Looking and drawing, listening and writing, exploring the world and giving back to it…by two architects at sea. You can email me

LESVOS: GRAFITTI

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Lesvos, was different from most other islands that we visited in the Eastern Aegean.  It’s the third largest of the Greek Islands, with an economy based more on agriculture than tourism.  In Mytillini, the main port, we found graffiti everywhere.

Why Lesvos?  Perhaps because the island is home to the University of the Aegean.  The economic situation has always been on our minds and part of most conversations as we travelled through Greece last fall and this spring, but the troubles seemed especially present here and now.  The unemployment rate for young people in Greece had reached an unimaginable 62% by the spring of 2013.  Imagine the sense of hopelessness and rage that students and others must feel, saddled with the impact of decisions made by the government of their parents and grandparents.

Perhaps because Turkey, with its own economic and political problems, is just a few miles offshore.  In Lesvos and Lemnos to the north, the Harbor Police scrutinized our crew lists and insisted on being informed of our precise time for departure.  In both ports, we saw groups of Syrian refugees, who venture into Greek waters—often in small boats—to gain the few weeks of asylum that EU protocols grant them.

And there seems to be a tradition in Lesvos of leaving one’s mark.  We lunched at a local tavern with an interior covered from floor to ceiling with inky messages from its patrons.

In the alleys of Mytilini, we were struck by the magic of the sprawling, brightly-colored commentary, their energy and dark humor.  It seemed like they grew out of their surroundings.  But it was not the last time that we saw graffiti.  And by the time we reached Thessaloniki a week later, and found messages scrawled on public artwork and throughout new public parks, the romance had dimmed—though sympathy for the economic struggles remained.

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http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/05/europes-record-youth-unemployment-the-scariest-graph-in-the-world-just-got-scarier/276423/

CHIOS: BLACK AND WHITE

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The mastic gum that was the most valuable export of Chios is grown in seven villages on the south part of the island.  The trade began in Roman times, but these enclaves—Mesta, Pyrgi, Olympi, Kalamoti, Vessa, Lithi and Elata—were largely constructed between the 14th and 16th centuries.  Their encircling walls, fortified gates and narrow, winding streets were designed to protect the inhabitants and their valuables against frequent pirate raids.

The island was ruled by the Genovese between 1261 and 1566, so it is no surprise that the urban forms recall Italian hill towns.  Many of the buildings are covered with black-and-white decoration called xysta in GreekThough the origins are unclear, the technique is the same as sgrafitto, the Italian method of applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors, scraping away the top layer to reveal the color below.  The geometric and floral designs must have been equally appealing to the Ottomans who wrested control of the island from the Genovese.  The patterning is distinct from the simple whitewash coverings of typical Greek island chora, and many believe that the sources of the designs are indeed Turkish.

The village of Pyrgi has the largest number of buildings decorated with xysta.  We wandered through the close streets in search of espresso and wifi, delighting in the scenes around every corner. The exuberant patterning covers both historic buildings and those that clearly date from after World War II.  The more recent examples reminded us of Czech Modernist structures, and the universality of many forms of decoration across time and place.  Regretfully, the tradition is in danger of dying  out with generation of the craftsmen who last practiced it.  Hopefuly, preservation of the historic villages—and the growing importance of tourism—will begin to reverse that trend.

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Charoula Stathopoulou, “Exploring Informal Mathematics of Craftsmen in the Designing Tradition of ‘Xysta’ at Pyrgi of Chios,” Journal For the Learning of Mathematics

Vol. 26, No. 3 (Nov., 2006), pp. 9-14

http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40248541?uid=3738128&uid=2129&uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=21102050667603

MONASTERY OF NEA MONI, CHIOS

Nea Moni is perched in the mountains 1000 feet above the sea and the harbor of Chios.  Sunlight illuminates tableaux of stairs and monks’ cells, iris and wildflowers glimpsed through crumbling arches.   The slow tick-tick-tick of a tall case clock in the sanctuary echoes through intimate vaulted spaces, and tall cedars within the high walls breathe quietly in the wind, whispering of death and destruction. 

