The practice of pottery craftsmanship on Sifnos has developed uninterrupted for over three centuries, and today constitutes a fundamental element of the island’s cultural identity, artistic creativity and touristic economy. Thanks to its industrious craftspeople, as well as favorable environmental and geographic conditions – rich clay deposits suitable for producing heat-resistant pots, access to fresh water through an extensive network of springs, and protected bays ideal for the direct loading and transportation of wares by caique – the island of Sifnos progressively became host to many of the most prolific and renowned pottery workshops in the Aegean. Today, the practice of pottery making continues, with over fifteen active workshops distributed throughout the island’s sheltered bays and inland villages.
In collaboration with the Sifnos Potters’ Union, the working group for the Sifnos Pottery Museum, the estate of Cosmas Xenakis and various regional archives, the Archipelago Network presents a newly digitized range of archival materials, including photographs, documents, films and musical recordings. A series of thirteen video portraits, concerning a corresponding number of active pottery workshops, present a panorama of the history and current activity of the island’s artisans. Finally, forthcoming interdisciplinary research in collaboration with curator Lydia Matthews (Parsons Fine Arts Program) and architectural historian Ioanna Theocharopoulou (Cornell University) explore the continued relevance of this craft tradition in the present day.
An array of photographs, documents and audiovisual artifacts sourced from various local workshops, regional archives and private collections, illustrate technical and symbolic knowledge accumulated over generations: techniques for locating and mixing clay, the types of tools used in various stages of the pottery-making process, the social and cultural life of potters, and a variety of unique objects and forms evolving in dialogue with technological and economic developments. A selection of these archival materials, presented below, is complemented by archival collections concerning individual workshops and collectors.
Cosmas Xenakis’s Crafts Collection
Cosmas Xenakis (1925-1984) studied at the Athens School of Fine Arts, the National Polytechnic University of Athens, and the CSTB research organization in Paris. As an artist, his work ranged from representational painting to geometric abstraction, performative arts and sculpture; as an architect, he realized awarded architectural designs in Greece and internationally.
He first resided in Sifnos in the mid 1960s, at a time when the production of functional ceramics had begun to wane due to the introduction of new materials and economic shifts. At that time, Xenakis began to collect cookware and tools, many given to him as donations from local pottery workshops. These objects, which comprise his Crafts Collection, provide invaluable material evidence of Sifnian pottery production at the advent of a shift in production and distribution methods. The collection has been loaned by the estate of Cosmas Xenakis to the Sifnos Potters’ Union, and comprises the core of the Sifnos Pottery Museum’s holdings. This selection of photographs, taken by French writer and sociologist Emmanuel Garrigues in 1982, showcases the Crafts Collection in its original configuration and context at Xenakis’s Sifnos residence.
In parallel to his collection activity on the island, Xenakis took care to meticulously document the objects and collection process itself in a notebook which included diagrams, sketches, notes and a partially realized documentation system for taxonomizing individual items within the collection. Each item was numbered, measured, and accompanied with detailed annotations concerning its workshop of origin, use, and former owner. Including categories such as “household use,” “agricultural use,” “construction materials,” and “maritime,” the classification system reflected Xenakis’s architectural and artistic background, while articulating the value of Sifnian pottery in relation to the island’s broader social and environmental concerns. As he declares in an open letter to the local “Sifnaiki Foni” newspaper in June 1982, asking Sifnians to contribute to his effort, “[the collection] will help us somehow preserve the historical testimony of this culture of the everyday.”
Video Portraits: Potters
Interweaving observational footage, archival materials and in-depth interviews, a series of thirteen video portraits depict the multigenerational histories and present activity of an equal number of active workshops on Sifnos island. A selection of the portraits is included below, while additional portraits are streamable via the Archipelago Network’s Vimeo page.
Potters included: Giannis Apostolidis, Giannis & Antonis Atsonios, Georgios Atsonios, Vasilis Depastas, Kostas Depastas, Giorgos Exylzes, Antonis K. Kalogirou, Antonis Z. Kalogirou, Nikos & Giannis Lembesis, Alexandros Lemonis, Frazeskos Lemonis, Giannis Narlis, and Giannis Podotas.
Lead researcher: Jacob Moe
Research support: Maria Komi, Asimina Grigoriou
Legal counsel: Marina Markellou
Documentation: Arxeion Taxis
Director: Jacob Moe
Photography: Aran Hughes & Christina Koutsospyrou
Editor: Yorgos Savoglou
Subtitling: Stefania Koutsoupia and Neaniko Plano
“Pottery of Sifnos” is a project supported by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and held under its auspices.
Thanks to Foteini Xenakis, Dimitris Xenakis, Christos Gartaganis, Zoe Keramea, Maria Nadali, Nicolas A. Vernicos, Yorgos Kyriakopoulos, Giannis Kontos, Sofia Katzilieri, Giorgos Stavrianos, Eleni Troullou, Andreas Psacharopoulos and other local partners that made this project possible in various ways.