The Lefkes Ceramic Workshop is not just about handmade and handcrafted pottery - it is about a philosophy. Located on the main road and accessed from both sides of the U-turn at the bus stop in Lefkes, it is adjacent to the Municipal parking and is surrounded by fruit trees and flowers. This workshop and showroom has been providing Paros and ceramic art lovers traditional pottery, paintings and icons for the last 50 years.
Kostas Fifas, owner and veritable one-man-show at the pottery, says "It's about taking the time and care one needs to create consistently beautiful and functional traditional objects."
Kostas is no stranger to custom and tradition. This first modern Parian pottery was founded in 1951 by Kostas' late artisan aunt (Virginia Fifa Kydonias who died just last year) and uncle (Yiannis Kydonias). Together they invented what has now become the hallmark of Lefkian Pottery - the workshop's unique crackle glaze. This is a special bonding and glazing technique that allows the artist to paint freely on ceramic supports. The finished product renders a handsome crackled texture that reveals effects of line, depth and colour which are virtually unobtainable in any other medium.
When asked about the 'secret' of crackle glaze, Kostas explains what 'traditional' means in Greek. 'Paradosiako" literally means "word of mouth". He means that the secret formula has been passed on from one generation to the next. He explains, with a smile, "It is tradition that keeps pottery alive."
"The potter's art is essentially a continuous thread flowing from ancient prehistoric ceramic work to the modern pottery that we see today. It is ceramics that have woven the fabric of the people's history, each epoch enriched because of its ceramic contribution. In pottery one sees the proliferation of symbols and myths, with their stylistic similarities and differences. It is this that inspires the imagination to go beyond ordinary reality, as if in a dream - or a visual poem, if you like." This is how symbology and mythology survive and are reborn today.
Kostas, who first attended art school in Tinos in the mid 1970's and later came under the tutelage of his creative aunt and uncle says that one must study for years with another master craftsman (or craftswoman) to learn all of the subtleties and nuance of their art.
"This is no simple process, but a long and necessary one. In order to achieve the essential aesthetic freedom from this art form, one must be aware of the presence or absence of line and of colour that provides for an infinite variety. It also requires an astute sense of geometry, decoration and design. The final product is always dictated by the methods of production."
This appears evident in the work of this pottery painter. He masterfully uses the elements of earth and fire to combine and unify vessel and painting. His designs suggest the vessel's curves, whilst artfully enhancing them. The result produces a subtle harmony. Kostas says that it is his attention to line and movement, suggested or depicted, which influences the overall artistic integrity of each work.
"In this manner the master potter exercises and improves style and technique. I enjoy the entire creative process. It also means that I am able to maintain consistent quality and creative control using traditional techniques and this is a large part of my inspiration."
Indeed, it is exactly this quality that has made Lefkes Ceramic Workshop a vital and important part of Parian life for the last 50 years. There is no frantic pace here. The ambience of the workshop and Kostas' easy and quiet style suggest something anachronistic, something of a bygone era. A refreshing breath of something good and wholesome from the last century.
Kostas will gladly reproduce any of the works from the Workshop's long history and will execute original works on request. You can reach him at 02840-43255 or go and take a stroll through Lefkes, visit the workshop and a piece of Parian history where tradition lives on. Current store hours are from 11-11pm. However, late September hours will be posted.
Anything else? "Yes", says Kostas, "those are pistachio trees in front of the workshop doors."
You can also see a small selection of Kostas' work at Bit of Salt Surf Shop and view permanent collections at the National Bank, Lefkes Museum and Golden Beach Hotel.