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"As a young man I worked at a traditional woodcarving laboratory in Athens with a good salary of 20,000 drachmas per week, but I stayed there less than a year, because they didn't care much about the details. I got a job at another lab for 6,000 per week, where they didn't like mindless working. I preferred earning less money and learning more about the job. Today's young people make something and want to immediately make money out of it; they don't care about learning by other people's experience".
From Valtesiniko school
Panagiotis Kapetanios, the woodcarver, was born in Valtesiniko of Gortynia and owns a lab at Tripolis. His most favourite job is making temples, pews, shrines, cribs, doors and other church fitments. He graduated from the famous woodcarving school of Valtesiniko, which operated there from 1976 to 1984, under the supervision of the unforgettable craftsman from Epirus, Achilles Karavassilis.
This great unexampled teacher is still living in his students' hearts who now excel in Greece and abroad, not only because of the love for woodcarving that he imparted to them, but also because he died at the age of 34 and they didn't have the time to get enough of him.
"Come to the school Panagiotis, Karavassilis told me. But I have nothing to do with woods teacher, said I. It doesn't matter, come and you'll learn. That's more or less how I began my studies in 1980 and since then I can give life to any kind of wood. I struggle until something nice gets out of it, I don't give it up easily. I add my personal work even if I don't get paid for that, I care more about the quality than I care about the profit I'm going to make".
After the early loss of the teacher, the school of Valtesiniko was transferred to Levidi of Arcadia, where it kept working for some more years until its final closing. Dozens of students from Arcadia and other Greek places such as Laconia, Aetoloakarnania, the Ionian Islands and Macedonia, have been united through their art and communicate with each other until recently.
In a time when plastic and bad taste rule, this group of woodcarvers from Valtetsiniko earns money in an honest way using the chisel and at the same time it offers touches of beauty in people's lives.
He doesn't carve his name
Woodcarvers obtain their own reputation among the church people. Some woodcut may be seen by an abbot in a monastery or a church and he may order a piece for his own church. That's how father Philotheos, abbot in Karakalu Abbey, ordered a shrine like the one Panagiotis had made for Bouras Abbey in Megalopolis. Some other nice works of Panagiotis Kapetanios are the candle of Prophet Elias at Tripolis with the curved angles and the door of the town's Bishopric, which is made of oak wood.
Panagiotιs, however, is very unwilling to speak about himself and his modesty reaches the point of him not carving his name on his own works. "I don't like putting my trade name on them; those who appreciate my work know where to find me. Whoever wants to find me he will, just like you looked for me and found me".
After being urged by his co-workers, the modest woodcarver accepted to talk about the orders he takes from abroad as well. "They asked me to make a vineyard for a church in Italy. I asked for a picture of the church so that I could see how people have made the vineyards there. The grapes were very… underpopulated and a device had been put on them. Nothing to do with ours".
Panagiotis will never forget the strangest request he ever received, by some unusual furniture adorer. "A gentleman brought a chair and asked me to make a woodcarving that had never been made by anyone else. I squeezed my brain and I made a design which in my opinion has not ever been made anywhere else".
Dimos Panagoulias, who has also graduated from the same school and had the same teacher, works with Panagiotis. There is great mutual artistic respect and trust between them.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS