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23 Oct 2018

A Lesson in Carving

If you’re in Greece, you can already engage with gorgeous views and experiences. Ruins, art, a beautiful Mediterranean landscape – this country has got a lot to offer. But if you’re a CYA student, you have another opportunity to take part in something truly extraordinary: learning how to carve marble at one of the oldest studios in Greece.

Let me give you some directions: if you’re standing in front of CYA, make a right onto Fokianou and then walk all the way down to Eratosthenous.  If you have time, stop for a pastry from Kekkos, and then continue along Arktinou until you pass a blue and white taverna. From there, follow the road upward past a furniture upholstery store and a leather maps store and antique shop.  Passing a few cats on your way, as well as some opaque windows, you’ll see an opening on your right. With soft light emanating from its wrought iron door, it’s almost level with the ground so you could walk right past it and not even notice. But don’t miss it – this is where the magic happens. Upon going through this door and down the steps, you’ll leave behind the hustle and bustle of Athens and enter into the art world of ancient crafts and, in this particular case, marble carving.  If you come in on a Tuesday, you’ll also see a slew of CYA students hammering away at slabs of rock, learning how to use chisels delicately and strike with accurate force.

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Every semester CYA offers students the opportunity to take a weekly marble carving class, taught in a studio in our neighborhood.  I and many of the people I now call my close friends jumped at the opportunity to take part in this beautiful and historical tradition.  As an art form, marble carving is something that many people only see as the finished product: a sculpture in a museum or ruins on ancient soil. But here in Athens, I’ve had the opportunity to see marble close up and create a piece of art completely from scratch.  Working in the beautiful studio owned by Dimitris, and with the help of his son Giannis and friend Paris, I’ve been exposed to more marble than I ever thought was possible in my lifetime. I’ve gone from drawing a design to imprinting it onto a nearly 20-pound slab of marble to carving away at the said marble, and it’s been absolutely spectacular.

Walking into the studio for the first time, I didn’t know what to expect, but Dimitris is probably one of the kindest people I’ve ever met and shares his love for his craft every time we enter the studio. In the very first lesson, he walked us through the different rooms and showed us past students’ work, as well as speaking to us about the history of marble carving and why it’s so important to him.  One of the funniest things Dimitris told us the first time we met him was that by the third lesson students are usually pretty good at carving. As someone who hadn’t done any serious art since high school, I had very low expectations that I would improve so quickly, particularly after my first carving session. But I can confidently say that this past Tuesday when I was at the studio, I found myself carving with ease and felt much more confident about where to place my chisel. While my lines still aren’t as clean as that of professionals like Dimitris, Giannis and Paris, I can definitely see in my own piece of marble how my work has improved.

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Looking at a slab of marble, it’s pretty incredible to realize that you have the power to create a work of art with just a chisel and hammer; it doesn’t seem like either of those objects would be strong enough to cut stone.  But the even cooler thing is that it’s not just the chisel that does it, it’s the pure force of your own hands as you move around the marble surface. Going to marble carving every week has given me a sense of what it feels like to do art that is intrinsically connected to a country’s culture, one that is filled with the most spectacular stories that are all crafted through art.

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