Friday, January 22, 2016

Greek Arts and Crafts Digitally Curated

Greek villages have been experiencing a continuous (and occasionally dramatic) process of abandonment since 1893. Intellectuals of the 1920s (Angeliki Hadjimihali, Antonis Benakis, etc.) responded to this crisis by collecting Greek arts and crafts, establishing museum collections, and writing the first scholarly monographs. The Benaki Museum, the Ethnographic and Folklore Museum of Athens, the Stathopoulos Room at the American School of Classical Studies, the Nauplion Folklore Museum and many others testify to this first wave of scholarship.

In the 1960s, Greek village communities began their own efforts to save their arts and crafts by establishing local village repositories. Taking stock of what happened to prestige villages like Metsovo or Monemvasia, these communities imagined their folk heritage as a possible generator for small-scale tourism. Prestige villages are the product of capital investment and philanthropy by particular patrons (whether Greek or non-Greek). That magnitude of operation is rarely an option to every Greek village.

Although there is no official count, there are hundreds of these repositories, lovingly curated by village elders and intellectuals. They typically occupy a room of a "community" or "cultural center" (πνευματικό κέντρο) often a preserved abandoned house. These ad hoc museums are the most interesting manifestations of local curation and civic engagement in Greece. What is sad about them, of course, is that they will never function as proper museums. First, they have no financial resources or staff, and second, they are too remote and ordinary to solicit tourism. It's important to note that since cultural heritage is managed predominantly by the Greek state, there is little know-how on the interworking of heritage management by the Greek citizens (no educational programs, or vehicles for experimentation outside an increasingly bankrupt state). As a result, the citizen curators of village museums tend to range from idealistic to impractical or fatalistic. The passion for this civic philanthropy, moreover, is ending with the current generation of retirees. There are no indications that anyone under 50 shares their passion or the local links to a particular village. Younger Greeks tend to think more globally, about the environment, globalization, a multicultural Europe, neoliberal economics, etc. 

So what will happen to these local museums?

In the last few years, a group of American and Greek students have been studying late medieval and early modern villages in the area of Lidoriki. In Summer 2016, we turned the Lidoriki Folklore Museum (above) into a photographic laboratory. A group of students from Maryville University (St. Louis), Franklin and Marshall College (Lancaster), and the National Technical University (Athens) inventoried 138 objects. The objects were photographed professionally, and a smaller sample (about 12) were photographed three-dimensionally. The students presented their research at the Annual Meetings of the Archaeological Institute of America in San Francisco this month: Shelby Beiermann, Sara Loynd, Austin Nash, Nicole Thompson, and Elizabeth Wood, "Artists at Aigition: Documentation, Design, and the Investigation of Rural Villages."

Following the first scholarly presentation of last summer's season, we proceed with the next phase to curate a digital museum for the 138 objects that we have recorded. Franklin and Marshall student Lizzie Wood was one of the two students that photographed the objects of Lidoriki. The picture at the top shows Lizzie brainstorming on how to photograph a wool military coat. This semester, Lizzie is embarking on an independent study to create a digital museum of the 138. Shelby Beiermann has already processed some of the images into 3D models. See, for instance, two wool spindles [here] and [here], a tsarouchi [here], a scale weight [here], and a bugle [here].

Lizzie will have to sort the material and write informative entries for each piece, while also learning the software Omeka with which she will design a digital exhibition. If this works well, we hope it becomes a model for other local folklore collections throughout Greece. Next summer, we hope to also tackle some of the more established folklore museums with this technology. We plan to 3D-model objects from the Angeliki Hadjimihali House, a folk arts museum operated by the city of Athens.

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States