A former warehouse in central Rethymnon is home to The Centre for Cretan Popular Arts, and the organization which steers it, called the Association of Artists and Craftspeople of Rethymnon, or simply ‘The Creators’.
The term ‘popular arts’, or ‘laikes texnes’ can also be translated as folk art, but this term would not give a full picture, so to speak, of the wide range of styles and subject matter on view at this eclectic show.
The Association is a much-needed umbrella organisation for the 150 or so artists and makers who have so far joined it. We find instrument-makers and wood sculptors, weavers and painters of fine art, exhibiting alongside many other creators of both traditional and contemporary art. Interestingly we also see an emerging trend toward mixing and harmonising these styles in a dynamic new context; the changes in Crete itself.
This experimentation has already been well documented within the circles of Cretan music, and has led to much debate, but similar convergence in the arts is less talked-about. Perhaps it is too early to talk bravely about a new Cretan Style in the art world, perhaps not. It is now a matter of keeping an eye on developments. The distinction between arts and crafts, as much as that between traditional and modern, and masculine and feminine disciplines, has become so blurred at the edges that I will refer to all exhibitors henceforth as artists, which is certainly a true description.
The exhibition here described is now finished, but the centre is still well worth a visit, as many items are on permanent display. There is always the chance to get involved, perhaps as an exhibiting artist or craftsperson. Additionally, a visit to the Centre will be rewarding for anyone wishing to learn the skills of making many of the objects we can see. Workshops, seminars and courses are held in making woven fabrics on traditional looms, wood-carving, book-binding and pottery, among several other disciplines. With artists’ contact details available at the centre, it may also be a good source of ‘networking’ among creative people. We were told that many foreigners have enrolled for courses. Unsurprising, as Crete attracts its share of artistic souls and dreamers. It’s a good way to improve your Greek language, also.
Upon entering a handsome old building, we saw immediately the wooden looms used for teaching the quintessential Cretan handicraft, weaving. Many finished pieces of the work can still be seen, on permanent display. Every home should have an example of this beautiful style. You can usually recognize a Cretan design; a thick weave of strong, not gaudy, colours, arranged in geometric straight lines and shapes, often in a repeated sequence around the border. The results come in various sizes, always rectangular, with a protective cotton sheet sewn into the back.
They are used mostly as wall-hangings and are prized for both intricacy and bold use of colour and design. Quite a few, however, lay semi-forgotten in Cretan homes, perhaps a fragment of mothers’ or grandmothers’ dowry, or prika. There is a clear distinction between the hand-made article and something from a factory, of course. The older generation who are still the main producers, are passing on their skills to interested newcomers, who, in turn, teach, as well as test new ideas, new colours and shapes within traditional boundaries, for example using wholly natural dyes, made from plants. In another corner of the exhibition, examples of pyrography, a craft dating from ancient times, is receiving fresh attention. This involves various methods of burning images into wood (pyrography). The results here are naïve, but vital and full of graphic interest.
Article by Louis Tracy – Photography by Yannis Samatas