Pelion

Four great reasons to join a mosaic course in Pelion, Greece

mosaic course in Pelion
After a storm, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

WHAT: Five Day Classic and Contemporary Mosaics Workshop 

WHO: With Helen Miles 

WHERE: Lagou Raxi Hotel, Lafkos, South Pelion, Greece. 

WHEN: September 15 to September 22, 2017 

If I had my way everyone would join me on this mosaic course in Pelion, Greece. All those people I have ‘met’ on the internet, have followed and liked and exchanged messages with. We’d spend our days making mosaics and then sit on the terrace in the evening with a glass of wine (or two) and look out over the Pagasitic Gulf and talk about them. I’d show you how to make the things I love and tell you why they are marvelous and beautiful and full of possibilities. We’d immerse ourselves in mosaics through the ages – the mosaics from Greece that first inspired me, the Roman mosaics which I’ve visited and admired, all the way through to contemporary mosaics: their uses, their makers, their materials and their seemingly endless varieties.

mosaic course in Pelion
Olive grove, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

But sadly I know you can’t all come so I am writing this to those of you who might. Just might. I want to tell you why you should travel to Greece to take a mosaic course in Pelion when you could just as well join a local group or a weekend workshop or choose to go to Italy, the world’s epicentre of mosaic art. I’ll keep it simple and I’ll keep it plain because I am so in love with Pelion (it’s where we bought a house more than a decade ago) that there’s a real danger that once I start I wont stop so I’ve condensed it to the four key reasons. Here they are:

mosaic course in Pelion
Daisies in the spring, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

FOUR REASONS TO JOIN A MOSAIC COURSE IN PELION, GREECE.

  1. PELION. Well, start by looking at that photo at the top of this page. It’s not Photo-shopped or edited. No filter has been added. That’s Pelion. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and as close to being unspoiled as it’s possible for a place in the Mediterranean to be. It’s beaches are often listed as among the best in the world. It has sandy ones and pebbly ones and clear, turquoise water. It has traditional stone villages built around car-free central squares where you can sit for hours (after your mosaic day) in the cool shade of the ancient plane trees eating unutterably delicious local food. All of this is within easy access to the newly built hotel where the mosaic course is being held and if you just want to sit and relax then the Lagou Raxi Country Hotel has sweeping views, its own pool, and great food without having to set foot outside.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Eating in the square, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics
  2. MARBLE. Now look at the photograph below of blocks of marble lying along an unpaved path somewhere up on the mountain of Pelion. The sort of path used by farmers going to check their olive trees who ride their donkeys sideways on wooden saddles that probably haven’t changed for hundreds of years. Those slabs of marble are nothing unusual. There is marble everywhere in this country and the mosaic course in Pelion will be run using marble and only marble. In most parts of the world, marble is too precious and expensive a commodity to be readily used by people learning to make mosaics so it’s a rare treat to be able to use it, revel in its colours and varieties and explore its possibilities as an artistic medium.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Marble blocks, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics
  3. ME. It feels a bit strange to write myself as a good reason to come but I have spent well over the past decade immersed in mosaics. I started off by learning how to make mosaics in Greece with master craftsmen who specialised in Byzantine-style mosaics using tiny tesserae with no interstices and then went to the UK to take short courses with acknowledged experts in the field. Meanwhile, I made mosaics. Morning, noon and night. I experimented and pushed my borders and eventually set up my own studio and began making them professionally. While I have a huge respect for and interest in contemporary mosaics, my work is inspired by the many hundreds of Roman mosaics I have traveled to see and thousands that I have studied and drawn lessons from. I tend to concentrate on making site specific mosaics for private clients so this is a rare opportunity to come and learn mosaics in Pelion with me. Please go to my gallery of work, to my Facebook page, Twitter or Instagram to see what I have been working on recently. I now live and work in Edinburgh but we still have our house in Pelion and I travel back there frequently.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Me at work in Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics
  4. LONG COURSE. The opportunity to give yourself five full days to learn the art of mosaics is a rare one. It means that you can really get stuck in. There is a lot you can pick up in shorter courses but if you are starting out on the mosaic path nothing quite beats throwing yourself in and making the most of the chance to really get immersed in mosaics: to get familiar with the tools, to find out what really interests you, to explore different techniques and learn about the world of mosaics from someone who is enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The course will cover the principles of making direct method mosaics both on board and on mesh either using a copy of a Roman mosaic, a mosaic ‘pattern’ or your own design. At the end of the week you will have all the skills you need to make your own mosaics at home.
    mosaic course in Pelion
    Pebble beach of Kalamaki, Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

    For more information, please go to www.lagouraxi.com and click on ‘Courses’ in the top tab or send an email to Sue at mail@lagouraxi.com. I am looking forward to seeing you there!

mosaic course in Pelion
Kalderini – traditional stone path linking the villages in Pelion, Greece. Photo: @Helen Miles Mosaics

A Tale of Two Houses – and their mosaic decoration

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Once upon a time we bought a house in Pelion, Greece. It was a simple house on a hill overlooking the sea. So simple that it had been on the estate agent’s list for years. No one wanted it. The agent’s photo showed only a drab concrete wall and an unappealing add-on room. There was a mention in passing of a view, but Pelion is a mountain peninsular surrounded by water so saying a house has a view is almost like saying it has running water.

