As I open the handsome wooden door to the brightly renovated 19th century building in Asmalimescit, I expect to find an industrial workspace on the ground floor, with a furnace and lots of tools that I wouldn’t be familiar with. Instead I find a neat, elegant studio on the second floor where the sunlight passing through glass objects is playing on the walls. This is where glass artist Felekşan Onar meets and greets her clients, who have the chance of purchasing a unique piece and meeting the person behind the glass.
Felekşan Onar found her calling in glass early on in life. She used to collect pieces of glass as a child. She discovered painting on glass in high school in art class, and that activity became a meditative refuge for her through the stress of college exams. She even helped her aunt decorate her new home by painting her bay windows. But when she was accepted by Cornell University, she decided to go with economics and music, not art.
A look at the collection
Her career took her from banking to textile manufacturing, but over the years, she became weary of the busy life and dreamt of returning to drawing on glass. Her first stop was a glass studio in Usküdar, where she learned how to fuse small pieces of glass. She bought her first furnace that winter and with the help of an art student at her own garage, she started honing her skills in glassmaking, and had an exhibition at the prestigious contemporary art gallery Dirimart. Istanbul's first glass art studio and school The Glass Furnace opened that year, and and it was there that she met Chantal Royant, a French artist who taught her about kiln casting. Onar’s career as a glass artist took off right after that.
As a well-read, well-travelled creative soul, Onar finds inspiration and instruction in many places. While she was struggling to sculpt bigger pieces and experimenting with kiln techniques, she found an old book at the British Museum called ‘The Glass Chemistry’ with detailed information on firing times, which she claims never fails. “I write a story for each unique vase,” says the artist. “For a commissioned vase, I observe my client's demeanour, the colour she's wearing, the design of her house, the natural beauties she likes like a favourite flower, plant or an animal, and I write a story in glass that reflects all these aspects.”
Apart from her private clients, Onar also makes bigger pieces, such as a recent project she created for a historic mosque in Simav, Kütahya, a city in the Aegean region of Turkey famous for its ceramics. Onar's colourful 126-piece panel covered the 5 metre-high altar of the mosque, creating a lively, uplifting atmosphere in this spiritual space. As part of another commission by Soho House Istanbul, Onar created a series of table lamps, pendants, wall brackets, glasses and glamorous shakers, adding a fragile elegance to the club's beautifully modernized 19th century interiors.
Artist at work
You can see her beautiful designs in her sunlit showroom in Asmalimescit, and also at Magnolia bookstores around the city. Her limited-edition cold glass animal figurines are an elegant gift option for those hard to please, as well as her new ‘Dört Dörtlük’ product which functions as a diffusor, a tealight candle holder, a match strike for the fireplace or a vase.
Onar's capacity to imagine and create functional products is fantastic, but she also has a more arty side, in which she privileges abstraction. “Glass is the most sensitive material. Both tough and fragile. It's shiny but will turn matte if you touch it. I like its nature because I can't quite figure out how it will turn out,” she says, when she's asked to explain her attraction to the material of her affection. She's worked with several art galleries in Istanbul and shown her sculptures in exhibitions in Sweden, Finland and Germany, where her work was exhibited alongside six other contemporary artists at the Pergamon Museum.