The Art of the Potter


Nikos Rodios POTTER
Skopelos, Greece

IN OVER thirty years of visits to Greece I had given up on seeing and finding any good pottery still being made. This year though was different, for the first time, (why not sooner I just don't know) we at last visited the Sporades Island of Skopelos. This beautiful unspoiled island with it's pine clad interior and wonderful white painted churches, 125 in Skopelos Town alone, is a real gem and a delight.
It was by pure chance that I came across a book in a news agents/bookshop "Gates of the Wind" by Michael Carroll. The book (recommended) is about Skopelos in the 60's written by Carroll who sailed the Sporades waters and found, after his maritime wanderings, a home in Panormos, a deep natural anchorage on the south of the island.
In the book is a short piece about a potter Nikos Rodios who was making fine pots and was highly regarded throughout Greece, this passage intrigued me as I had walked past a shop the previous evening named Rodios. I wondered if it could be one and the same Rodios as Carroll had written about in his book set some 40 years earlier.
Next day I returned to the shop which is situated on the road out of Skopelos Town, just a little way from the ferry landing section of the harbour. The shop, or really more a gallery, had many black burnished pots on display and looked promising. Upon asking the lady in the shop about Rodios pottery I was pleasantly surprised to find that she was in fact the wife of Niko Rodios, working potter and maker of the wonderful pots that I was looking at. Even better fortune was that his studio was just across the road.
Crossing the road to studio I found Niko burnishing a small bottle with a agate pebble and In the corner was a traditional kick-wheel which I later learned had been his father's. Niko is the third generation of his family to make pots. Like his grandfather and father he uses a local earthenware clay which he digs and refines. A fine slip is made from the clay which produces the black finish under reduction. This is pottery with deep roots, essentially following the same technique as the Ancient Greek Potters of Athens and Corinth in the 4th-5th BC.
The clay is thrown in quite a stiff condition with only the minimum water needed for lubrication, note the absence of a slop tray. After throwing, turning using a chuck is required to further refine and finish the piece. The forms that Nikos makes are based on some of the classical Ancient Greek forms, Kylix, (drinking cup) Lekythos (cultic jar for oil) Alabastron (perfume jar). What I like about Niko's work is that although he makes forms that are set firmly in the Ancient Greek repertoire he has, like his father, developed and taken the shapes further on. The vessel may be inspired by the aryballos for an example, but it is no longer confined solely to copying. The flask illustrated I think shows this very clearly.
After burnishing and slipping the pots are fired in a simple updraft kiln to a maturing temperature of 800ºC. Nikos fires about ten times a year.
The Rodios potters have been awarded many awards and medals for the pottery that they have, and continue to make. The walls of the gallery have many framed certificates from some of the great European Trade Expositions of the 30's and 40's. If you are lucky enough to visit Skopelos and are interested in seeing pottery of the highest quality then go and visit Nikos Rodios 'Potter', Skopelos, Greece.
Nikos throwing on his father's kick wheel.
Small burnished flask (after Arybellos form) by Nikos.
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Photography by David Binch
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