This week we’re traveling in search of iconic Cretan experts and brands to include in our first issue of Keftiu Magazine. We’re touching base with our friends in archeology, the arts, marketing, and social figures to preserve culture and tradition. Today, I want to reintroduce two extraordinary talents from Keramion in the small but famous village in Crete’s Rethymno Prefecture.
Side projects involving Minoan ceramics led us back to Margarites Village and the magnificent pottery workshop of Giorgis and Mariniki Dalamvelas. We first discovered this traveling with a group of friends dedicated to the study of Minoan civilization. The village is famous as a pottery hub since early Minoan times, and the workshop Keramion sits at the center of this culture. The moment you step inside the doorframe of this beautiful building, you’re visually and spiritually impacted by the stunning colors, textures, and shapes before you.
The workshop is almost as stunning as the brilliant pottery art filling the shelves and tables of the place. For me, the light playing off the traditional vessels, pots, vases, and pithoi reminds me of something in a distant memory only with modernity and practical sense. Dreamy is better terminology. This combination of ancient technique and beauty is what drew us to the shop on this visit. I need to create a unique memento or symbol for a demographic of people who will appreciate the quest for perfection. Minoan perfection. And the two artists at this famous ceramic shop are perhaps the only people in the world who can help.
Giorgis did not remember us from our visit before. But this is natural since it’s been a couple of years and a few thousand customers in between. As we suspected, though, the answer to our Minoan vision flows effortlessly from his and his wife’s fingertips. My original concept for a Minoan presentation piece led me to Thrapsano, another famous Cretan pottery village closer to the source of our mission, the Minoan Palace at Galatas. But the fates did not locate Thrapsano artisans near to clay (shale) conducive to the kind of vessels Keramion can make. We needed a vessel that olive oil and wine connoisseurs can use and reuse, tied inextricably to legendary Cretan terroir and Minoan fabulousness. So, armed with the examples sent by my amazing friend Dr. Kostis Christakis, the curator of Knossos and one of the world’s foremost experts on all things Minoan, my Cretan mission now seems all the more probable.
But wait, my wife, Mihaela, is in my ear chastizing me again; “You cannot expect people to see the dream in your head. You must complete the dream so they can touch it,” she’s saying.
So, the purpose of this story is not about implanting a dream of resurrection in your head. This story is about an even more critical treasure, two more Cretans exemplifying how excellence is born. Another voice echoes in my brain now, saying, “Only individuals can create real excellence, Phil.” Aha! Stellios, the man who talks to his olive trees, creeps into a feature story about reproducers of Minoan art ideas. Sorry, I wax philosophically. Blame Crete. This is what the island does to you.
This is what the local shale, the natural pigments, the wood-fired kiln, and the purity of decoration this ceramic workshop creates do in the mind’s eye. For me, Giorgis’ and Mariniki’s Minoan creations reveal what might have happened had Thera never erupted. If the fantastic Minoans had flourished until now, I have the feeling their pottery making would never have changed.
The process is simple but unique in a modern world. Keramion fires this pottery for 12 hours from morning until sunset, the pottery is taken to 1000°C, to next undergo a reduction process, the removal of oxygen, and the taking advantage of the fire to create one-of colors for each piece. The potters finish by submerging the wares in water for a day to make them stronger. Next, the polishing and decorating take place under the precise hand of Mariniki. It’s the same technique, using the same tools, that a Minoan craftsperson would have employed 5,000 years ago.
What I love is the unchanged perfection of the whole process. I love the demonstrably perfect nature of the end product. Today, I hold in my hand an item that imbues each person I hand it to with a personal sense of what “it” is. My son Paul noticed the texture, taking note of how the vessel felt like wood. As for Mihaela, when I asked her to hold it, she immediately said “bounty,” it instantly gives me the sense of fertility or bountiful wealth. The shop owner Stellios was in a horrible mood when I handed it to him. The feel of it made him smile, instantly, as he said “nice,” which from him means extraordinary.
And now, maybe I have opened a window into my brain and my heart! Can you imagine an empire built upon perfection! What if Keftiu inspired the tale of Atlantis not literally, but because of a reverberating resonance through time, on the trail of heaven, Eden, or that which we somehow know we can become? Oh, sorry. Crete is at it again. I am stopping typing for a second to grasp a beautiful little jug, to see why I chose it above hundreds of others. Oh my, it’s perfect! The modern remake of a 4,000-year-old household item, there’s nothing I would change. You want to hold it, don’t you?