Describe your profession, with details on products, services, expertise and know how.
I am Chrystalla Pitsillidou, I am 60 years old and I am a traditional craft woman in folk crafts. Specifically, I work with gourds which I decorate or make household items with. The dried gourd is being decorated and used for practical purposes on the island of Cyprus for many years, with the bottle-shaped gourd the most useful; traditionally used as a wine carafe, candlestick and container for salt or olives.
What materials do you use? Where and how you purchase them?
The material used is the gourd which we find and get in Cyprus. The gourd is a vegetable of the marrow family that hangs from a climbing vine and comes in a range of shapes and sizes and from seed to final grown fruit it takes 9 months to develop.
What is your “ideal” client’s profile?
I sell to locals and especially to older generations that know of the traditional craft of gourd engraving. Tourists are very enthusiastic in buying generally smaller pieces to take back home. Our main promotion and selling activity is performed during festivals, exhibitions in Cyprus and abroad. Our latest travel was at the Dubai Expo last year where we represented the craft and folk tradition of Cyprus.
At what age and under what circumstances did you start this job?
From the age of 11 I began learning gourd decoration from my grandfather, something that growing up would become my beloved profession. There isn’t any form of formal training for this craft and there aren’t any education requirements but someone who wants to learn gourd decoration should find an experienced craftsman/woman to receive the passing of the art and main techniques to him/her.
Describe the techniques, the tools and the materials you use in your work.
The first thing is to choose the gourd you would like to work with. This is based on the use of the final product which is defined by the size and shape of the gourd. For example, gourds are used to create household items with daily usability like wine/oil bottles and storage kitchenware. After choosing and deciding the final product, the gourd is emptied, engraved and decorated. Gourd surfaces may be carved, painted, sanded, burned, dyed, and polished. Typically, a harvested gourd is left to dry over a period of months before the woody surface is suitable for decorating. Traditional Cyprus Gourd decoration is based on patterns derived from Lefkaritiko lace. In the case of the creation of bottles, different techniques are used to polish and make the interior of the gourd strong and clean using a special kind of resin.
The custom of decorating gourds with geometric patterns or animal and flower motifs is done by knife or with a hot poker and is still practiced in villages today. For the decoration and pattern making, permanent markers are also used. All tools are bought in Cyprus.
And what about innovation, what are the changes since you started? Do you use new materials, tools, or processes in manufacturing and marketing? What is the impact of innovation on your performance? How could your profession be even more innovative?
The engraving of the gourd is a folk craft-hobby developed in Cyprus from hundreds of years ago. Dried gourds had a variety of household uses, depending on its shape. Dried gourds have traditionally been used for a variety of household uses with the most widespread application being for water bottles and wine pitchers. The decoration on the gourd initially was made with a sharp knife and through the years more tools are used like a fiery hot poker (pyrograph) or permanent pen markers and the decorative motifs can vary from geometric to floral motifs to animal images.
The innovation through the years is the deviation from traditional Lefkaritiko decoration to more modern techniques, designs, colours, uses etc. New and innovative uses include: Gourd clocks, lampshades, bird houses, special cups and bowls and many more. From the wide variety of gourd shapes and sizes other art pieces can be created, including: ornaments, sculpture, vases, and wall art such as masks.
What is the best way to learn your profession?
To learn gourd decoration should find an experienced craftsman/woman to receive the passing of the art and main techniques to him/her.
What is your message to younger generations who might choose your profession?
Our wish is to pass this traditional craft to younger generations. As a main business or profession, it may not be sustainable but we believe in combination with other craft activities it can become well profitable.
In another note, creative crafts like gourd engraving not only keep and promote tradition but also work on the person itself meaning that building patience and persistence can create a work therapy environment keeping the craftsman/woman active/focused mentally and physically.
In all respects, I fully recommend taking up gourd decoration and engraving as a craft, profession or even a hobby.