The tradition of wood carving

It is well known that through the centuries, Lesvos holds a special place in the cultural world and that the village Agiasos  leads the way.

A few well known things are:
•    the Agiasos Reading Room, which was founded in 1894 during the Turkish occupation, with a rich cultural and theatrical activity,
•    the unique Carnival of Agiasos with the Dionysian satirical speech and
•    its various craftsmen who created and create envious works of art especially in the fields of pottery and wood carving.

One of the main specimens of traditional art is wood carving. This of course does not mean that Agiasos was the only place where the art of wood carving was developed. But everything points to the fact that the majority of wood carved furniture that exists and has been built in Lesvos came from Agiasos. It is only natural for a form of art to grow in places where there is a bounty of raw material (walnut and chestnut trees) as well as good craftsmen.  It is well known that the elders of Lesvos, when talking about old wooden chests, refer to them as “the trunks of Agiasos”.

There must be two sources of from the wood carvings of Agiasos come from:
•    The saddlers that decorated saddles with a few carvings but also built chests. Mr Harilis Mpinos in an article for the magazine “Zygos” in 1965 mentions that the first chests he found (and are salvaged) date back to mid 18th century. He also mentions that they were built by saddlers and justifies this by saying that although they have very well made wood carvings, they are inelegant and rough and don’t look as though they have been made by craftsmen.
•    The students of the craftsmen of Giannina who were building the temple for the church of the Virgin Mary of Agiasos (that burned down in before it was completed in the great fire of 1812) who had better technical training.

The main furniture of an Agiasos household was chests and mirrors. Sometimes they were plain with no carvings but generally they were carved. In these we can find most of the clues in order to study the wood carving of Agiasos. The designs and representations carved on the front were the most important. The vegetative decoration seemed to be the most inspiring for the creators. The craftsman finds most of the representations in the place where he lives and sometimes embeds them with his own imagination for example adding birds on the leaves of a potted plant. Sometimes he will add church facades. Many seem to have been inspired by Byzantine Art adding one or more two-headed eagles to their work. All of the designs are well made and it is obvious that the craftsman poured all his love into his work.

By examining the carvings technically, we find that the craftsmen used different variations of chisels with semicircular ones being used the most. Their carvings were usually shallow. The representation is an anaglyph and is highlighted by hitting the font with a tool so the surface becomes fuzzy. The design of the carving is usually symmetrically flat. In others, a part of the design is repeated with small differences each time, proof that it is handmade.
While the chest represents the more spontaneous and self-taught craftsmen and shows imperfections from a construction point of view, the rest of the furniture found show that they were created by good craftsmen and carvers. These craftsmen, who were the apprentices of the of the creators of the burned temple of the Holy Church of the Virgin Mary of Agiasos, made furniture that blended with the space perfectly. The designs on the carvings are sometimes lean and simple and other times rich and heavy. Sometimes these pieces show that inspiration as also taken by the Franks and other times influence from the Near East. These influences were absorbed by the craftsmen and gave sign of new designs for the furniture. Wood carving continued to flourish probably until near the end of the 19th century. The beginning of the 20th century had a lot in store for the place. The economical strength of  Agiasos began to decline. what most people were trying to do was survive. So it was only natural for the carvers to put down their chisels.

The older ones began to disappear one by one and the younger ones learned new trades. For the modern day I will use what is written in the first tourist guide of Agiasos (published by the Association of Agiasotians of Athens): “In the years after the war wood carving was practiced since 1950 by Dimitris Kamaros whose grandfather was a wood carver. His carvings became famous not only on the island but the whole of Greece and abroad.” In the early 70’s the people’s turn to classic furniture gave wood carved furniture the chance to flourish anew. Today furniture of all kinds is built. Most of them are copies of old furniture but the craftsmam leaves his personal mark on each one. Although modern tools are used in the building of the furniture, the carvings are still chiseled by hand.

The Byzantine and Near East Art along with the study of old designs, gives the craftsman the possibility to enrich his designs  and create new forms who have never been presented with those combinations before. So we can see that nothing is so much copied, as it is absorbed in order to present a new pattern that blends with the whole furniture seamlessly.      
New techniques (in building, painting and the finish) show that woodcarving and furniture making in Agiasos are alive and continuously progressing, addressing more and more people every day.