Gökden Alpman Matthews with her work. Photo by Nihal Alpman.“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”—Pablo Picasso

I always knew I was going to be some type of artist. At a very early age, I loved to make little sculptures out of gum, clay, dough, and modeling clay. In the following years, I realized that I could express myself better with malleable materials. With the support of my high school art teacher, I entered the Faculty of Fine Arts Ceramics Department at Anatolia University in Eskişehir, Turkey, where I earned an undergraduate degree as well as a master’s degree in ceramic art. 

My master’s thesis included the history, process technology, and chemical makeup of Egyptian paste (Egyptian faience). I researched the subject at the Metropolitan Museum and Brooklyn Museum in New York, and created and exhibited jewelry made from Egyptian paste produced with the formula I prepared. After my studies, I worked as a manager in product design and design development processes in various ceramic factories in Turkey. During this time, I started a ceramic PhD and continued my own research. I published articles in various art magazines and showed my work in many exhibitions.

In 2004, I opened my first ceramics studio in Istanbul and produced ceramics for souvenir shops and museum shops in Turkey and internationally. After I got married in 2009, I moved to Huntsville, Alabama, and immediately opened my second studio there. For the first three years, I moved back and forth between two countries, two cities, two houses, and two studios. After that hectic period, I moved my entire studio from Istanbul to Huntsville and continue to work here today. These experiences and my interests led me to my current work.

Kaftan, 11¾ in. (30 cm) in height, ceramic, glaze, in-glaze decoration, fired to 1832°F (1000°C), gold overglaze fired to 1372°F (750°C) 2009.One Dome Two Voices, Hagia Sophia, 18½  in. (47 cm) in height, kiln shelves, terra-cotta tile, glaze, ceramic paint, oxides, fired to 1832°F (1000°C), gold leaf, 2017.

Mosaics as Metaphor

The cultural and historical richness of the land where I was born and spent my childhood has always intrigued me. It fascinates me that the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman cultures continue to live so close together despite their differences; they are like plants with the same roots in the same soil, but with different colors. Turkey is a very rich mosaic, where different hues and materials combine into a single composition. My family is also a cultural mosaic, just like the peoples of the land where I originate. The journey I took, exploring these feelings, thoughts, and experiences, led me to the cultural mosaic.

I believe that a stronger artistic communication emerges when emotions and thoughts are combined with the proper technique and material. In order to reflect my inner self, I experimented with patchwork and mosaic to see how I could translate these techniques—to form a whole from colorful, small and uniquely shaped objects—to ceramics. It has become my signature.

 My Traces of Migration, 9½  in. (24 cm) in height, ceramic, glaze, in-glaze decoration, fired to 1372°F (1000°C), gold, overglaze decoration, fired to 1382°F (750°C), 2021.

My constant media has always been clay, and I wanted to use it in a different way compared to traditional mosaics. Instead of cutting small pieces and putting them back together, I wanted to create the image without breaking the whole. This is another way to embody the idea of the same roots in the same soil, with different colors, and to convey my feeling and thoughts in language appropriate to clay. 

This is the origin of my series Cultural Mosaic and Migration, which I have been working on for about 15 years. The series is the reason that I developed the techniques I use in my work. 

Ideas Taking Form

The kaftan, ceremonial robes of Ottoman kings and queens, is the embodiment of the cultures that lived in the lands of Turkey for centuries. To reflect this, I designed my three-dimensional kaftans to replicate the patchwork technique on clay. Through these pieces, I refer mostly to the motifs found in the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.

The panels and sculptures that I create mix mosaic techniques with other motifs and architectural elements, making the mosaic itself a part of the larger cultural mosaic. I use Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Seljuk motifs, mosaics, and architectural elements in my work.

Woman of Anatolia, Zeugma, 15¾ in. (40 cm) in diameter, ceramic, brick, glaze, in-glaze decoration, fired to 1832°F (1000°C), 2021.

In 2009, I created exhibition pieces centered around this theme in Istanbul and New York. The exhibition in New York was titled “Istanbul, The Mosaic of Culture,” and the one in Istanbul was titled “Coexist.” Extending this theme, my most recent exhibition (January 2021) was titled “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.” I talked about my cultural migration from the land of my birth to America.

My Ceramic Mosaic Process 

I use various technical and supplemental materials in my ceramics. Most of my supplemental materials are produced in different branches of the ceramic family, such as glass, brick, terra-cotta tile, and old kiln shelving. I still support the idea of “same roots in the same soil, with different colors” and believe this strengthens my expression.

Gökden Alpman Matthews working on Woman of Anatolia, Zeugma, 2021. Photo: Eliah McCutchen. Dionysus of Istanbul, 15¾ in. (40 cm) in length, ceramic, brick, glaze, in-glaze decoration, fired to 1832°F (1000°C), gold glaze paint, 2019.

