Istanbul – Grand Bazaar Exquisite Ancient Calligraphy

Istanbul shops are brimming with exotic crafts, textiles, carpets, jewelry and more. The Grand Bazaar is the most renowned destination in the Imperial City. A maze of 61 covered streets, connecting over 4000 shops under a red tile rooftop. We have access to that red tile roof top if you would like to see where James Bond Hero, Daniel Craig, chased the henchman on a motorcycle in Sky Fall. The minarets of Nuruosmaniye Mosque scrape the sky, one can walk the entire roof line with a special pass.

Nick Merdenyan Calligraphy, Istanbul

Turkish souvenirs abound in the ancient market, a shopper’s paradise. One of the most unusual shops in the Bazaar is a tiny hard to find emporium owned by Nick Merdenyan. Nick’s is an obscure alley, a little treasure trove of intricate calligraphy – a particularly unusual form of calligraphy, as his craft is hand painted on dried leaves.

He calls his art form “Nick’s Missionary Leaves of Tolerance and Peace.” Since 1968, Nick has intricately painted traditional symbols and prayers of three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – on dried leaves and has gained international recognition for his masterful skills.

Nick Merdenyan Calligraphy, Istanbul

His inspiration began when he received a potted plant for the baptism of his only son. As the plant shed its leaves, Merdenyan removed two of the leaves and preserved them between the pages of a book. Time passed, his son grew up, Nick opened the old book to discover the flattened leaves aged by time. From a dry leaf, it had transformed into a perfect, almost transparent silky canvas. Nick shared the leaf with a calligrapher friend. Captivated by the delicate yet sturdiness of the leaf, the two friends begin to experiment. The master calligrapher transcribed the Tughra – the signature of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent – on one leaf and Yunus Emre’s epigram “Love who loves you” on the other with Kufic letters. The experiment, which was nothing more than a test, captured the attention of two American tourists visiting his shop. Wanting to buy the leaf, Nick Merdenyan sold his first work and began his life journey.

Nick Merdenyan, Istanbul

He began by investigating the type of plant and discovered it is a dieffenbachia from Denmark. He imported the leaves for many years until they stop exporting the leaves, at which point he turned to Florida. He uses two types of leaves: Dieffenbachia and Caladium. The leaves take approximately two years to transform into the perfect canvas. His vision and inspiration are derived from the three Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Nick painstakingly inscribes tender messages of peace, love, and unity on the delicate dry leaves. Some details are so intricate, he uses a cat hair brush under a magnifying glass. The deeply painted hues include a dynamic royal blue, a rich gold, deep red and an array of hues as vibrant a rainbow.

He has gained international recognition; acclaimed collectors include Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Queen Letizia of Spain, and me!

Known as The Lord of the Leaves, a visit to this Armenian craftsman is worth seeking out in the labyrinth of Grand Bazaar shops. Our guides can arrange a visit.

Missing Silk Tycoon Jim Thompson, Bangkok

Bangkok is always a superb destination, and especially a perfect stop on the way to Bhutan! Do visit the Bangkok home and Asian art collection of the late James H.W. Thompson, also known as the “Thai Silk King”. The Jim Thompson House is a museum in central Bangkok, housing the intriguing art collection of American businessman and architect Jim Thompson, the museum designer and former owner. Built in 1959, the museum spans one rectangular “rai” of land. A glimpse of life in the private home of one of southeast Asia’s richest silk merchants is worth the small fee and an hour of your time. Include lunch at the small cafe – arrive early for the first tour at the former house of the late silk tycoon, it’s a rare treat to glimpse the beauty of true Thai architecture and his stunning collection of rare Asian artifacts.

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The history behind Jim Thompson is a fascinating tale. Born in Delaware in 1906, and worked as an architect. He was sent to Bangkok after World War II, as a military officer, and he fell in love with Thailand and Bangkok. When his military service ended, he settled down in this beautiful country permanently.

The Spirit offering house on Jim Thompson property filled with his favorite treats.

Jim Thompson became fascinated by the traditional Thai hand-woven silk, a long-neglected art and industry. Silk products had lost fashion, Thompson decided to revive this craft and designed contemporary silk clothing and products, he founded the Thai Silk Company in 1948. He also introduced Thai silk to the world market. It turned out that the world’s fashionistas loved Thai silk, and Thompson`s business became a huge success.

One of the most significant reasons for its success was that the famed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, the designer Irene Sharaff utilized his silks in the costumes of The King and I, The irony of this tale is that the King & I movie isn’t allowed to be shown in Thailand, due to its representation of King Mongkut of Siam.

From Jim Thompson: “The Thai silk-weaver’s technique is hundreds of years old. Every child learned how to weave but each family wove enough for its own needs. Their styles and colors are not suitable for foreign consumption. It took us a long time to know what the world markets required. It makes no difference to us as to how well we know our clients. What really matters is whether they like our products or not.”

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

His love of Thailand and in particular Bangkok, led him to design and build a unique compound of homes surrounded by gardens. The exquisite complex of six traditional Thai teak houses are surrounded by lovely jungle like gardens. His design included using an old traditional antique wooden Thai house, incorporating sections of old up-country houses. He located six ancient teak buildings from different locations in Thailand, some from the former capital city of Ayudhya, the Siam Kingdom. All are built in the traditional Thai architecture. Each house was dismantled and brought to Bangkok, where they were carefully reassembled to become his home.

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

Each individual home was all kept intact and during the reassembling process, he incorporated religious customs and rituals. The red paint on the outside walls of the houses is a preservative often found on many old Thai buildings. After astrologers provided a safe harmonious date, he moved in to his compound in 1959. Some of the structures are elevated a full floor above the ground, as was the custom of old Thai houses, to avoid flooding. Thompson did however add his own touches to the buildings. He had a passion for antiques and decorated his home with authentic Buddha images from 13th century, original Thai paintings from 18th century and Chinese porcelains from 14th century. There are delicate treasures in the bookcases and shelves.

The house is surrounded by a beautiful and lush jungle like garden, full of old enormous ceramic pots brimming with lotus blossoms and koi fish, the gardens represent typical century old style.

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

In 1967 on holiday in the Highlands of Malaysia with friends, Jim Thompson left for an afternoon walk and never returned. For several weeks after his disappearance, both the police and several American and British officers and investigators searched for Thompson. He has never been found.

There is a delightful air conditioned café on property which serves yummy coconut cake, lunch and dinners. A gift shop is filled with Jim Thompson Silk products – if you forget to purchase here, there is also a small store at the airport duty free shops.

Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand
Jim Thompson House, Bangkok Thailand

Jim Thompson House
6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok