Nikos Balatsos, ceramics artist in Mesta, Chios, Greece

Twenty four years ago Nikos Balatsos decided to make a new beginning in his life, in a place where he had never been before. So, he came to Chios from Karditsa (mainland Greece). All he knew about the island was that mastiha (mastic) was cultivated in the southern part of it, the only place in the world. Maybe that’s what brought him here, he says.

Nikos Balatsos’ work

After school he started looking for something to study that would allow him to do creative work and be his own boss. Then he discovered ceramics. He went to Italy to a school for ceramics where, as a very young man, he also learned a lot about life. He is happy about his choice, now.

A younger Nikos Balatsos with his son and his work today

When he arrived to Chios he met good people who supported his decision to stay and find the right place for him. One day, by chance, he found an old half ruined olive press mill in Mesta. That is where he housed his ceramics workshop and set up a new life. Now he has a beautiful shop-workshop, at the entrance of the mediaeval village, with a sunny little courtyard where his clients sit and talk with him.

Nikos Balatsos ceramics, Chios

All his work is based on shapes. He forms the clay on the potter’s wheel and then shapes it again by hand, trying to extend it beyond its limits. Then comes the colouring. That is what makes his work even more personal. He works mostly in blues and greens mixing mineral salts and silver nitrate, using his own recipes. By changing even slightly the proportions of the materials, colours keep changing. Even the humidity in the air, he says, makes a difference. He feels humbled by all this, realizing that he knows very little although he has worked on it for so long. After all these years he keeps experimenting, making new discoveries, and learning. Every batch of ceramics is fired three times. Whenever a round of work has finished, he starts a new one.

Nikos Balatsos

Nikos’ work expresses, consciously or unconsciously, his experiences in life, his feelings, everything that’s inside him, even the weather, the environment, the light… That is why there are variations, so much depth, so many layers of colour. It is a pity that most of this is lost in the photos.

Nikos Balatsos’ work

For the future, he wants to keep experimenting, making new discoveries and doing what he loves, for as long as he can. Life is good here. He ended up in one of the mastic producing villages, after all, in the southern part of Chios island!


About mastiha / mastic

Nikos Balatsos

Foreign weaving students learn traditional Greek techniques

Students from N. Zealand (rag rug), Finland (kilim), Switzerland (vourjia), USA (pile carpet). Traditional weavings from the Leonidion area, in the background.

For decades, I have been fascinated by the variety of traditional weaving produced all over the world. Most techniques are the same or similar. But the results depend on the types of looms and tools available in each area, the material used for warp and weft (cotton, linen, wool), the thickness of the yarn, the breed of sheep for wool, the colour of yarn used (natural or naturally dyed by plants growing in the area). Designs and colours are very much influenced by the environment and the light of each place.

Naxos weaving. Student from Switzerland

During the 1980s I organized several courses every summer to teach the traditional Greek weaving techniques to foreign weavers. My students were of all weaving levels and from all the continents in the world. They learned a lot, not only about weaving but also about Greek life. And I learned a lot about weaving from more places than I can remember. I had a great time surrounded by weavers, nice people with common interests. I think that most of them were happy, too, since quite a few came back for a second course, some for a third.

Tagari bag, Peloponnese style. Student from Scotland
Vourjia, front. Student from Scotland
Vourjia, back. Student from Scotland

The projects woven by the students were supposed to be as “Greek” as possible. But, usually, there was a touch of the weaver’s personality, and nationality, in the combination of the designs used, of the colours, etc.

Vourjia, front. Student from Switzerland
Vourjia, front. Student from N. Zealand

Vourjias were the traditional “back packs” on many islands. We studied the ones from Crete because they were the most colourful and decorated ones, some so fine that they were almost works of art. Most of the “foreign touches” were in the combination of colours on the striped backs of the bags.

Vourjia, front, French student
Vourjia, back, French student
Vourjia, front. Student from USA
Vourjia, back. Student from USA

Flokatis are non-knotted pile rugs in wool (used as bedding in the early times). They are washed in a “nerotrivi”, a whirlpool of water which felts the wool and keeps the pile in place. We used natural coloured wool.

Naxos island is famous for the very decorated fabrics used everywhere in the house. Usually in white cotton, with red and blue loom- or weaver-controlled “embroidery”. This technique is used in other parts of Greece, too.

Naxos weaving. Student from Switzerland
Naxos weaving. Student from Switzerland

One can find kilim (flat) weaving almost all over the world. The differences are in the combination of warp and weft (cotton-wool, all wool, etc.), the thickness of the weaving, and the design. We wove in the thick quality, as practiced in Leonidion, Peloponnese.

Kilim weaving, student from Finland
Rag rug. Student from N. Zealand

In Greece, there was not much knotted pile carpet weaving, in the oriental way. But 97 years ago this art-craft was brought here by the Greek refugees who managed to come over and save their lives (Destruction of Smyrna, 1922). Historically, the coast of Asia Minor (western Turkey today) was inhabited by Greeks, a lot of the antiquities still there prove it. Most of the organised workshops of pile carpet production were owned by Greeks (Sparta, Smyrna, etc.), exporting carpets mostly to Europe. So upon arrival many new workshops were set up, in Greece this time, to fulfil the orders taken in Asia Minor, carpets were woven and exported. In our courses, we used the technique of the Greek refugees (material and knots). The rugs woven by the students were small, pile carpet weaving is a very time consuming technique, including the warping of the loom.

Pile carpet (USA), vourjia (Sweden), pile carpet (USA), Naxos weaving (USA)

The photos are not of all the different types of weaving done in the courses, just some of them. Hopefully, one day I will have a slide scanner and I will be able to scan decades of weaving, costume, etc. slides.

Vourjia, front. Student from USA
Vourjia, back. Student from USA