The site was established in 1042-1054 by Emperor Constantine Monomachos and Empress Zoe.  It reached its golden age over the next two centuries, when land grants and other privileges made it one of the richest religious communities in the Aegean, supporting as many as 800 monks.  The sanctuary at the heart of the complex has a cross-in-square plan and octagonal dome, which likely served as the model for other churches throughout the Aegean.   Its “superb marble works as well as mosaics on a gold background,” emblematic of Byzantine art, helped earn it listing as a World Heritage Site. 

After the fall of the Byzantine Empire in the mid-15th century, the island and the monastery remained relatively autonomous.  Their status reflected the importance to Ottoman trade of mastic, a sap used for food, medicine and cosmetics and harvested from trees grown only on the island.  All changed in 1822, when Greeks from nearby Samos arrived and incited local citizens to attack the Turks as part of the Greek War of Independence. 

Retaliation was swift and brutal.  On Good Friday, nearly three quarters of the island’s population of about 118,00 were killed or enslaved.  At Nea Moni, 600 monks and 3500 women and children took refuge.  All were slaughtered, and the church buildings were plundered.  The massacre provoked outrage throughout Europe, inspiring the famous painting by Eugene Delacroix, now at the Louvre, and garnering support for the Greek cause that ultimately led to victory.

The ruined church and outbuildings collapsed during an earthquake in 1881. Converted to a convent in 1950’s, the site is now occupied by just a few nuns.  It was nominated with the monasteries of Daphni and Hosios Loukas to the World Heritage list in 1990, and restoration of key elements, as well as archeology to uncover older areas, is underway.  A museum on the site offers glimpses of its former glory, though none of the objects on view are actually from the site.

In the Chapel of the Holy Cross, close by the gates of the precinct, a glass case of skulls and bones offers a grim monument to the victims of the Massacre.  Inside the katholikon of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, the squashed and deformed vaults and the fragments of mosaic and frescoes now embedded in crisp white plaster bear express  the earthquake’s power. 

Today, the landscape around the sanctuary bears evidence of yet another form of man’s destructive impulses.  Forest fires in August 2012 burned 16,000 acres on Chios, including many mastic trees, now officially recognized as a protected designation of origin by the EU.  The fire was fueled by drought and high winds.  However, rumors persist that this and a dozen other fires throughout Greece during the same period were deliberately set.

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The mountainsides surrounding the monastery are scarred by forest fires

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Plan of the complex, with the (1) the sanctuary, (2) the Refrectory, (8) Chapel of the Holy Cross and (3) the 15-bay vaulted cistern.

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Dome and tower of the Sanctuary

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Exhibit of restored frescoes in the former Refectory

Architectural fragments, set before a diagram of the sanctuary interior 

View to the historic cistern

May 2012

For more on the history and recent events:

http://www.neamoni.gr

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/537

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Chios_forest_fire

POINT-COUNTERPOINT: VATHY ARCHEOLOGICAL MUSEUM, SAMOS

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A fragment of capital, and flourish of bouganvilla, mark the spot where the new and old museums intersect.

 The Archeological Museum in Vathy provides a lovely study in point and counterpoint, the way that old and new architecture intersect to create rich dialogue. 

Like the museum at Delphi, Vathy’s was funded in the early 20th century by a Greek businessman, in this case Alexandros Paschalis.  As a mark of its importance, the building was placed side-by-side with City Hall, overlooking a lush public park.  It had a classic Beaux Arts plan, with large galleries on two floors flanking a circular central staircase, and was completed just before World War I. 

The German Archeological Institute of Athens began excavations of the Temple of Hera (Heraion) on the south side of Samos in the 1920’s and continued after World War II.  This site, occupied by three significant temples from the 8th century to 400 BC, yielded such a wealth of sculpture, pottery and other superb finds that another business enterprise—in this case the German auto giant Volkswagen—was inspired to sponsor a complementary gallery, opened in 1987.  The older building appears to have been renovated at the same time.

