Monday, 27 July 2015

Stitching and Patching in Greece.

Anyone following my Facebook page lately will have noticed that I am a bit obsessed with the Greek Islands! This Spring I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in total on the beautiful Ionian Islands of Kefalonia and Zakynthos  This was my second visit to both islands, in fact my husband and I were married at the theatre in Argostoli, Kefalonia in 2005 so it was wonderful to return.

Since I have become interested in exploring the themes of strength through repair in my work, I really felt that I wanted to start on a project themed around the effects of the 1953 earthquakes on the Ionian Islands.   It took no time at all to find inspiration just from opening my eyes to the tiny details left on the landscape from ruined buildings and olive terraces that still sit amongst the indestructible trees.  Early in our stay on Kefalonia we took some lovely donkeys up into the hills above Sami  from the village of Grizata  guided by Katharina, owner of Donkey TrekkingKefalonia. Katharina's in laws are from Grizata and she showed us the remains of her Mother in Law's house and the white lilies she'd planted still growing in the garden there. I saw several more gardens with the same lilies as we explored over the fortnight, sad but beautiful reminders of the way of life that was lost.

Many of the themes I already explore in my work were fed here .  I try to express fragmentation and Sometimes letting the repair remain visible reminds us that the thing was fragile but will be much harder to break next time. This is true both physically and socially here, not only did the buildings shatter and fall but the people scattered too, out into the world to make the money to send back to the tiny remaining population so that they could rebuild their lives. Fragmented in one sense, but pulling so hard together in another.reassembly through my patchwork pieces and the comfort that results from putting something that was broken back together again. Things gain strength when they are repaired, like broken bones that thicken as they mend.

Post earthquake buildings on the Ionian Islands are now squat and resilient, no more than three storeys high and with deep foundations. Hunkered down and ready to take whatever nature throws at them, if they fall they will get back up. Duplications of the originals, repaired, rendered, painted and brand new again. I have every confidence that the Greek people will do the same in the aftermath of the current crisis they face as they have done so many times before.

So the work I am producing is once again utilising patchwork and I'm using colours and textures I've collected on my travels. The old is buttery cream walls, crumbling, bleached by the sun and revealing stone and render underneath.  Shutters and doors were green, now all peeling and faded to reveal  hardened grey wood under the paint.  Roofs were barrel tiled using traditional handmade, curved tiles rumoured to be shaped on the thigh of the maker...but probably not! Arranged first up then down and with a yellow ochre shade to them that would have been so bright once.  Grander buildings in the Venetian style remain preserved at Fiskardo and show off fancy iron balconies and shuttered windows floor to ceiling.

The new is smooth, plastered, and the colours are bright and warm.  Shades like the fruits on the market, mangos and peaches! Roof tiles now terracotta and in the imbrex and teqular roman style, doors and Windows now white and plastic.  Not so romantic, but durable and in keeping with the prefabricated, repetitive nature of building that has put these islands back together so successfully and provided their population with the opportunity to accommodate mass tourism and continue the ongoing process of repair.

The colours that are constant on the islands no matter what happens are and white, sea and sky. The exquisite blue lake at Melissani rediscovered in 1951 was revealed when the earthquake caused the roof to fall and allow the sun to stream in, like a big, blue eye opening from under the rocks.   The other constant that I am keen to thread through my work is the skills of the people, in particular the women of the islands.  Economics and progress drive away traditional craft from places everywhere in the world, so connecting myself to the needlewomen of the old life on the islands is really important. 

In Argostoli can be found The Harokopio Foundation, established in 1911 by Panagis Harokopos.   Regarded as unique in Greece,  the foundation began as a non profit organisation providing education and vocational training for unemployed women. The foundation is still active and concentrates on the preservation of the embroidery, lace and needlework tradition in Greece and more specific in Kefalonia through workshops and exhibitions.    

Unfortunately I discovered the Harokopio Foundation too late in my stay to actually visit but it’s first on my list for next time.  The Corgialeneion Historical and Folk Art Museum at Argostoli is a treasure trove of lace and needlework and several pieces of traditional cross stitch have really appealed  to me.   I have recreated the patterns and am including section in my patchwork pieces.

It's cold and damp in the UK today and I reckon some work inspired by the Ionian Islands might bring a bit of Greek sunshine to my afternoon while I wait for my next opportunity to return. 

Paula x

PS Many MANY thanks and more later about Karen Fozzard of Down the Rabbit Hole who has been a wonderful help in finding the museums of Argostoli and giving me a wonderful insight into how a lass from Wakefield is running a wonderful handmade business in Greece.  Thanks for the inspiration ♥ px

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