after packing all the wooden pieces in sacks and unloading them proves how difficult it is. Kündekâri is craft associated with deep meaning; it is practiced with patience.