There are professions that we thought were lost for long and totally replaced by industry. How many times did you have the chance to meet a saddler, a basket weaver, a sandal maker or a luthier? However, they survive away from the spotlight, because there are still people dedicated to craftsmanship either because they “inherited” it from their ancestors or because they have discovered it and developed it themselves.
Cultural worker and artist curator Laura Bernhardt and photographer Benjamin Tafel have created a project called from-hand-to-hand where they search, they document and they present to us still active craft workshops in Greece and the stories of their protagonists. According to their mission statement “the project examines their situation, their emotional relationship with their profession and their prospects. The result is a series of portraits that show the artisan in relation to his or her profession and the current situation of upheaval”. We had the chance to interview Laura and Benjamin in order to learn what motivated them to initiate this project.
1.How did from-hand-to-hand start? What gave you the idea to begin?
Benjamin: The initial idea for this project was driven by our personal relationship to Greece. Both of us have been closely linked to Greece since our childhood. Over the last few years we have observed that craft workshops seem to be gradually disappearing. With this project we wanted to draw attention to something that is only sparsely visible.
We wanted to focus on the makers.
Laura: And, also the ongoing economic crisis, the negative news about Greece have moved Benjamin and I to take a different perspective. We wanted to focus on the makers. Together we wanted to search for traces of still active craft workshops in Greece. Through dialogues with the craftspeople we wanted to examine their situation and their emotional relationship to their profession, their prospects and desires.
2.Is craftsmanship important to preserve?
Laura: In my opinion, I think it is important to keep craftsmanship alive which is not only done by preservation, it also means to develop and move on, to discover new ways what craftsmanship means and can be today. Craftsmanship is a meeting point for cultures and it can provide a framework where the old and the new can be experimentally combined.
3.Was it hard to approach artisans and have access to their workshops?
Laura: It was not so hard to approach the artisans. Most of them we approached through personal contacts, like through friends and people who helped us to find the artisans, but also those who we contacted directly, were all very open and enjoyed talking about their craft, the specificity of their region and of course about their personal story liked to their profession.
Craftsmanship is a meeting point for cultures and it can provide a framework where the old and the new can be experimentally combined.
4. Is there a connection between the place and the craft?
Laura: Most of the crafts workshops, we have visited, have a strong connection to their place. Some of the connections become visible through the shape, pattern, function or material. Like the saddler in Volos who makes donkey and mule saddles which are needed to carry for example building materials to remote regions of the mountain of Pelion. Or the boat builders who have their workshop located close to the sea. Some of the connections remain also from the past, such as it was important for the boat builders to cut the timber not far from their workshops. Most of the craftspeople we met in Athens, came from all over Greece, because Athens has been important as a trading center.
5. What was the most unexpected or memorable artisan/craftsman you have met;
Benjamin: The ship builders have fascinated us. The enthusiasm they seem to live in harmony with the sea, although it is physically a very demanding work. For example in Trikeri the 80 year old owner fetched a heavy hammer and, with sweeping blows, and started to loosen the construction on the long side of the hull. He regularly stopped to take a break. Putting down the hammer he gazed almost longingly to the horizon of the sea. This was one of some really impressing moments.
6.How do you see from-hand-to-hand evolve in the future?
Benjamin: Currently we are working on an exhibition which we hope will take place soon in Greece. We also want to continue with the research, so we are at the stage of defining how the project can be developed further.
To learn more about this beautiful project you can visit