Haddonfield resident Ylvia Asal was named the recipient of the New Jersey Heritage Fellowship earlier this month, with a prize of $20,000 for a traditional artist who honors and preserves the state’s diverse cultural heritage.
According to the state website, “artists may use the Heritage Fellowship awards to pursue work in their artistic discipline, including purchasing supplies, renting studio space, otherwise freeing their time.”
Asal – a member of the Haddonfield Lions Club and owner of Ylvia Asal of Anatolia – was one of 10 recipients who received the award and one of 36 applicants to apply. She specializes in creating traditional, Turkish Anatolian lace, “oya”, which is lace that is often found on the edges of head coverings but that are also used to adorn different domestic objects.
Unlike the lace that usually comes to mind, the intricate designs made in white and that are usually flat, Turkish Anatolian lace is often colorful, three dimensional and can be used with different materials like sequins and beads. Asal makes these laces by hand and has adapted the traditional technique to also make three dimensional jewelry, like lace poppy flowers on a necklace, or earrings.
As an artist, Asal uses a lot of different mediums including clay, wax, fabric, Turkish paper marbling called Ebru. She also works with fabrics and yarns, though her favorite is lacemaking where she uses tiny crochet hooks, shuttles, hairpins, knitting needles and threads to create overlapping loops to make the lace. At her shop, she also teaches classes on how to do Turkish Anatolian lacemaking.
“It doesn’t matter what their background is,” Asal noted. “Of course, if Turkish people want to learn, come and learn, but if not, I need to teach. I need to pass this on.”
Asal has been a borough resident since 2018, but has been making lace since she was a child, following her grandmother and learning from her school. She acknowledged that the techniques she uses are not often learned or used so much these days, but that she plans to continue using them.
“I feel it’s so important,” Asal explained. “My field is attached to this work. I don’t want to leave it.”
Asal pointed out that the time it takes to make a piece varies depending on the complexity of the project and her mood, the same as for any art project. She creates her own designs rather than using established patterns.
“If I stopped this, this is so unique and such an old technique, and I’m thinking, ‘If I stop, this is not making money, and I’m making, making, making the things and not selling things easy, and it’s not supporting me,’” she observed.
“I can’t live like that,” Asal added. “If I stop this, who’s going to make this? It’s almost a lost art. That’s why I’m standing behind and keeping this art form for the next generation.
“I don’t want to lose this art in the near future.”
To learn more about Asal’s work, visit her website at https://anatoliaartcraft.com.