Kumkapı was a village with Armenian population where pure silk rugs with extraordinary quality were woven in the 19th century. Although it is fishing village present day, Kumkapı workshops, near the Great Palace of Ottoman Sultans, produced rugs, which rivaled with Hereke Imperial Workshops and this aim made them weave rugs with amazing quality.
During the beginning of 19th century, two master weavers of Kumkapı and their workshops were active:
Hagop Kapuciyan, known as Hagop the fat; Zareh Penyamin, the greatest of the Kumkapı masters. Hagop Kapoukjiyan Coming to Istanbul from Kayseri, a central Anatolian town, Hagop established his first looms in Kumkapı where he first took 16th century Iranian Carpets and rugs with compartments as model but he added some distinguished features to them. Hagop the Fat who designed carpets with central medallions and cartouches moved to Paris 1920s. He continued his weaving, repair work in the French capital, and died there.
Zareh Penyamin who was contemporary of Fat Hagop was the greatest master weaver and designer of his age. He was born in the village of Bunyamin near Kayseri. Zareh as a talented young boy, he made musical scores and covers. For a while, he worked as palace’s cartoonist. During these years, Zareh’s greatest occupation was to undo ancient rugs and examine them. The carpet exhibit which took place in 1891 in Vienna and catalogs printed for the exhibit gave Zareh the chance to study the classical carpets. Zareh directed workshops in Hereke and stayed there till he was summoned to Istanbul by Sultan Abdülhamid. In the following years, he established his own workshops in Kumkapı and started designing carpets and signing his works. Zareh put his signature on one of the palmettos, located on the main ground of the carpet. This type of signature was seen at least 20 times. One of the greatest events about Master Zareh was the discovery of his famous rug designs that included his praying rug designs. One of the designs called Sultan’s Head became so popular and many workshops copied the design. However, these copies never reached the technical and esthetical perfection of Zareh rugs. This difference can be observed so clearly in Victoria Albert collection where an original Zareh is displayed with some copies. Two of his famous pieces with the Sultan’s head are displayed in Topkapı Palace and metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Palmettos, cloud bands, arabesque designs used by Zareh remind us Topkapı Designs. In fact, Zareh was heavily influenced by the Classical Ottoman Palace designs and Topkapı Praying Rugs. Also, some of his prayer niches show similarities with Turkish tile Patterns. This resemblance can be seen so clearly in the Museum Of Applied Arts in Vienna. During the following years, Zareh stated using Ottoman Hatayi style in pastel colors and added gold and silver threats to his weavings. He used Ottoman designs, bur superiority of his techniques and careful choice of material helped his to obtain magnificent results. Zareh closed down his workshops in Capa Pazar Tekkesi and went to Paris for a medical treatment. He returned to Istanbul a year later and eventually died in 1949.
Garabed Apelyan, the third master weaver of Kumkapı was born in Kayseri. He first moved to Izmir then to Istanbul where he established his foist workshops near Kadik Pasa near Back Sea. Apelian loved flower designs and multi-colored compositions filled with birds. He filled main ground of his rugs with the wine leaves meandering everywhere. Apelian’s freely distributed rugs differed from Zareh’s well-disciplined patterned carpets. Apelian’s last rug, which was a big one with an image of great cathedral in Armenia, was not completed because of master’s ill health and advanced age. An article published in 1985 mentions that this great master is still alive and works as rug consultant to identify the Kumkapı rugs.
Following the footsteps of great masters such as Apelian, Zarek, Hagop, new master workshops were established between 1920 and 1930’s. Among these masters, we can mention Avedis Tamishjiyan who made rugs depicting animal struggles; Hafiz Rustu who copied some Zareh designs. His workshop was run by Zareh personally.
Most productive of the Kumkapı master weavers was Tosunyan who produced great number of carpets in his Korfu and Istanbul workshops from 1920’s up to 1940s. Tosunyan visited even the city of London to market his rugs, which were easily recognizable because of their vivid colors, long piles, and soft touches. This master weaver was influenced by the figured carpets of 16th century. In addition to hunting scenes, his carpets also contained winged angel figures. He modified the classical models. In his colorful wild of animals, one can see traditional and mythological animals such as dragons, elephants, goats, stags and some other creatures. One of the best compositions of Tosunyan depicts his wild animals and pure white color he used to make a contrast. Tosunyan’s workshops, which drew the attention of American and British people, did not last long. All stopped at the beginning of Second World War..