Working up the Saz

Last week I posted about an inspirational visit to my local museum in Ipswich where I discovered the ‘saz’ motif of Persian ceramics.

Ceramic tiles decorated with the saz motif. ‘Saz’ is a rush or reed. This is an example decorating 16th-century Iznik Pottery

As I am always on the lookout for any interesting shapes, designs, motifs that I can adapt and use in my work, this turned out to be a particularly rewarding visit.

The ‘Saz’ motif is a design derived from the natural world. It is a stylised reed and as such I liked the idea of working it up with a stylised fish or two.

The Saz motif with fish.

Once I have finished painting a block of mask designs, usually about 10 at a time, it is time for the fixing process. That’s two hours in the steamer wrapped in paper.

The Saz motif used in a more simple design.

When the steaming time is up, the silk is washed and cut up into mask-sized rectangles. Then it’s all change in my studio. The dyes and frame are put aside and the sewing machine takes centre stage as I sew up the next batch of masks.

Inspirational display at the local museum

Sometimes you visit a local museum and you find a small, interesting display that appears to have nothing to do with the locality of the museum at all. Ipswich Museum has several sections which at first glance have no obvious connection with Suffolk let alone Ipswich. Then you stoop to read the appended information and find that a small collection or special item was donated by an Ipswich or Suffolk resident.

Display of Islamic calligraphy at Ipswich Museum.

These types of display sprung to mind when last month I was reading about Ipswich Museum and saw a comment querying the relevance of non-local content. I know it is usual for a town’s local museum to focus on exhibits that have local connections especially any that can be spun for a local audience.

Architectural details – entwined, floral pattern.

However, we don’t simply visit museums for ‘home’ histories, but also to find how our town connects to the wider world. And, Ipswich has been a port since the 8th century and a trading site for nearly 1,500 years.

Despite neither being produced nor discovered in Ipswich this cabinet of Islamic calligraphy and decorative ceramics is both interesting and beautiful, and provides the visitor with a display of another culture’s creative expression.

The exhibits may well have come to the museum as part of a donation from a local Victorian ethnographer, or, a passionate 20th-century collector obsessed with the history of ceramics and that in itself is of interest.

Ceramic tiles decorated with the saz motif. ‘Saz’ is a rush or reed. Example of 16th-century Iznik Pottery.

Nevertheless, however these pieces came to be in Ipswich I have found them an excellent source of inspiration. I have particularly admired this fine twisted serrated leaf entwined with flowers, known as the ‘saz’ motif, which I have used for a face mask or two.