A museum helps document history of Greek ceramics

One of the most vibrant crafts of this country is gradually fading as mass production and new techniques are superseding the more traditional ones. Pottery made in the old way is now produced in limited numbers and many of the small-unit pottery workshops have closed down. Although ceramics production in Greece is not known for refined or luxurious porcelain but was more of a folk, rural art that, moreover, served a chiefly utilitarian purpose, it was a widely practiced craft that produced distinctive local styles and a rich variety of shapes and decorative motifs. Their study can offer valuable insight into the cultural history of the country and its economy. This kind of research is being conducted at a small and charming museum-research center right in the heart of Athens’s historical center. The so-called Museum of Traditional Pottery – Center for the Study of Traditional Pottery was founded in 1987 by Betty Psaropoulos, a collector of Greek ceramics, with the objective of documenting and promoting Greek traditional pottery. Originally housed in Plaka, it moved to an elegant old Athenian house close to the Kerameikos area, with its own internal courtyard and impressive painted ceilings, different in each room. The home of a merchant during the late 19th century, the building was handed down by the proprietor’s family to the Greek Ministry of Culture. The museum owns 6,000 holdings which it presents in rotating, temporary exhibitions. The museum’s permanent exhibition areas are structured as reproductions of actual ceramics workshops and include detailed panels, photographs as well as audiovisual material – there are even specimens of different kinds of clay – that explain the techniques used in each workshop and the kind of pottery that each produced: The pottery workshops that were not based on the use of a wheel were mostly located in the Messenian Gulf and produced large vessels decorated with concentric rings which were destined for the storage of oil. There are also workshops with the foot-operated wheel and the outdoor pottery workshops found only in Crete which were based on the use of a hand-operated wheel. Besides the thorough presentation of each technique, the visitor also finds useful information on the styles of Greek pottery, the use of ceramics in traditional customs and the ways in which they reflect the country’s changing economy and society. This educational aspect is a strong feature of the museum. It reflects the research conducted by the museum’s staff into the history, techniques and style of Greek ceramics. The publications and documentaries produced by the museum make this research known to the public. It also continues the museum’s chief objective of preserving one of Greece’s strongest areas of traditional craftsmanship.