Half of Greeks live in Greater Athens. Nevertheless, when you travel about Greece you occasionally come across creative centres of culture that are as good or better than anything the choked metropolis has to offer: Studio Yria is one of those. We on Paros tend to take for granted that work at such a high level is routinely produced here. It is only when we travel that we realise what we have - and have had for a quarter of a century.
Studio Yria is a pottery, but not just a pottery. Rather, it is closer to a Renaissance bottega, in that it turns out house design, book design, weaving, gathered and packaged herbs, painting, furnishings, and more. In addition to its useful pottery vessels, clay is turned into tiles, ceramic sculpture, house fixtures of various kinds, and decorative ware. Resident artisans add jewellery and marble carvings to its repertoire of beautiful products.
And so Studio Yria is an exciting place. Yria is a legendary pre-classical name of Paros (subsequently much copied by newer establishments here); it is apt that it sounds new, yet is deeply traditional. When Yria opened, there was hardly a traditional craft left on Paros, where the ruins of old kilns are not uncommon, where translucent carved marbles flash in walls and fields, whose Church of a Hundred Doors is perhaps Greeces oldest. Studio Yria is at the start of the craft revival that has been such a positive development of the last two decades, on Paros as in all of Greece.
The Studio is run by Stelios Ghikas and Monique Mailloux, who are partners in work and in life. Stelios, born and raised on Paros, remembers admiring the stonemasons who expertly laid flagstones without cement and built graceful arches of stone. He recalls the pride-in-craft of coopers, wheelwrights, boatwrights, ploughwrights, tinsmiths, blacksmiths. He recollects monks painting icons at Paros Longovarda monastery and the ancient objects the farmers turned up while ploughing their fields. The only Parian of his generation to acquire an education in art - higher education was expensive - after some years of study at Athens Doxiades Institute, he went to Faenza, where he earned his degree as a designer in a variety of media. Monique, an American of French Canadian background, earned her BFA with a specialty in ceramics from Franconia College, and has had many exhibitions.
While studying at Paros Aegean Center, she met Stelios, they married, and opened Yria in a little back room in Paroikia. Their risky venture flourished, and they have been able to build, expand, train assistants, sponsor exhibitions, and much else. They have also built one of Paros most beautiful houses, which has been written up, as has Studio Yria itself, in a number of magazines. The shop is a copy of the cafeneion in Lefkes main square, which Stelios restored.
The chief product of Studio Yria is functional pottery. Both Stelios and Monique design and throw pots. He paints them, she glazes them. The designs are traditional but not copies. Classical, Byzantine, and Cycladic motifs provide the main inspiration, but you never know what Studio Yria will come up with. Although they still make their early popular design -the blue octopus plate - designs change all the time.
Their business is international - Prince Charles has given them a commission - but we locals get to go up to their shop in Kostos and see the craftsmen at work, admire the view and the garden, and buy what feels right to the hand. If you want something authentic, creative, and beautiful, you are on your way.