 The new building faces the old, yet was placed at an angle to create a courtyard that welcomes visitors arriving from the park.  The historic building contains smaller exhibits in handsome and well-interpreted cases.  The new one is devoted to sculpture, enhanced by natural lighting through clerestories and windows.  The new structure is well proportioned but, in contrast to the Beaux Arts building, has no classical decoration, letting the monumental sculptures take center stage.  Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to find the names of either architects or the exhibit designers of these handsome buildings—a not-so-unusual situation.

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The historic Archeological Museum (left) and former Town Hall sit side-by-side

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Central stair in the historic museum, completed in 1913

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Refurbished gallery in the older building

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Display of amphorae in the historic museum

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The new museum building faces the old 

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Entrance gallery in the new building, naturally lit from above

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The colossal kouros of Samos (580 BC), 15 feet (4.75 meters) high, dominates the last gallery in the new building.

The Hellenic Minister of Culture’s brochure on the museum can be found at http://www.tap.gr/tapadb/index.php/en/component/jshopping/product/view/81/1754

To read our post on the Archeological Museum at Delphi, go to http://scattergood.me/post/36429669538/delphi-iii-the-museum.   

MAPS WITH A MISSION II: PLATANOS, SAMOS

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In the fall of 2012, we discovered the series of visually stunning, amazingly informative maps created by Terrain, a Greek GIS company (access our post dated 6 December 2012 via the link at the end of this post).  This season, we were delighted to find that they’ve created a less expensive (though less detailed) edition called “Maps for All” (not to mention a Smartphone app, too).  We spied a copy in a bookstore in Pythagoreon on Samos and were inspired to explore the island.

After a visit to Vathy and the Archeological Museum (see future post), we drove along the coast and up a narrow, switchback road to Platanos.  The village was settled in the 17th century, and many of its stone buildings are being restored today.  It’s shaded by a wide variety of trees, including the plane trees for which the town was named.  After a late lunch at a tavern with a mountainside terrace, we walked for several hours along grassy lanes. Red poppies, purple thistles, pink hollyhocks and yellow broom lined the path.  Clear fluid birdcalls and the hum of bees, the scents of mint, thyme, sage and oregano filled the air as we passed.  The surrounding hillsides are dotted with stone farmhouses and lush with vineyards set on stone-walled terraces, all watered by brooks chisled into rocky ravines—all rare finds on the typically dry Greek islands.

Before long, though, afternoon shadows lengthened, our muscles tired and we seemed on the verge of getting lost.  We spied three people standing in a vineyard, asked for directions and met Mary Alice Driver, an American who lives in the village.  An invitation to sample the 2012 editions of their sweet Samos wines marked a delicious coincidence and conclusion to our stay in Samos—one that we wished could have lasted much longer. 

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The steep main street of Platanos

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May 2013

Link to post on Maps with a Mission I  http://scattergood.me/post/37333574564/maps-with-a-mission-amorgos-greece

http://www.terrainmaps.gr/index.php?l=en

KNIDOS, TURKEY

Along the mountainous coastline of the Eastern Aegean, it can be  easier to travel from city to city by sea than by land.  That’s as true today as it was in ancient times. The city of Knidos, created in the 4th century BC on the western tip of the Datca Peninsula, is 162 miles by road from Bodrum to the north, but only 24 miles by sea.  So naturally, we took the sea route for one of Scattergood’s first stops during our Spring 2013 voyage.

Knidos boasted north- and south-facing harbors that could be devoted to military and commercial fleets, created by a causeway linking Cape Krio to the Island of Triopion.  It was originally part of the Dorian Hexapolis, with Halicarnassus (present-day Bodrum, located on the peninsula to the north) and Kos (the Greek island that slips in between those peninsulas), as well as three cities on Rhodes (see also our blog posts on Kos and Halicarnassus from January 2013). 

