I miss my village. Because of the Covid-19 I am stuck in the big city. Spring makes it more difficult, but I shouldn’t complain. The streets in my neighbourhood are lined with trees and the smell of the citrus flowers is intoxicating. And I have the Acropolis to rest my eyes on. It is rather quiet and as there are not so many cars driving around I can hear the birds singing. But my “plan” was to spend Easter in my village. Plans proved to be just plans.
My real “village” is Athens, but my Chios one adopted me almost twenty years ago. It first adopted my husband, who found himself there by chance, and then I followed.
I am dreaming of walking around in the village, breathing the fragrant air (Chios is famous for it), talking to people, exchanging news, exploring the old and often abandoned houses. These houses have many interesting stories to tell me. But, to be honest, I often prefer to wonder about these stories, or make up my own. The truth can sometimes be disappointing.
All the houses in this castle-village are made of stone and each stone is interesting, unique, there are no two exactly the same. I can see the marks of the human hands that shaped them and I think of the people who carried these heavy stones on their backs or on the backs of their donkeys or mules. When I first went to the village there were only two donkeys left, now there is none. Progress!…
But the village is not just stones. It is surrounded by beautiful nature with mastic trees, wild flowers and bushes, gardens with flowers and vegetables, vineyards and, a little further away, the blue sea.
People are the most important “ingredient” in a small community, the friendships made and the way they help each other, especially in bad times. And I miss them.
About two years ago I wrote a post about my studying tapestry weaving in Provence, France with Daniel Drouin as my teacher. I thought that I had finished with that subject, after all what more would I have to say about it?
It seems that we weavers do not only save a lot of yarn but also a lot of “information” about the subject we love. I am one of the worse ones among us saving photos, articles, magazines, bits of paper with notes (after I have copied the notes in a notebook), books, many books…
These last days I have had the chance to go through a lot of the “information” trying to get rid of as much as I can before packing it in boxes. I am moving to a smaller place and instead of packing I am reading.
Today, among all my little “treasures” I found photos, post cards really, of my teacher and a card of one of his tapestries that his wife had sent me with her recipe for pate. Denise Drouin was preparing excellent meals for us, her pate was included in several of them.
So, here are the photos, I wanted to share them with you before they go into a box. I will not “get rid” of them, but it will take some time until they are unpacked. And I may not be online for quite a few days after next week.
All black and white photos were made by Pierre Ricou in 1974.
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.
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.
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.
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’ 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It all started with weaving, like so much in my life. In the mid-1980s I received a letter from Tasmania, Australia. It was from Joanna De Jonge who wanted to come and attend the “Traditional Greek weaving techniques” workshop I was offering at that time. She did come next year. After the two weeks in Leonidion, she spent some time in Athens, went back home to Australia and returned next year to Athens, this time for about twelve years.
She was very kind, polite and caring, it was easy to be friends with her. We used to meet quite often and talk a lot about everything, her family, her children Ben, Sarah and Emma, about what we liked to make and about what we were “making”. But also about the problems a foreign woman had to face, living alone in Athens, renewing her visa (not easy), trying to make some extra money to survive. Whenever we met in her small apartment I could see her work, clothes stitched by hand, small bags in fabric or leather, knitting, creative ways to use whatever was available – all very clever ways (long before “recycling” became fashionable). And all that by stitching by hand, with just a needle.
She was also drawing, making cards that she was selling together with everything else she was making, to shops, friends and on a beautiful piece of fabric in the street in Monastiraki (flea market in Athens).
Then I started making jewellery. Joanna gave me a book, that I still have, and started describing the ways her husband, an artist and jewellery maker, was casting metal for his work. Now, we were talking a lot about jewellery and about Jon De Jonge’s Life Chains (every link representing a different phase or event in one’s life).
After twelve years, Joanna went back home. We exchanged letters for many years, but, as it often happens, we stopped writing.
About two years ago, I found photos I had of Joanna’s tapestries and decided to find out how she was doing. The internet helped. I tried to find the jewellery of Jon De Jonge and discovered that he was not making jewellery anymore, concentrating on his other art. But his daughter Emma had taken over his studio and continued working on his designs and hers, too. After contacting Emma I learned that Joanna was well. We became facebook friends to keep in touch and I posted Joanna’s tapestries for her to see.
Last year I happened to see a facebook page called “1000 Hearts” and decided to check it out. It was about a kindness project, a decision to make/stitch 1000 pocket hearts “to bring a little hope, a little comfort and a little courage to those who receive them”. The page offered a PDF on how to make these hearts, in case someone wanted to do the same. I did want to do the same and sent a message. The answer, from “1000 Hearts”, said that she was interested in everything Greek because her mother had lived in Athens for about 12 years. Signed by Sarah De Jonge! Joanna’s daughter! Our world is really small. I told her who I was and we are in touch since then. And I have even been inspired to start my “1000 Hearts, Greece” project.
So, Emma makes very fine and well-made jewellery, continuing her father’s work. She even makes his Life Chains that we were talking about with Joanna all those years ago. Sarah, in a certain way, is continuing her mother’s work, stitching, beautiful stitching, to make her hearts. (Her project is about much more than “just stitching”). What I really like is how close the sisters are and how they support each other. I’m sure the same goes for their brother Ben.
Joanna has quite a few grandchildren. One is already making art, quite natural for this artistic family. What about jewellery and stitching? Who knows? I am sure though that kindness and caring will always be there for this family, it’s in their blood.