Technically, I use multiple techniques together and I follow three different paths, especially when transferring mosaic to ceramic:

  • By painting the broken or old kiln shelves with oxides, ceramic colorants, and glazes, and incorporating these pieces into a mosaic.
  • By painting bisque-fired, flat surfaces with the in-glaze painting technique.
  • By painting bisque-fired surfaces that I have given the shape of mosaics with the in-glaze painting technique (which I call ceramic mosaic).

Of these three applications, I would like to share with you the ceramic mosaic technique, which is based on shaping and in-glaze decoration techniques.

My Traces of Migration

For the ceramic mosaic technique, start by rolling out the clay to a thickness of 1 cm. Then, place the template that was prepared on the clay, and cut out the shape you want to make (1). Next, transfer the mosaic and its outlines that have been determined onto the clay (2, 3).

1 2 3 4

I cut grooves into the clay to create small square and triangular areas with my wooden tool, the tip of which I flattened to a 3-mm straight edge (4). I use the same process for creating a row on the edges of the slab, adjacent to the surface (5). Thus, I capture the image of the stones used in mosaic making (6). And, I emphasize that the unity on the surface continues around the sides down to the bottom of the slab.

5 6

After bisque firing to 1742°F (950°C) (cone 06), dilute a wash made with chromium oxide, brush it between the grooves (7), and wipe it away using a damp sponge (8). That way, the stain remains only in recessed areas. This gives a clear visual sense of separation between the small pieces, and accentuates the patterning of the groove lines. After that, I paint each small piece with a white opaque glaze (9). I also glaze the small parts on the sides of the slab (10).
I add color with ceramic stains and oxides (11). And finally, I fire the piece to 1832°F (1000°C). 

7 8 9 10

In-glaze Décor

Decoration on an unfired glaze with colorants suitable for the firing temperature of the glaze is called the in-glaze decoration method. Unlike underglaze and over-glaze decorations, the purpose of in-glaze decorations is to place the colorant or pigment inside the glaze when the glaze reaches its melting point.

The firing temperature of in-glazed decorations can vary between 1742°F (950°C) and 2516°F (1380°C), depending on the body and the glaze condition. It can be applied to any clay body. The important thing here is not the clay body used, but the glazes  used. For example, when red clay is coated with transparent glaze, the decoration applied to it will not be seen clearly after firing due to the color of the underlying clay. For this reason, red clay should either be primed when wet using a light slip color or a covering glaze should be used. To achieve crisp definition to the motifs when using in-glaze decorations, the clay body does not always need to be glazed with covering opaque glazes. Sometimes applications can be made using transparent or artistic glazes. Note: Do not use fluid glazes because when applying in-glaze decoration on flowing glazes, patterns can distort completely during firing due to the movement of the glaze.


The durability of in-glaze colorants used for glaze decoration depends on the composition of the colorant or stain itself, the firing temperature of the glaze, and the kiln atmosphere. For example, since the glazes used in porcelain decorations will be fired at a high temperature (2282–2516°F (1250–1380°C)) to vitrify the clay body, use colorants like cobalt blues, chrome greens, and iron browns. Colors such as selenium oxide red and pink cannot be used because they burn out at high temperatures. These types of colorants can be fired to temperatures of 1652–1742°F (900–950°C).

When creating in-glaze decoration, almost all techniques (brushing, sponging, stamping, airbrushing, stenciling, carving, and sgraffito) used in surface decoration methods can be used. Apart from these techniques, sieve or screenprinting (direct printing) methods can also be used on flat surfaces.

My Traces of Migration, 91/2 in. (24 cm), glaze and in-glaze decoration, fired to 1832°F (1000°C), gold over-glaze decoration fired to 1382°F (750°C), 2021.

The most important and special examples of the in-glaze decoration technique known in history are majolica. I find it useful to explore historical and contemporary majolica techniques. 

What we experience, see, hear, and read shapes us. Our perceptions, interests, and abilities also make us who we are. During these last two pandemic years, I turned to the character Medusa. My view of Medusa has changed since I read the works of the 1st-century Roman writer Ovid. I can understand how the anger on the outside is compounded by the broken heart on the inside. I am preparing for my next exhibition with the excitement of my new work that will emerge when my drawings on paper are combined with ceramics and fire.

1–11 Photos: James Matthews. 

the author Gökden Alpman Matthews received her undergraduate and graduate degrees in ceramics from Faculty of Fine Arts Ceramics Department at Anatolia University in Eskişehir, Turkey. She has worked at numerous ceramics factories as a designer and as an independent artist. Her works have been shown in numerous exhibitions in Turkey and internationally. Learn more on Instagram @gokdenalpmanmatthews_art.