“Get bored? Never! In fact, these days I’ve been so busy with the exhibition that I haven’t had time to make any constructions and I miss it,” says mechanical engineer and model ship builder Dimitris Maras, who over the past 45 years has built Greece’s biggest collection of ship miniatures, with 150 precise wooden replicas of vessels used in the Aegean and Mediterranean from antiquity to the early 20th century.
Forty of these models are currently on display at the Herakleidon Museum in Thiseio, central Athens, until May, as part of “Voyage,” an exhibition that focuses on the history of Greek shipbuilding and seafaring from ancient to modern times.
“I’ve loved buildings things for as long as I can remember,” says the 65-year-old. “With very few means, I would build my own toys, cars with wire, balls and skates. I have also always loved the sea and wooden ships more than anything else. I wanted to be a captain when I was a kid.”
Maras started building ship models when he was 20, fascinated by others who had excelled in the craft and by the detail that went into the work. He started with simple constructions before moving on to more sophisticated kits. Eventually, he developed his skills enough to take on the hardest models that were available on the international market – like the Swedish galleon Wasa, the Royal Navy warship Sovereign of the Seas, the Soleil Royal, named in honor of Louis XIV, the HMS Victory, USS Constitution and Amerigo Vespucci – but after conquering these, he felt there was nowhere left to go.
“That’s when I started to take an interest in Greek ships, but there was nothing in the stores to help me and the bibliography on the issue was extremely limited,” says Maras. “So I started visiting boatyards in Thessaloniki, Ierissos, Kavala, Skiathos, Lesvos and other places, talking with ship carpenters and collecting information. I bought all the carpentry tools and machines I would need and made my first small sailboat on the drawings given to me by a ship carpenter.”
Maras was committed to constructing his models according to the traditional techniques and using authentic materials, regardless of how much more time and money it would take. The key material in his models is high-quality pine, which, however, is hard to come by and hard to treat.
“The ancients went about building ships in reverse to modern methods. First they’d build the hull and then add the ribs,” he explains, adding that he even sews all the sails himself in the traditional manner.
With time, Maras built every ship for which he could find designs, and when these dried up, he started traveling again.
“I got the design for the frigate Elli from America. The model took me a year to complete, working eight hours a day. I found the designs for the steam frigate Karteria in the UK, while for many of the hulls of the smaller vessels, I studied designs in Italy. I also drew a lot of information from paintings by folk artists as Greek shipowners were in the habit of having detailed paintings done of their vessels,” says Maras.
His attention to detail and accuracy have resulted in a collection like no other and led to many invitations to exhibit it both in Greece and abroad.
“It’s difficult because the cost is quite significant. For example, you need to build special crates to transport the models in and special display cases as well,” says Maras.
For the time being fans of model-making and maritime history can see some of the jewels of his impressive collection in Athens.
“I never imagined I would get this far,” says Maras. “I am very pleased.”
Herakleidon, 16 Irakleidon, Thiseio, tel 210.346.1981, www.herakleidon-art.gr