Art of calligraphy spurs second spring for dried leaves

The leaves were alone as they fell from the branch to the ground. But a real art lover appeared before them, putting their solitude to an end. As delicate examples of calligraphy were worked onto the top layers of these dried leaves, beauty was only added to their pre-existing beauty.

When a son is born, a potted plant is given as a gift. Two leaves from this plant are placed between the pages in a book to dry. There was no real plan at hand to save these two leaves; it was just a momentary action. A long time then passes. And one day, the two leaves that were placed in that book so many years before fall out of the book. The leaves are a bit faded, but they are transformed into something beautiful and different. And it was at that moment, a full 20 years ago, that the art of inscribing delicate Ottoman-style calligraphy onto dried leaves began.

Nick Merdenyan 

Nick Merdenyan spends his time making dried leaves even more beautiful and valuable than they already are, by embellishing them with Ottoman style calligraphy. And actually, to continue the original story of the dried leaves as told above, here is how this profession came about: One day, a calligraphy expert visited the shop next door to the one Nick Merdenyan ran. Merdenyan told him about the beautiful dried leaves he had at home, and asked whether it would be possible to decorate them with calligraphy. The calligraphy expert took the leaves, and decorated one with the signature of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman, and the other with the famous words from poet Yunus Emre, “Sev seni seveni”. The expert brought the leaves to Merdenyan’s shop, and on the same day, an American couple stopped by and saw them and immediately fell in love with them. They bought the leaves, and as Merdenyan describes: “I cannot forget the look of pleased surprise on the American woman’s face. And the adventure for me began that day, when I sold the leaf that had the signature of Kanuni Sultan Süleyman on it, a leaf which I had not been able to fully enjoy myself yet”. 

That very leaf 

Merdenyan used Islamic themes in his work first, as Islam is the richest source in terms of traditional calligraphy. Later he turned to both Christian and Jewish subject matter for his designs. The themes he tends to turn back to most for his special leaf designs are tolerance, peace and love. And he uses words that really appeal to all people, no matter what religion they may happen to be.

One-and-a-half years that pass in sleep

Many of us have tried drying leaves from time to time in our lives, and so we know how these leaves tend to crack and get brittle over time. But the leaves that Merdenyan uses don’t have this problem. In fact, with the calligraphic designs that ornament them, they look like some sort of flawless framed picture. We discovered that you cannot just use any old leaf for this kind of work. In fact, Merdenyan tried many different kinds of leaves, and in the end, he only accepted two kinds of leaves for his work: dieffenbachia and caladium. Interestingly, these are not leaves from trees that are native to Turkey, so he imports them from a greenhouse in Florida. 

The finest art 

The most painstaking aspect of this work is the actual drying of the leaves in between book pages. This takes up to one-and-a-half years. The first four months are very important, because at this stage, the leaves need to be moved around at least twice a week. He says: “I see the leaves as being asleep for this stage of the process. They fall asleep, and then one-and-a-half years later, they begin their second lives. If I don’t switch their places around though, the leaves can get stuck to the pages. And actually, out of 100 leaves, I can usually only use 30-40 for a second life”. Merdenyan believes that one must truly love this work in order to be successful at it. He explains: “If there is no love, there is no patience. These leaves need to enter every aspect of your life, even your dreams. At times, I thought of nothing else. There is a positive energy in these leaves, and when I think about how many homes this positive energy will be brought into by these leaves, I become very happy. This is a wonderful and pleasurable game for me”.

The paint and brushes used in this game are special, just like the leaves they are used to decorate. The brushes are made from cat hair and imported specially from London; as for the paint, it has many special ingredients and is prepared with leaves in mind. All of this attention to detail means that the leaves, once embellished with the special calligraphy, last for 20 years without ruin. The leaves, once finished, are saved between two panes of glass like a painting. At this point, Merdenyan has a variety of different plans concerning these special leaves, one of which is to start decorating them with valuable stones. For the past 15 years, Merdenyan has had help in his artistic endeavors from Hülya Kalaycı Unutur and Ebru Yalkın from the famous Mimar Sinan University. Together, they produce all sorts of leaves for a variety of different occasions, including for newlyweds and newborn babies.

These special leaves can even be found in the White House

During her 1996 visit to Turkey, Hillary Clinton, now the US secretary of state, bought a work of Merdenyan’s called “Meeting Point”, that had symbols from Islam, Christianity and Judaism in it. Later on, Merdenyan received a letter of thanks from Clinton. Later, Laura Bush, in İstanbul accompanying her husband for a NATO summit, also bought a similar work for the White House. Interestingly, one of the most recent visitors to Merdenyan’s shop was Bill Gates of Microsoft.

So they are the leaves by Nick Merdenyan


Source: Today’s Zaman 

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