The splendour of copper in lacklustre times

Traditional craftsmanship in Greece – copper- and brassware workshop in Athens

When Stamathis Pipinas talks about his work his eyes are gleaming like the polished surface of his copper- and brassware

When Stamathis Pipinas talks about his work his eyes are gleaming like the polished surface of his copper- and brassware. The shop is bathed in a warm red golden light, a veritable treasure trove. Lampshades, copper pots and -jugs are hanging everywhere from walls and ceiling, brass candlesticks and large copper baptismal fonts pile up next to tsípouro boilers. In the heart of Athens’ artisans district Stamathis and his brother Manolis run the small workshop.

From orthodox baptismal fonts to tsípouro boilers
The former district of artisans and small trades has become an area of upheaval. Over the past two or three decades real estate speculations have pushed many of the small businesses to the outskirts. The Pipinas brothers have stood firm. Especially in times of Athens’ chaos, this attitude of perseverance shows courage. “How much longer?” Stamathis remarks quite openly, he doesn’t know. The business is barely worthwhile anymore. ”Ti na kánome (what can we do)?” He turns back his cap and outlines his precarious situation: “The new tax laws make it difficult for us. Prepayments are unrealistic and few people can afford them.” They haven’t been able to invest in their company for a long time. “We can only hope that the machines won’t conk out,” he says, followed by a long silence. Under these conditions the business would have to yield twice as much, but reality paints quite a different picture. The crisis doesn’t favour the purchase of quality products that are naturally more expensive than cheaply imported mass-produced goods.

„A pot like this you will only buy once in a lifetime, it is indestructible”
The Pipinas brothers mainly produce everyday object. Simple, practical pots and pans, wine jugs and briki, these Greek mocha coffee pots, large boilers for the grape marc tsípouro, candelabras and baptismal fonts for the church. Stamathis proudly presents his product range. “A pot like this you will only buy once in a lifetime, it is indestructible,” he laughs and adds, “it will probably even survive you.” The high thermal conductivity of copper also facilitates cooking. It heats up quickly and spreads the heat evenly. Even though hand crafted object undergo a global revival and sustainability has become a political demand, Stamathis’ experience has made him sceptical as to whether there still is a market in Greece.

Tourists appreciate his products he says, but that covers only just one month during summer. Stamathis regrets the collapse of local business but he can understand his compatriots. “No one has any money left. If there isn’t any change soon, we’ll have to think about how to continue the business.” His brother Manolis, a man of athletic built, tanned and with big hands, stands behind him and nods in agreement. The two brothers share the work. While Manolis works a round piece of copper sheet on the lathe, Stamathis discusses a new order, the emblem for a museum, on the workbench.

You only drink black coffee from copper mugs
Suddenly there is noise. Using a wood mallet, Manolis turns the copper sheet into a small mug and lifts it up for examination: “It is not finished yet.” Stamathis turns to us and says: “You can already use it to drink some liquor or coffee, but only black coffee, without milk.” With this remark he explains the characteristics of copper: The metal develops toxic effects when in contact with proteins. To avoid this, containers used for the preparation of food are usually plated with tin or stainless steel.

Glorious copper
„Church is what it is“, a hint that makes us think that the craftsman keeps a certain distance to faith. He admits however that the church has always been a good client and has continued to place orders in times of crisis, paying the bills in a timely manner.

„It might be true that we aren’t as efficient as the industry, but our products have a soul.” Stamathis shows his strong hands. “I love my work, even though it is tough.” Developing the production process from start to finish with his own hands, experiencing and accompanying the creation, facing new challenges again and again, is very important for him. Each object is unique. This indifference has nothing to do with lack of perfection; quite on the contrary, it gives the objects their personality.

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