Knidos, located on the Eastern Aegean trade routes, remained populated through the Byzantine period, and remnants of several churches can be found among the Greek and Roman ruins.   The site was identified by the British Dilettante Society in 1812 and excavated by C.T. Newton in the 1850’s, revealing fine statuary as well as theatres, temples and a stoa.  When we arrived the first night, the southern harbor was crowded with tripper and tour boats.  The following day, with crew members Jim Sterling, Chris Gormley and David Gormley, we hiked through the wildflower-strewn ruins with just a few others in sight. 

May 2013

DREAMING OF SPRING

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We love Maine.  And winter.  And, of course, winter in Maine.  For the past month or so, temperatures in Portland, Maine have hovered around freezing.  The sun creeps up after we should be awake, and the sky is dark by tea-time.  Worst of all, snowbanks have dwindled to sand crusted lumps of ice.  

We’ve been thinking a lot of our sun-filled days last May and June on Scattergood, sailing the Northern Aegean counterclockwise, from Didim, Turkey to Kythera, Greece.  The photos bring back warm memories of monuments, meals and adventure, which we’d like to share with you over the next weeks and months…until we re-join Scattergood in Salamini, near Athens.  

HURUMZI HENNA ART GALLERY - FINISHED!

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New gallery manager Flora escorting visitors through the center gallery, with built-in storage unit under the stair.

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The center gallery, with new paint and lighting.  The result of great coordination efforts by Alice Spencer and gallery assistant Seif Soud.

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The new shutter (with old shutter to be removed)

HURUMZI HENNA ART GALLERY, ZANZIBAR

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Alice Spencer and the artists of Hurumzi Henna Art Gallery, June 2013

For centuries, the veiled women of Africa, the Middle East and Asia have celebrated weddings and holidays by having hands and feet dyed with henna.  The artists who create the elaborate patterns of flowers and arabesques are women, and the handicraft has been a rare way for them to earn money in cultures where work outside the home is discouraged, if not forbidden.

About six years ago, a group of Zanzibari women who were masters of Swahili body painting learned to transfer their traditional designs to paint on canvas and paper.  The work combines the flowing floral patterning, typically in dark executed in brown or black dye, with vibrant colors and sometimes collage or contemporary imagery. It gives the women new forms of expression and, equally important, the opportunity to earn income within the context of family life.

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Painting by Queen Sherry

Some of their first works were purchased by the Vipaji Foundation and exhibited the around the world in 2008-2009.  Our friend, Maine artist Alice Spencer, spent a month in Stone Town in 2010 through a grant from the U.S. State Department.  She taught twelve artists print-making techniques on cloth and paper, generating new lines of expression, in the form of notecards and textiles, appealing to tourists.

Alice’s work inspired a collaborative print project matching the Zanzibari artists with members of Portland’s Peregrine Press.  At the opening of “DUNIA MOJA/ONE WORLD,” an exhibit of the work in Portland in 2011, we first met Aimee and Mark  Bessire and heard about the work of Africa Schoolhouse.  Thus, it seemed very fitting to conclude our stay in Tanzania with 10 days in Zanzibar, helping to plan renovations for their gallery/studio.

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Card by Jamilla Mataka

One of the goals of the project is to help build a brand identity for the henna artwork that is recognized in Zanzibar, Tanzania and throughout the world.  By creating sustainability for the gallery, the artists will be able to buy materials and continue their art and their livelihoods.  A two-year grant from Alice, with assistance from the Tanzania Gatsby Trust, will fund the renovations as well as advertising, a web presence, and training for the artists in sales and marketing. 

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View down Hurumzi Street, toward the Gallery

The studio/gallery is located on Hurumzi Street in historic Stone Town, among a maze of galleries, hotels and shops.  It is a handsome three-story former house with many distinctive original details—arched niches, stained glass and beamed ceilings.  However, the storefront is narrow, and turned away from the flow of traffic, with no visible presence in an already chaotic retail environment.  Inside are three compact, ground floor galleries with high ceilings but haphazard, exposed wiring and dim fluorescent strip lighting. The first, or middle, floor is presently underutilized, but has potential for offices or additional exhibit space, and the top floor contains a large studio and projecting balcony. 

