Creating a cretan pot on Crete

You go on holiday for a break and of course rest and sunshine,but you end up being dragged round potteries.You have to feel sorry for potters wives and partners, don’t you ? They suffer your moods and ups and downs at home , then you find out the weather at home is just as good as where you are. Sorry love won’t do it again………

Ten years has passed since we last went to Crete, then we just relaxed and rested we didn’t see much really. So, this time we defied the urge to just chill and relax for the week. Our hire car had a very dodgy gear box, the cogs were in there somewhere, we found a few that would take us into the mountains.

But; no one mentioned the fact it was their bank holiday and no one was working, all the potteries were shut. Oh dear. We found one bloke at work and we scrounged some local clay from him, he wouldn’t accept payment we had to insist. Earlier on in the village of Thrapsano an old lady insisted we had cucumbers as a gift. A lovely gesture to strangers.

The church at Thapsano everything quite and shut.

The church at Thapsano everything quite and shut.



The visit was turned into a sight seeing ride. Later we visited an olive wood carving bloke that just happened to be a bar owner and server of baklava, ousoing with honey. He was very proud of his granddad who died at 106, the key to his longevity ? no smoking simple diet and working with his hands, a lesson for us all. After our burger and chips baklava and doughnuts we got into the car had a fag and drove down the mountain,vowing to live a simple life.

The thing we noticed with Crete was that they spelt the names of places, in many different ways, so trying to find a pottery village called Margaritas was quite hard, we eventually found it as Margarites. It was a lovely traditional village with many derelict houses, but there is beauty in decay. It was a bit for the tourists, but it did have a sleepy feel to it. We met a young couple running a pottery, who were English speakers, we talked about work, the Greek government had a system where you did 35 years and then you retired, but now all that has been scrapped due to the collapse, he said he would still be working until he was 106 . The ceramics were quite samey and very Greek, some of the stuff I liked, lots of it was for the tourists and a bit cheesy.

Margarites a really old village in the mountains,adapting to survive. Mainly selling to the tourist trade.

Margarites a really old village in the mountains,adapting to survive. Mainly selling to the tourist trade.

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On our last day of car hire we went back to Thrapanso and this time everybody was back at work, we went on a different route to get there, we were surprised by how green and verdant it was.

Thrapsano area is where they make huge garden pots called pithoi they were used for storage for many centuries and the method of making them is essentially the same as it’s always been just fired in a different way, now they have huge electric kilns, in the old days they would fire , using vine waste prunings and whatever else would burn. They had simple up draught kilns but I didn’t see any.

The base was thrown on a wooden bat transferred to simple revolving wheels, here they had big coils added to them they were thrown to a height then the potter would move onto the next one, building up to a certain height. They would then be transferred to a different wheel which were powered by hand, by offset handles. Gradually the pots were thrown, without the use of blowtorch or artificial heat the pots would dry enough to support the next weight of clay. The pots very light the local grey clay was very forgiving and fired red and tan colour. I had visions of the potter back in history kicking the wheel with his bare feet just like the modern one does.

Pithoi workshop, a very methodical system that follows an ancient rythmn

Pithoi workshop, a very methodical system that follows an ancient rythmn

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The pots made today are nearly all garden pithoi, when we left and drove to Knossos, there they were in the palace made more or less to the same design but in 2400 BC.

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Shame they were too big to take home but with a baggage allowance of 15 kilos all I could manage was a little version.

mini pithoi 4 inches high

mini pithoi 4 inches high



About timbartell

I was born in a flat in Lambeth the name of which was, Wedgewood house,China walk estate.I'd forgotten this until recently,it dawned on me the significance of the names after I had become interested in pottery/ceramics.I think of myself as a potter in the most practical sense,making pots for people to use.I have never had any formal training,I took it up when the table tennis class was full.My first flat was in the same road as a pottery centre, Elmwood pottery, the best in London, 18 sessions a week and a real community. I love my craft and bore everyone with it, so am grabbing this chance to bore more people via this blog.There may be the odd interesting item, here's hoping.
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