P.S. 1 – If you are interested in participating in the ‘1000 Hearts, Greece’ project please send me a message, wherever you are in Greece. You can also send a message through my facebook page “Toultouline” http://www.facebook.com/Toultouline/ The more we are, the more useful we can be. Thank you Sarah!
P.S. 2 All photos in this post were provided by the family (stolen with permission).
As I am thinking more and more about spending winters in the big city, Chios is getting more and more beautiful. Spring has come. Wherever I go I see colours, yellows, greens, purples. And every day these colours are changing, soon they will become stronger.
The colours in the photos are just a few of what I saw this morning. It is so exciting to be surrounded by all this beauty that making a photo, placing the camera between my eyes and the colours, is sacrilege.
The time of the year has arrived when the many mastiha (mastic) producers of southern Chios have already collected and washed the resin drops from the mastic trees and are now cleaning them one drop (tear) by one drop (tear) at a time. This will take a few months.
When I made the blog post about mastiha and the museum, last October (https://toultouline.com/2017/10/20/the-mastic-gum-of-chios-greece/) the video I just discovered did not exist. It is about the Mastic Museum and it shows the whole setup beautifully. You can see the rows of cultivated mastic trees around the museum. So here it is:
But not all mastic trees are cultivated. There are still many left in their natural state.
In an old 1950s book I found the following description of the web of life. The writer is unknown:
“Life is a loom and we are the weavers: the strong, sweet principles of truth and honesty and justice are the warp, and our thoughts and deeds — carried to and fro in the swiftly moving shuttles — make up the wool; and the woven web is the life eternal. For the Master Weaver is the Lord of Love, and He sets the patterns, simple or complex, according to our ability, and lays the formula before us, and leaves us to our task. OURS IS TO SPOIL THE WEB OR WEAVE IT INTO TRANSCENDENT BEAUTY.”
P.S. The photos of the two kilims were made in the winter of 1983 in Stemnitsa, Peloponnese, Greece. It was cleaning day at the church and the kilims were brought outside. Two very nice ladies held them up for the photos. The kilims were already at least 50 years old. And for the weavers among us, they were woven on a horizontal loom in two strips sewn together and for weft, they had used naturally dyed local wool. The loom in the photo at the top is a Stathatos loom.
It must have been in 2002 when Gerti Preyer told me, a newcomer, that they, her husband and herself, had already been in our small village for about 18 years, the last 10 living full time there. Her husband was Robert Preyer, a German painter. He was born in 1930 in Brussels, Belgium, and moved to Germany in 1944 where, later on, he studied art. During his life, he taught painting and had many exhibitions of his work. In the years 1968-88, he was a professor at the Fachhochschule Wiesbaden.
He started with lithography, then he developed his painting. The landscape, the light and the colours of Greece were decisive for his work. Robert Preyer: “In this illuminated country, my painting could quickly take root. Rather as the result of colours, the liquid and solid matter of the Greek landscape resembles my idea of materializing the colouristic appearance on the canvas. But the natural effect of the images arises from the energy of the colours when they form and grow together.”
During the time he lived full time on Chios and then when he spent the winters in Germany and the rest of the year in Greece, Robert kept his ties with the art world in Germany where he often had exhibitions of his work.
Gerti was spending more time than Robert socializing with the people in the village and also feeding the stray cats. Robert, a very kind and quiet man, when not visiting different places on the island and enjoying the sea, was working in his studio, completely absorbed by his art making. He kept painting until the end.
In the early autumn of 2014, he spent some time in the hospital on Chios, then in Germany, where in December he passed away in Rettert im Taunus. Gerti continued returning to Chios every spring and leaving in the autumn until her death in February 2017.
Both Robert and Gerti Preyer were very much liked by everyone in the village. Their house, at the edge of the village with a nice open view, was renovated with love by them. Today, the people who live there have no connection with the Preyer family. They also have no idea of the artist’s struggle to find inspiration, to express it through his medium, to be creative. I’m not even sure they care…
The weather is still very good in my part of the world, southern Chios island, Greece. It is sunny and quite warm, perfect for spending time outside. And that’s exactly what I did this morning, I spent some time walking around in my village and looking at the ruins.
By studying the half demolished old houses I can see the work of the old craftsmen who built them by cutting each stone by hand, carrying it to the building site, assembling the stones to form a wall, then doors, windows, steps, floors, ceilings, etc. I can see the building techniques used so that the walls could support at least one extra floor. I can also see that different stones were used for the doors and windows, big slabs of stone for the floors and steps. The hand of the craftsman is present on every stone. Often, we can see some additions and repairs done on the original building at a later time.
Older people in my village have told me that everyone was working in the building of a new house. After all, just to give the right shape to every stone used and to carry all the very heavy building material to the building site, a lot of people and animals were needed.
Many of the ruins belong to people who do not live in Greece anymore or have moved to Athens. Their parents and grandparents left the village many years ago. Often, a house is owned by many people who do not even know each other, they are just coming from the same family a few generations back. In one case, the space of the ruin has been taken over by the neighbours to create a green spot in the middle of our stone village.
After studying the “raw” stone walls of the ruins, my walls have another meaning. I can picture the craftsmen around 1740 trying to cut by hand and fit the stones together to build my house. How many were they? Where did the stone come from? How long did it take to build the house? Who was the owner? Did he have a big family? Did they live happily in this house?