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View into the gallery from Hurumzi Street, future site for carved shutter

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The doorway

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Middle gallery

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Workshop session in the studio

Our first day was spent assessing the web of existing low- and high-end retail establishments, especially the half-dozen others run by or for women’s art and craft cooperatives.  We analyzed signage and displays, as well as how they communicated about the craftspeople and their work.  We took note of the architectural building blocks of Stonetown and the scale and texture of the interwoven streets.  We held four meetings with the artists.  In the first, we listened to their ideas about needs and potential improvements, and then worked together, sharing our ideas and their perspectives.   We were delighted to walk past the gallery one morning midway through and see them busy working on ideas for the signage.  

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Design for decorative shutter

Over the course of a week, we created measured drawings and a three-dimensional computer model of the building and began brainstorming about what would make the gallery space more attractive to tourists, especially art lovers.  Our suggestions focused increasing visibility in subtle ways, in contrast to the other shops nearby, and enhancing the customer’s comfort level and viewing experience.  The ideas ranged from tasks that could be implemented by the artists, to projects that would require contractors and all were agreeable to the artists:

·      A sign hanging over the front door, perpendicular to the pedestrian traffic flow, emblazoned with the new name and silhouettes of the artists’ hands, a play on the traditional of hand-painting and the mark of the artist.

·      A mural on the wall that faces the main traffic route, incorporating the artists’ motifs and the hand.  This was quickly changed to a pierced wood shutter for the window there, since wall graphics are not permitted in the Historic District, and cut-out wood screens are a traditional feature.

·      New, adjustable, energy-efficient LED track lighting for all three galleries, to focus on the artwork and provide flexible arrangements for grouping the work.

·      Painting exterior and interior walls and floors, with a dramatic color for the entrance gallery, to draw visitors in from the street.

·      A simple wood valence for the galleries to conceal wiring and create a hanging system adaptable to different sizes of work.

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Perspective view showing the shutter and signs in place, and views into the gallery

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Overall view of the three galleries

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As with our work for Africa Schoolhouse, coming up with design ideas was just the first step.   We also had to figure out how our suggestions could be implemented and find ways to communicate unfamiliar ideas to the craftsmen—a tall order in a new locale with just a few days left.  Project Manager Mussa Sharif arranged for us to meet with a painter and electrician at the gallery to discuss scope and budget.  We visited a wood carver’s workshop to discuss how the shutter/sign might be constructed.  With artist and gallery manager Said Sayef as our guide, we scoured a half dozen lighting shops from one end of Stone Town to the other.  However, none carried LED track lights with lamps of the right combination of beam spread, color rendition and efficiency.

We created a booklet, in hard and electronic versions, to convey the ideas to contractors, review agencies and potential funders.  It combined photos and hand sketches with the 3D views, photographed in our hotel room and sometimes sent down to the front desk for printing and then annotating.  

After we returned home, we reviewed the concepts with Alice Spencer and continued to refine the details, while she prepared for a visit in early June to make it all happen.  Although we found some track and fixtures online from Nairobi, Kenya, the cost was well beyond the modest construction budget.  Fortunately, we sourced a track and fixtures that were simple, inexpensive sockets, able to accept a range of lamps and beam spreads.  An online source for lamps could ship them to Zanzibar in about 3 weeks.  Alice bought the track and fixtures at Lowe’s in Portland and brought them to Zanzibar June, where she had an intense and amazingly productive week finalizing arrangements for the renovation work.  We were delighted to receive her photos of the work in progress—and look forward to full details when she returns.

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Scott conferring with the caprenter about fabricating the shutter

The shutter nearly finished, June 2013

http://www.peregrinepress.com/zanzibar2.html

www.alicespencer.net