Marble-sculpting kept alive in fine arts school on Tinos

Kneeling before his latest project, 20-year-old apprentice sculptor Spyros Haralambopoulos faces no shortage of models at the Tinos School of Fine Arts. The son of a shepherd from the Peloponnese, Haralambopoulos is busy shaping the alarmingly realistic head of a marble goat. At the heart of the Cyclades group of islands in the southern Aegean Sea, Tinos lies between Syros, the economic capital of the archipelago, and tourism powerhouse Myconos. In a country where marble is heavily used in monuments, decoration and even street paving – and on an island with a centuries-old tradition of producing great sculptors – the school located in the village of Pirgos is the only one of its kind in Greece. Surrounded by copies of ancient Greek masterpieces, and crammed into a small hall no more than a hundred square meters in size, some 40 pupils are hard at work with sledgehammers, scrapers and chisels. Their equipment may be simple, but their prowess will one day lead them to tackle feats such as the restoration of the Acropolis, an ongoing juggernaut of a project that frequently employs the new generation of Greek sculptors. Pheidias himself (ca. 490-430 BC), supervisor of the Parthenon and its famous friezes, would have found it fitting that Tinos would be fielding marble experts to restore his life’s work on the Acropolis. According to school director Babis Kritikos, the legendary master actually passed through Tinos and gave lessons while on a journey to the neighboring island of Delos. Considered the birthplace of the ancient Greek sun god Apollo and of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, Delos was a sacred island. «It was forbidden for anyone to be born or to die on Delos,» Kritikos told AFP. Founded in 1955, the Tinos fine arts school receives an annual grant of 80,000 euros from the Ministry of Culture. The wealthy foundation of the Church of Our Lady of The Annunciation, a revered Greek Orthodox site visited by thousands of pilgrims every year, also provides an equivalent amount. From its location at Pirgos, the school is well placed to receive shipments of the high-quality white and gray marble that the quarries of Tinos still produce. But though renowned throughout Greece, the Tinos School of Fine Arts is currently working to capacity because of a lack of resources, says Kritikos. «We want to open up and accept more people,» he told AFP. «This year, we turned away 16 applicants. Conditions have changed in the past 50 years, but we want to pursue a tradition that produced the best Greek sculptors of the modern era.» The man popularly considered as the Greek Rodin, Tinos-born Yiannoulis Halepas (1851-1938) came from the village of Pirgos, as did Dimitrios Philipotis, another important Greek sculptor, whose work adorns squares, public gardens and the prestigious Athens First Cemetery. Supervised by Kritikos, a former Cesar pupil at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris during the ’70s and a veteran of the restoration of the Louvre’s Cour Carree, first-year pupils spend their morning carving and familiarizing themselves with the marble. Second-year students carve small statues, while more experienced students work on producing masterpiece copies. In the afternoon, the pupils take classes in design, painting, architecture, clay and plaster work, and art history in a picturesque 19th century building perched atop the village. At the end of the course, the two best students are directly admitted to the Athens School of Fine Arts without a contest. A Museum of Marble, financed by the European Union and private funds, is scheduled to open near the Tinos school in December.

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