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"I'm not a gold-silversmith, just a silversmith. Since my youth I didn't like school, maybe it was because of the way teachers treated and punished us. In 1971 I went to Athens and apprenticed for two and a half years near a craftsman from Ioannina. I remember him advising me: Put 70% of artistry and 30% of manufacture. He was right, if I put 100% artistry I wouldn't find a buyer, but if I cared more about the manufacturing process I wouldn't keep the art alive".
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Andrew Varzokas, from Zagorochoria, owns a silversmith shop with his brother in Ioannina. He is not the only craftsman in town and doesn't like being singled out. He creates religious objects that are unique and carefully made. "If you have faith you can perform small miracles, not big ones. In faith you find the truth and the true meaning of life in the few years you have on this earth. If I made copies of my works I would be rich, but I don't need so much money. I had heart surgery and spent some money, but if I were a billionaire my money would have been useless. We turned our lives into a merciless fight without any real reason. We kill ourselves to buy unnecessary things, even though we know that an illness will make those things obsolete".
The idea of becoming a silversmith got stuck in Andrew's mind when he was a child, when someone from his village, Anthrakites, talked to him about this art. He graduated from George Stavrou's technical school and went to look for a job in Athens. "This city is a university. The way people were talking and behaving was different to what I knew. They leave you by yourself there, they say nothing to you, you do what you want to do".
Once he finished his military service, Andrew went back to Ioannina even though he was in love with Athens. There, he started making carved silver objects, "filigrees" and jewellery. "Carved silver objects can be easily sold. Filigrees are made by soft silver wire and are difficult to create, you need to be skilled. We melt the silver and add about 8% of copper in order to make it harder. Copper alone is soft, but when it blends with silver it hardens".
Silver was once cheap, but today it is very expensive. You can't begin to work as a silversmith having only ten kilos of silver; you need more silver and a lot of money. Real artisans are becoming fewer and fewer and seem divided between their true artistic self and fashion. They understand that they can't keep experimenting all the time; they must also make what people want. Their job has to do with women, as they are their main clients. Silversmiths observe which pieces draw their attention and they understand a lot about them. It looks like a game that has not only to do with money, but also with human sensitivities. Women don't make such objects because they lack the necessary patience. However, they adore them and are aware and appreciative of their artistic value, unlike their husbands, who follow them in such stores mostly to foot the bill.
TEXT-PHOTOS: GEORGE ZAFEIROPOULOS