Artist and wax museum founder reveals Zoniana village’s more cultured side

While images of hooded police officers uprooting cannabis crops appeared on television, sculptor Dionysis Potamianos was telling Kathimerini about his creation, a waxwork museum in Zoniana. Potanianos, 78, and his wife Georgia founded the museum, which contains 104 life-sized wax figures. The wax likenesses depict late Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos, novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, El Greco and other characters and historic moments that played their part in Cretan history. Negative images in the media of the police operation in Zoniana will have catastrophic repercussions on tourism in general and on the museum, Potamianos told Kathimerini. «Neither the museum nor the village will get visitors next season. Zoniana has about 1,600 inhabitants, most of whom suffer from thinking they can do what they want because they don’t understand the role of the state,» he explained. «When people visit the museum, the entire district benefits. I remember one day when we opened, we sold 65,000 drachmas’ (190 euros’) worth of tickets. A woman who has a bakery near here came and thanked us because the visitors to the museum had brought her a great turnover that day.» Originally from Athens, Potamianos spends most of his time in Zoniana. He decided to settle in Oreinos Mylopotamos because his wife comes from there and because he couldn’t find a site for his museum anywhere else. «I’d tried everywhere in Attica but was knocked back. Then I wasted three years negotiating with the Iraklion Museum. Meanwhile, I had sent three letters, to the villages of Anogeia, Zoniana and Livadia. I was so disappointed that I was ready to burn all my waxworks in the main square of Iraklion when I got an answer from Zoniana. They had found an old sheepfold of 1,000 square meters which could be adapted to house the museum.» The artist presents a very different image of the village that has been so much in the news lately. «When we came here,» he said, «the village didn’t even have an English-language tuition college, and my wife took the initiative of bringing in a teacher to give the children lessons. And when my health permitted, I used to teach drawing to around 15 kids.» «I bought them all the equipment, and I used to give them chocolates and other sweets to tempt them to the lessons. They loved it and some of them could have been good at it but they couldn’t continue with the lessons. They are very bright children and they could have done very well if they had kept it up but the provinces don’t offer such opportunities. Most of their parents are stock farmers and they lead such difficult lives. «Some of them go up the mountains to tend the sheep and only come down to the village once a month. Most of the older inhabitants haven’t even completed primary school. When I go to the cafe they ask me to read the newspaper to them, and I get upset. Tears come to my eyes as I wonder if this is the kind of Greece we want. «Either we offer practical support to the provinces, or we’ll have events like what you saw today on television,» Dionysis Potamianos concluded.