Forged in Fire: An Interview with Panos Valsamakis, Ceramicist
The Valsamakis family has been leaving its mark on the world of Greek pottery for three generations with its distinctive tradition of tile art. But how did this talented family get to where it is today? In an interview with Politismos, family head Panos Valsamakis describes his grandfather’s journey to ceramic mastery, and how it shaped their lives.
Q. How did you personally get your start working with ceramics?
Our workshop was established in 1960 by my grandfather and I am the third generation. The workshop was part of our house, so ceramic art came as something natural to me. I remember studying my homework in the workshop while my grandfather and my parents were making beautiful ceramics. After finishing homework I was learning the secrets of our technique. I and my sister are self-taught, I had the best teachers possible.
Q. So your grandfather is the one who started it all! Could you tell us about him?
My grandfather was born in 1897 at Aivali, an important financial and cultural center in Asia Minor. After the catastrophe of Asia Minor in 1922 he migrated to Marseilles, France where he studied art, painting, and finally ceramics. In 1930 he returned to Greece and until 1957 he worked as an art director in two big ceramics factories, Keramikos from 1930 till 1942 and AKEL from 1942 till 1957. He is considered to be the pioneer of modern ceramics in Greece since he combined with great success Greek folk art with modern art. You can find Greece in almost every ceramic we make, from ancient Greece to folk art and from hagiography to modern Greece.
Q. How would you say your Greek heritage influences your art?
In 1957 my grandfather with the help of his son Alexandros, who had already learned the secrets of the art of fire, founded his own workshop in Maroussi, a suburb of Athens, known for its ceramic workshops since ancient times. Two years later, a young girl joined the team and the workshop moved to its current location. In 1966 the young girl Aphrodite got married to Alexandros and here we are today, almost sixty years later keeping the flame of our workshop still burning. I guess it’s the structure of the Greek family and its heritage that helped our workshop go through all the difficulties and still produce high-quality ceramics.
Q. What does your art mean to you?
For me art means freedom. When I am in the workshop I feel liberated from all the trouble of everyday life, ready to have fun and make beautiful things. Since I am the third generation working in the workshop I also feel art is a bond. It connects me with my ancestors and at the same time, I am there to show the magic to my three children. Finally, art for me is a form of dialogue. Our workshop has always been a place where people from different classes or professions come to discuss various subjects. People like artists, architects, engineers, writers, immigrants from Minor Asia. I think nowadays, dialogue is essential for our society and I am very proud that we provide the space for dialogue to take place.
Want to see more of the Valsamakis family’s work? Check out their Etsy store here.