“The Minoans. Very smart people,” the guard told me, tapping her index finger on her temple. She had just explained to me (without my asking, by the way… she was that enthusiastic and had walked over on her own to explain) the purpose of a raised ridge near the lip of a large pithoi storage jar at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum. The ridge was wide enough to hold a small bit of liquid. Why? To keep ants and other insects from reaching the grain, wine, olives, olive oil, or whatever else was stored inside. Yes, that’s innovative. But that’s the Minoans.
So even though we’ve been amazed at the age of the monuments and temples at Mycenae,Delphi,Athens, and Olympia, none of these are as ancient as Knossos and the greater Minoan culture.
“Knossos, the capital city of the Minoan world, is the most important site in Crete and second only to the Acropolis at Athens in all of Greece. It stands as the symbol of the Minoan Civilization, the earliest to evolve in Greece and Europe. “– Dr. Antonis Vasilakis
The introduction continues:
“Knossos is five kilometers southeast of Heraklion, on the hill of Kephala, and west of the river Kairatos. This advantageous location, which controlled one of the most fertile regions in Crete, was to become the heart of the Minoan civilization, considered to be the first in Europe. The hill of Kephala, inhabited continuously since 7000 BC, was the site of the first Neolithic settlement in Crete and over the millennia it grew into the powerful city and palace of Minoan Knossos.” — George Tzorakis, archaeologist
If you’re like me, the Minoan culture has always been a familiar term, but I’ve never really understood it or been able to recognize its art. Sure, my husband has always admired the Minoans, and has even used Minoan art and pottery to inspire his work, but I’ve never been able on my own to intelligently discuss the Minoans.
But after touring Knossos, I know a little more. Spending two and-a-half hours at the site and another two hours in the Heraklion Archaeological Museum yesterday has given me a better understanding about not only this culture, but others that either occurred later or were influenced by it.
Like other Greek archaeological sites, tickets for Knossos were 16€ and included both the site and the museum. The tickets were valid for two days. That means you have all the time you need to tour.
Thanks for reading! This is the fifth archaeological site we’ve visited during our Greek travels this summer. Follow my blog for more stories from our trip.
Yes, you can call Nikos Rodios a Greek pottery legend, but you can also call him the juggler of Skopelos. When we arrived at his studio Saturday morning in Skopelos Town, Rodios was waiting for a large bowl to dry on his “extra” potters wheel. (He uses a traditional kickwheel for the majority of his work. ) The bowl was slowly acquiring the malleability needed to remove it from the wheel without collapsing. It wouldn’t be long. The mild Aegean breeze flowing through the open doors of the studio would see to that.
At the same time, Rodios was also polishing and finishing a load of pottery that had been unloaded earlier from his brick kiln (it burns olive tree wood) that stands just outside the door behind his studio. The pieces were arranged on a counter… an assortment of vases, animal figures, and bowls. And then some visitors walked in: us. See what I mean when I use the term juggler?
But juggling is the nature of ceramics… it’s a busy, start-and-stop process that requires both flexibility in one’s routine, and a keen eye for scheduling and working a medium that waits for no one and simultaneously takes its own time. The Rodios family knows this routine very well.
Our visit had been arranged by Jill Somer, associate director of the island’s Skopelos Foundation for the Arts, also known as Skopart. Somer interpreted conversations about techniques, clay bodies, and terra sigilattas (slip-like liquids) between Rodios and my husband, Mitch, who is serving an artist’s residency at Skopart.
Rodios and Mitch are each testing the practicability of using terra sigillatas with both Skopart’s red earthenware clay, which Mitch is using during his residency, and Rodios’ proprietary claybody.
Fans of ceramics in general and contemporary Greek pottery in particular revere Nikos Rodios for carrying on a tradition begun by his grandfather, Nikolaos Rodios. In the early 1900s, Nikolaos focused on producing decorative forms reminiscent of classical Greek pottery.
At the same time, he desired that his work feature a permanent, bold black surface. After experimenting to find the precise combination of clay bodies, colorants, and firing temperatures—potters are chemists in disguise, if you didn’t know—Nikolaos was awarded a patent for his technique in 1930. You can view the patent certificate, assigned the number 2981, on display in the workshop.
As the years continued, Nikolaos passed the family secret to his son, who in turn passed it down to today’s Nikos Rodios.
After we spent a short while admiring Rodios’ newly fired pottery, he led us to a large wooden display case hanging on another wall.
It contains a diverse collection of pottery made by the previous two generations of Rodios. Vases of all heights are on display. Some are short and bulbous, others are elongated and elegant. Each alludes to classical Greek forms.
It’s humbling to witness the current members of a family respect the hard work and innovation accomplished by their ancestors. It’s also gratifying to know that the next generation, Nikos’ daughter Magda, is building on the legacy left to her.
At a workbench near the sunny back window, Magda helped her father polish some of the items from the kiln. She adds her own creative flair to the family business with bright, colorful earthenware mugs, serving pieces, jewelry, and decor items.
After greetings us, Magda took a break from her work to retrieve a plastic water bottle that she had filled recently with a mixture of water and a local black clay. She explained that she hopes the mixture will someday soon yield an interesting clay. She brushed a bit of it onto a pottery shard. The watery part of the mixture instantly soaked into the shard and left a gritty residue on the surface.
Who knows? With time and attention, the sludgy, gritty solution may indeed transform itself into a native Skopelos clay.
We then walked across the street to the pottery shop that bears the Rodios name. The shop carries a wide variety of both decorative and functional ware, from wall hangings to coffee mugs and jewelry.
Inside, Maria, Rodios’ wife greeted us and spoke briefly with her husband about the wares he had carried over from his studio. He added a few pieces to the stone-and-glass shelving units, and agreed to motor over to Skopart in a few days for a quick visit with Jill and the artists working there (students from Gulf Coast State College, painter Victoria Phillips from Macon, Georgia, and Mitch).
Then he said his goodbyes and sauntered back to his studio across the street. He had some more juggling to do.
Thanks for reading! Click “like” if you found this interesting and click “follow” for daily posts from our “workation” in Greece. After the residency concludes, we’ll be continuing our visit on the mainland and south to Crete (we think).
This is a photo of a kiln shelf. It’s a one-inch thick, 12-pound shelf made primarily of mullite high-alumina clay that will withstand the 2,350+ degrees (F) of a gas-fired kiln. The shelf holds pottery and other items that are ready for their second and final firing. In the photo, the brown “paint” is actually kiln wash that I painted onto the bare spots of about 20 kiln shelves today. After firing, it will appear white as shown in the photo. Without this kiln wash, the glaze on the pottery would adhere to the shelf during firing and then likely chip from the pot as it is removed from the shelf after the firing. I say likely because before you set pots into the kiln, you must sponge off the excess glaze that lingers on the foots of bowls, plates, cups, vases. However, occasionally, a small drop or drip or smear of glaze escapes the sponge and necessitates applying kiln wash to the shelves.
I’m a middle school language arts teacher, but during the summers I often find myself back in my husband’s ceramic art studio, doing some of the unglamorous tasks involved with, but absolutely critical to, the making of ceramic pottery, sculpture, and the like. Many think that “making pottery” primarily involves that spinning thing (the potter’s wheel) and paint (glaze), and clay. However, the behind-the-scenes work of a potter is much more mundane, complex — and more quietly beautiful, even — than those moments that some readers may recall from the movie Ghost.