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But one day, expecting nothing,  I went to see the house, climbed over the almond tree which had fallen over the entrance way, slithered down the bank to the front of the building (when I say mountain, I mean mountain – this house was settled comfortably into a steep slope like a head supported in the crook of an arm), and it was as if someone had punched me. I wasn’t quite standing on a precipice, merely on a continuation of the steep bank, but it was the same sensation you get when you climb in soft drizzle, doggedly following a path, head down, seeing only a few hundred yards in any one direction and then, when you finally get to the top, the clouds lift…. That lurching, exhilarating sensation of being deafened by beauty.

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Needless to say, we bought the house. The bank I slid down became steps to the lower level, the concrete wall was plastered and painted, the bare approach was paved and covered, the fallen almond was replaced with a sturdy sapling. We used the house on weekends and during the holidays and I planted anemones in the long grass and pomegranate, cherry and hibiscus trees on the terraces. A young vine and wisteria curled their way up the new pergola and every time I went, I had that same sensation. You couldn’t escape it, like having a world class symphony orchestra hidden behind the unappealing add-on. Brushing your teeth, doing the washing up, or putting the children to bed, there it was – that astonishing, heart-stopping view.

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I made one of my first ever mosaics for it – of two birds based on a mosaic from Larissa, Greece – and took it to the builders to insert into the wall above what were once the animal’s quarters on the lower level. That’s all there was in terms of mosaic decoration and I don’t even have a photograph of it.

Not that the house was perfect. The fact that it was built into the hill meant there was always some sort of problem with damp. The configuration of the rooms was odd and would have been odder as the boys got bigger. And the only way to get to the house was to park your car at the top of the hill and carry everything to the door down the steep slope, which was fine on arrival, but not so fine in 35 degrees lugging heavy cases back up after a longer stay.

Then one day we decided to sell it (don’t ask me why) and, as soon as the decision was made, I realised it was a terrible mistake and so within weeks, we’d bought another house over a ridge and down a bit from the first house. The second house did not make my heart stop but by this time I had grown fond of the hill and the neighbours and it wasn’t only the view I couldn’t bear to leave, so we bought the second house from the owner who was born in it and once again set to work to do it up. No need this time to plant a vine as there was already a grand, old, gnarled one leaning nonchalantly against an outside room. 1-Pinakates-7-6-09

Still in mourning for the first house, I had no interest in making a special mosaic for the new house and gave the builders a mosaic that I happened to have lying around – an indirect piece based on a Coptic textile from the Benaki Museum, Athens, with a heart-shaped pebble in the middle which they incorporated into the threshold paving:

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I also gave them an old mosaic which had broken across the middle during a move and so they put it around the side of the house where it cant be seen:

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Then, slowly, I grew attached to this second-choice house with its drooping electric cable stretched carelessly across the view. The venerable vine survived the building work and climbed quickly and obligingly over the wooden trellising, dropping fat bunches of grapes over the table where we eat. A red rose which was still blooming next to the outdoor kitchen twenty years after the house was abandoned, accepted relocation gracefully and continues to bloom. The house, in the middle of an olive grove, was difficult to fence so we only planted things which can withstand being nibbled by the herds of goats and untethered horses that wander across the terrace, but oleander, aloe vera and African daisies grow thick and strong.

Eventually and no longer grudgingly,  I made a mosaic on mesh for the window indent in the bathroom:

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Then last summer I covered a garden pot with broken shards from once loved pots to house a bougainvillea which, despite a harsh, dry summer and weeks of neglect, has somehow survived.

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Not very lovely (the grout should be darker, I haven’t bothered to paint the rim) but the shards include a bowl I bought in Fayoum, Egypt; a plate from the Iranian market in Bahrain, a jug made by a Thessaloniki potter and received as a present from a university friend, and a Turkish dish from a shop in Cappadocia whose proprietor freely gave me his cast-offs.

Which brings me to my first real mosaic project for the Blue House – a Gaudi-esque covering for this horrid column:

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Under Greek law, you are obliged to have a structure of some sort on the edge of your land to connect the mains electricity to the house. It would be nice to have it tidied away in a cupboard or to have something inoffensively and unobtrusively clad in stone, but somehow we ended up with this ugly column which has only taken three years to look woefully bedraggled and down at heel.

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I will ask all my friends and friends of friends to donate their broken crockery and slowly it will be transformed. I cant guarantee it will be a success. It might, like the wire across the horizon, just be something I get used to, but it will be a sign that after all these years, the house which I didn’t even like, has become a house I have become uncommonly fond of.

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(The house last weekend – a warm, bright December day)