The handcraft of shells graft… Orient’s heritage guards series

Shells to match Gold

A trip in the fragrance of rainbow shells

Who among us has not engraved their name or their lover’s name on a study bank or on a tree somewhere? The colors of pearl shells and nut wood overlap, to create wooden, oriental, Damascene furniture masterpiece that only its creator knows it for real because it is his own hands production, it is so unique even if similar to another. Each and every masterpiece carries its mark.

Rainbow colors God created shells with colors inside out, and that is what gives it the charm and splendor. From the outside, the shell has multiple colors like the traditional white, bright pink and extraordinary black, while from the inside; it is colored when cut into slices showing all the colors of the rainbow in a breathtaking and charming way. These bright colors are for the Cockle, while river shells are unique for their pearly, milky, turquoise color.

 A stone equals a Mount In Old Damascus, the heart of Arabism, the scream of eternal resistance, the mother of civilization, the capital of heritage and authenticity, and from a workshop in its ancient alleys our desire to know about this timeless craft draws us. Through the pages of “Travel Syria” magazine, we transform the secrets of shell grafting hand craft: Refine the river and sea shells

The craftsman, Teacher “Mahmoud Youssef Suleiman” sits with small pieces of shells in his hands and tells us: “Despite the difficulty of this profession, I adore it. I was taught from my  father in this workshop which has been the place for him to work since the early seventies of the last century. The most important stage and most accurate one is the refinement, where we use what we call “Diamond Stone” as I cut off the shell into flat slices, and then to small, multiple, varied and sometimes unusual pieces. Then the more accurate process starts which is the refinement from all aspects and angles, and from both sides.

We define the edges, thickness, and the final shape of the small shell piece. Despite the small size of a shell, we can control it and show its color which becomes rainbow colored. In this craft, we provide required shells for all the crafts such as wooden mosaic, engraving on wood, and shells according to what is asked for from sizes to forms that beautify wood and especially walnuwood.”


How to decorate wood with shells?

The teacher Mr. Suleiman continues: “we design the wanted piece of walnut wood with living fibers, and then we draw the decorations, inscriptions, and verses of the “Holy Qur’an” or whatever drawing we want. The engravings are inspired from the heritage, or from engineer, plant, and animal creations; we get to engrave whatever we want according to the desire of the owner. We fill the engravings with tin metal strings, because it holds together with the wood and it looks like silver metal. We use the old manual method which is the hammer and the chisel, and after filling the engraving with tin, the process of emptying a place for the shell begins as the engraving looks as a copy of the shell, After that we fill it with glue to put the shell on the wooden piece, until the surface of the wood becomes as if never been engraved, as if the shell and the tree were born together with no hand affecting them. Next, we scrub the surface with smoothing paper in an accurate and affectionate way, so the piece becomes ready to be with the other pieces. We do the same process with every piece. We shape the full structure of the piece of furniture or masterpiece. We shine the piece according to the desire of the owner with a substance called “Alkmlika” after it is wiped with “AlBardakh” which is a substance that has the color of walnut wood which helps showing the color of the wood, unites the color of the piece with the color of the shimmering shells, and shows the skill of its maker from the legacy of heritage to the spirit of nowadays needs. About the elite who acquire this immortal art, Mr. Suleiman adds: “most of our customers and seekers for full eastern furniture such as the arabesque suit of furniture are from foreign embassies and consulates, and we often make suites and cover them well to travel to far countries that love Oriental arts. They often choose stained and ornamented with shells wood which shows the beauty of the wood and the tin veins crowned with shells. Eastern elite owners prefer the fully decorated with shells piece. We try to meet all tastes and modern creations to satisfy the desire of tourists to carry a masterpiece in their small bags, in addition to the desires of citizens to acquire some nice pieces fed with shells with acceptable prices, for the work, shells, and wood make the big pieces cost higher prices. We created multi-use and small size pieces which help us use it in many decorations, and we boast of it in our homes and places. It always stays in the frame of heritage, but within the requirements of the age spirit.

Haifaa Mafalani