Amongst the whites and blues of the ocean and the architecture around me in Santorini Island in Greece, I was feeling quite blue. I had not found a ceramic artist or a designer on the island to feature in our ‘Ceramic’ special issue. The ceramic industry is present in abundance there, but after looking at the quality of the ceramics and the commercialization of the ceramic industry on the Island, I was losing hope. Leaving the island behind and on the ferry to the next island Folegandros, my wife mentioned that the lady who owns the house where were going to stay happened to be a ceramic designer. In the middle of the aquamarine waters and my blues, a ray of hope beamed in. Lisbet came to receive us at the harbor and drove us to the pretty little house—our home for the next 6 days. As soon as I entered the space, I could feel the love and care with which the home was done up. The first thing my eyes settled on was a watercolour print on the wall, and then my vision followed the cups and plates in the kitchen. Everything seemed to have a certain charm. Just when I stopped looking for what I needed, I knew I had found the right person. I visited her restaurant the next day and asked her if she would be interested in being featured in our magazine, and she happily agreed.
It was the early eighties when a very young Lisbet came across a little poster advertising a two week watercolour workshop conducted by a Danish lady on the Greek island called Folegandros. It was a calling of sorts, and despite some resentment from her friends and acquaintances she found herself enrolling for the course, packing her bags and heading to the island. Little did she know, this trip was going to change her life. The image that was in her head about painting on the islands was governed by what she had seen in the magazines, so she packed her pretty summer dress, a straw hat and some dreams in a bag and landed here. But soon she found out that life on the island was very different from what she had imagined. The winds on the island made sure that her hat didn’t stay in place and the watercolours instead of moving down on the paper were actually riding up. The island back then was in a way primitive and not defined by the tourism industry, there was not even a proper water supply. However, like some people who have felt the spirit of this island, she found herself coming back the next summer for three weeks. And before she knew, she was there every summer, for the next ten years and eventually started her own watercolour course. Somewhere in these ten years she completed a four years course in Ceramics from the Design school in Denmark. She says, “I had a choice between pursuing graphic design and ceramics and I choose ceramics.” She laughs and adds, “I guess I am more tactile person than optical!” She had also done a teachers training course but soon realized she did not enjoy teaching much, she like making things.
She met her husband after a decade of visiting the island. With a smile she says “When I met him, he was studying in Athens and his mother had a house on the island. I liked him because he was very different from the men I’d known or come across in Denmark.” She adds, “He told me, let’s get married and have children.” She liked the spontaneity and the simplicity that came with this man. They found themselves moving to the island and working towards building a life together. It started with a small 50 Sq. meters space in her mother-in-law’s home, which was a small space with a big view, located between two old windmills and facing the sea. Life wasn’t easy, they really worked hard and somewhere along the line her husband helped her build a ceramic studio to make sure she can practice what she had learnt. Over the years they managed to gather a few assets, a couple of small properties that they rent out to the tourists and a restaurant which they have been successfully running for the last twenty six years.
“It cannot be more satisfying than to see your own products in use and people actually admiring it.”
All the ceramics that she produces is used in their restaurant and the guest houses they own. The remaining pieces gets sold to the tourists who invariably ask about the ceramics that they see at the restaurant. She says, “It’s not easy to earn a decent living out of ceramics in Denmark as one cannot earn much out of it unless you are very well known.” But here she balances between her passion for ceramics, running the restaurant and living on a lonely island , well almost lonely!—she makes the ceramics pieces in the winters which is the off season and manages the restaurant in the summers. She adds “It cannot be more satisfying than to see your own products in use and people actually admiring it.”
Her work has its essence in the simplicity of Danish design and has colors inspired from the island and Greece— her new home for the last 30-35 years. The ceramic pieces in various shades of blue on simple functional Danish designs have their own unique identity and stand out against the beige, whites and greens of the landscape. People seem to love what she does— a perfect balance between form and function. I do not think it’s just the ceramics that is special but her story, her persona , her love for small details and all of these in context of a beautiful island makes everything special.
Our formal meeting soon turned into a friendly chat between two artists. I pulled out my sketchbook and we shared our views on watercolors. In the middle, she got up to go inside the restaurant and bring an old folder from behind the counter with prints of her watercolours. Here we were, two people connected by art. Somewhere deep down, I knew that connections were not just formed between us two, but also me and the place. Like Lisbet, I knew I would return to these islands someday, maybe to find something unexpected, once more.
Allen Shaw & Vaishnavi Rathore