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 UCLA: Gefyra Documents Weaving Traditions in Geraki, Laconia

From June 24-July 14, 2023, graduate students from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Simon Fraser University (SFU), and the University of British Columbia explored the artistry of weaving in Geraki, a Lakonian village where generations of women have preserved and passed down their craft. This comprehensive project, which forms part of Gefyra, a partnership between the SNF Hellenic Centers at UCLA and SFU, was generously funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF). The project was held in collaboration with the Cultural Society of Geraki and was further supported by the Municipality of Evrotas. The Ephorate of Antiquities of Laconia and The Geraki Project, affiliated with the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, also contributed to the project. The team is very grateful to the Cultural Society of Geraki for embracing this complex project and to Chrysoula Stamatopoulou, who is a leader in the effort to preserve the village’s tradition of weaving and teach the craft to the next generation.

Situated on the slopes of Mount Parnon in the southeastern part of the Peloponnese, Geraki holds a special place in the intricate tapestry of Greek culture. Weaving is a heritage primarily handed down through the matrilineal line. Kilims hold great significance as they traditionally formed an essential part of a woman’s dowry, encompassing both the kilims themselves and the monetary proceeds derived from their sale. According to SFU SNF Centre for Hellenic Studies Director Dimitris Krallis, “We are looking forward to continuing our exploration of Geraki through an examination of dowry contracts, which will give students an opportunity to delve into the village’s history and stratified economy and to map associations with neighboring settlements.”

Geraki’s artistic heritage is closely connected to the practice of weaving. Excavations of ancient and medieval sites in the village have revealed large numbers of finds connected to this craft. In addition, there is a profound connection between ornamental designs found in Byzantine churches and motifs featured in Geraki’s weaving tradition. During their time in the village, members of the team were involved in cataloguing kilims and recording conversations with skilled weavers. Botanists from Organization Earth also joined the project, identifying plants used for natural dyes, including the abundantly blooming Sparto (Spartium junceum) which, when boiled, creates a vibrant yellow color. The project will result in a catalogue and a comprehensive website devoted to weaving in the village.

Recognizing the cultural significance of the weaving tradition in Geraki, this complex project is documenting and safeguarding traditional patterns and motifs and bringing attention to the cultural history of Geraki. According to Anthi Saranti, President of the Cultural Society of Geraki, “We are thrilled to collaborate with the faculty and students of UCLA and Simon Fraser University in documenting our village’s vital weaving tradition. It is especially exciting to see the impact of this project on young scholars, who will continue to work in our village.”

As the team learned more about the village, they realized that the artistic heritage of Geraki extended more broadly into the fabric of the community. Local residents have attributed the creation of painted ceilings in two houses to the renowned writer, artist, and hagiographer Fotis Kontoglou (1895-1965). Kontoglou, a refugee from Aivali following the Asia Minor Catastrophe, left an indelible mark on Geraki’s cultural landscape and Greece’s modern history.

A beautiful mountain road links Geraki to Vamvakou, the seat of the Stavros Niarchos family and the team’s home for the duration of the project. Vamvakou Revival, an organization dedicated to revitalizing the village of Vamvakou, focuses on preserving Greek village life, while also safeguarding the history and traditions that thrive in the region through innovative practices. Vamvakou Revival serves as a remarkable model for the preservation and sustainable growth of the community.

Sharon Gerstel, Director of the UCLA SNF Center for the Study of Hellenic Culture, commented, “This project is driven by the objectives of empowering local weavers, preserving traditional knowledge, facilitating market access, and fostering community engagement. Through these efforts, the project not only contributes to the socio-economic development of the community but also preserves and promotes Greece’s rich cultural heritage for future generations. I am very proud that our students were able to be part of this important effort and actively engage in public humanities.”

Please visit our website to read the blog from this project or learn more about Gefyra.


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