Robert Preyer, German painter, and Chios island, Greece

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.

Robert Preyer - the way I remember him
Robert Preyer – the way I remember him

 

Robert Preyer - younger
Robert Preyer 

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.”

Robert Preyer
Robert Preyer

 

Robert Preyer
Robert Preyer

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.

Robert Preyer 2013
Robert Preyer 2013
Robert Preyer- Bei den pflanzen, 2012
Robert Preyer – Bei den pflanzen, 2012

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.

Robert Preyer and Helga Fohl (Torsi) 2015
Robert Preyer and Helga Fohl (Torsi), exhibition 2015

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.

Robert Preyer 2014
Robert Preyer 2014
Robert Preyer 2009
Robert Preyer 2009

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 Preyer house
The Preyer house
View from the Preyer house
View from the Preyer house

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Ruins in my village, Chios island, Greece

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.

Ruin, Chios island, Greece

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.

A green spot being created
A garden in a ruin.

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?

Big and heavy stones form the door frames.

The mastic gum of Chios, Greece

Living in one of the 24 mastic gum (mastiha) producing villages of Southern Chios, I have been exposed to the cultivation of mastiha since I first came here. Almost everyone in my village is involved in the production of this magical resin, valuable for many uses: for medicines, cosmetics, art paints and varnishes, sweets, etc.

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Mastic trees

It was always cultivated on the island but started becoming known in the 10th century by travellers visiting Chios. The trade became more organized in the 14th century.

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The mastic tree/bush (skinos, Pistacia Lentiscus var. Chia) grows all over Chios, also all over the Mediterranean area, but only produces mastic gum in the southern part of Chios. It is one of the strongest plants, it can live without water, in bad soil, and lasts for many years. The mastiha production is worthwhile from about the 5th year of the life of the plant and reaches its best at around the 15th year. It can live up to 100 years. A mature tree produces about 200 grams per year.

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White soil under mastic trees

The cultivation of mastiha starts around May-June and ends in September-October, depending on the weather. First, they prepare and clean the area under each tree, then spread a white soil on that area so that the drops (the tears) of resin falling are kept clean. Next, with a special sharp and pointed tool, they “wound” the tree by making incisions on the trunk and the branches (see the beautiful film at the end of this post).

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Photo at the Chios Mastic Museum

After the mastiha has fallen on the ground, and become hard, it is collected very early in the morning, while it is still cool and the resin remains hard. Then they “bring it in”, to the village, where they continue with the “cleaning” of it. This involves sifting it through different sizes of sieves to clean it from the soil and leaves.

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Sieves at the Chios Mastic Museum
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Old photo at the Chios Mastic Museum, 1930-1950
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Photo at the Chios Mastic Museum

Next comes the washing. Some people who live near the sea still go there to wash their mastiha.

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Washing mastic gum in the sea, Southern Chios (2016)
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Sifted and washed mastiha

The final cleaning is done by the women. They usually gather around a round tray (sini), now a round table but still called sini. They clean the resin drops, one by one, by removing any impurities using a needle, work that demands strong eyes and a lot of patience. This takes a few months, depending on the quantity of the harvest. When they finish they take it to the Chios Gum Mastic Growers Association for the final processing.

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Cleaning mastiha, at the Chios Mastic Museum
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Cleaning mastiha (2017)
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Cleaning mastiha

A few days ago I visited the new Chios Mastic Museum, a very modern building housing a very old trade. It is located in the middle of the mastic producing villages and is surrounded by mastic trees where one can follow their cultivation, an open-air museum exhibition.

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Chios Mastic Museum
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Chios Mastic Museum

“The aim of the Chios Mastic Museum is to highlight the production history of the cultivation and processing of mastic, also incorporating it to the cultural landscape of Chios. Through the inclusion of traditional mastic cultivation in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2014, the emphasis is on the timelessness and the sustainability of the product of Chios”   {Copied from the Museum’s brochure}

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Old distiller for the production of mastic oil, Chios Mastic Museum
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Old “machinery” for the final processing of mastic gum. Chios Mastic Museum

I am definitely going back. Although mastiha production is part of my fellow villagers lives, there is a lot to see in that museum, details from the past and from the other villages, in a very organized and pleasant way. It made me see that not much has changed since the 19th-20th centuries. Also, there is a nice cafe with views over many mastic trees and the sea far away. Coffee was served with a cookie filled with mastiha cream. There is also a lot of modern art on the walls of some parts of the museum which connects the past with the present.

“The tree we hurt” 1986 ,  English subtitles

This film shows how the mediaeval fortress type villages of Southern Chios, where the mastiha producers lived for centuries (and still do), were around 1985. Not much has changed, they are only better preserved (see my blog post “Start where you are”). In this film you can also see the landscape of Chios, mastic trees, cultivaton, and follow a sweet story with beautiful music.

 

 

Weaver Eri Avgoustidou in Mesta, Chios

Every year, in spring, a weaver from Athens comes to the village of Mesta, Chios island, where she stays for almost six months. Mesta is the best preserved mediaeval village on Chios, a destination for almost everyone visiting the island. (More about Mesta another time).

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Eri Avgoustidou first visited Mesta over 25 years ago and instantly fell in love with it. After all, there was a lot of Chios in her blood, her grandmother came from Kambos and her husband’s family from Mesta. She made a plan to learn how to weave and return to the village to buy a house and start a business. And so she did. She is the owner of the “Agnytha” shop.

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During the winter, in Athens, she weaves in her studio, inspired by the Greek tradition. She also teaches a group of over twenty weavers who come to learn from her, year after year, at the cultural centre of the Municipality of Moschato-Tavros.

 

Eri is one of those people who enjoy what they do and this is one of the reasons why she has become one of our best quality weavers (ask me) and teachers (ask her many students who love her).

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A few years ago she wove the silk fabric for her daughter-in-law’s wedding dress. It was beautifully woven and the dress was gracefully moving while the couple was dancing at the wedding party. Let’s hope that she will weave fabric for her four grandchildren’s weddings. They will be lucky if she will.

Fishing boats in Komi, Chios

There are many fishermen on Chios island, professional and amateur.

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Quite a few fishermen of the area, especially the professional ones, choose the port of Komi in the south. It is closer to their fishing spots.

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The choice of a port depends on the season but you can always find boats and fishermen in Komi, fewer during the winter.

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Start where you are, Chios, Greece

They say you should start right where you are, with what is closer to you, so I start with my home. ‘Home’ is a 1700s house in southern Chios island, Greece, the mastiha (mastic gum) producing part of the island.

Our small village is a mediaeval fortress type one (castle-village). All houses are connected and the streets are very narrow. In the past, it was surrounded by protecting walls leaving only two entrances to the village, which were closed at night. Today, all that has changed. We have more entrances and the houses which are built attached to the surrounding walls have openings to the outside world.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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My house has three entrance doors (photos above). All doors, exterior and interior, have a more or less decorated lintel above them. (Interior lintel below)

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Behind each entrance door there is a column supporting the upper floor.

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There are quite a lot of ruined houses in the village. I like it, in a way, because I can see how they were designed and built. I often think of the people who carried the heavy stones to build my house. There will be more about the village in another post, this one has become too long!

Houses can be of any style, beautiful or ugly, wherever one lives, but it is people that make the real difference. As the saying goes, “it is better to have a bad year than a bad neighbour”. And I’m lucky, my neighbours are great people!