The handmade Christmas decorations workshop of Afanasia Kotopoulou is the only one in Greece that managed to withstand the crisis and preserve the tradition of the triptych “fire, glass and art”.
In a small workshop on the street of Halkidiki in Thessaloniki, a miracle has been performed every day for almost half a century. This is where handmade glass Christmas decorations are born. The third-generation owner of the family business, Afanasia KOTOPULU, grew up in this workshop, and all her childhood memories are associated with her: “When before your eyes a glass tube turns into a ball, which then becomes an elegant Christmas decoration, it all looked like magic.” Today she is a sorceress herself, whose talent and hard work, loyalty to traditions and the idea of continuity helped to withstand difficult times and keep the workshop.
Afanasy Kotopoulou at work.
Lords of fire
The production of Christmas decorations is a piece business. Obviously troublesome and demanding full dedication, but very effective at the finish line. As fragile as glass itself – sometimes it is difficult to keep it afloat. Not everyone can handle it. Doing it for almost half a century is worth a lot.
– As far as I know, for several years now we have been the only workshop in Greece that produces handmade glass Christmas decorations from the beginning, from the moment the blown glass ball is created, to the end – to the finished product.
The beginning of the magic. Glass tube meets fire
The basis for making a ball is a hollow transparent tube of a certain diameter, depending on the size of the ball to be made. The flame of the burner quickly heats up the tube, it becomes plastic and is cut into small pieces for further work. A piece is taken, and this workpiece is heated. When the master, due to experience and intuition, realizes that the glass has melted enough, he begins to blow air into it through the “tendril” (the long end of the workpiece), dispensing its volume – this is how a ball appears. Then comes the “silver coating” – the ball gets a mirror-like shine inside. Thanks to painting in matte or glossy tones and artistic painting, the ball takes on its final appearance. It can go through the hands of the master from one to six times, everything is done without using stencils. After that, the “tendril” is heated, twisted and cut off. A ball cap is inserted and the finished product is packed. It takes three to ten days to create each ball.
– In 1973, my grandfather Konstantinos Kotopoulos came up with the brilliant idea of starting a Christmas decoration business. Very soon Father Dimitrios Kotopoulos joined him along with my mother Anastasia Kotopoulou. Thanks to their talent and lively imagination, they managed to grow and develop the business within thirty-three years. Dad has turned from self-taught into a real master. Mom’s sense of style gave charm to each collection. Parents became the foundation of everything. The jewelry they made was sold throughout Greece. I got my knowledge and experience from them.
In 2007, the sudden loss of a father was the most difficult event that we have had to face on a personal level. The decision to keep working for us – mom and me – was a challenge, a tribute and a real need for survival. Fortunately, there were many good partners next to us. Over the years, life has confirmed that we are worthy successors of the work of our grandfather and father, because to this day in the workshop, already known under the name “Fire, Glass and Art”, we preserve tradition, develop and adapt to our era, preserving romance and beauty handmade jewelry. With high quality, great variety and unwavering passion, we continue to create classic, original and modern jewelry for children and adults for all tastes.
Thanks to intuition and experience, the master knows when the time is right.
Duel of glass and plastic
Life is such that it is changing rapidly not every year, but almost every day, and it does not always bring pleasant surprises. We have to cope.
“Long before the economic crisis, our industry was severely damaged by imports of Christmas decorations, mainly from China, as well as plastic decorations that flooded the Greek market. Despite such unfavorable business conditions, we remained true to ourselves. To stay competitive and perspective, we are constantly updating our jewelry designs. The pandemic also affected our operations. But life is creativity, and we do our job for those who need it and who enjoy it with us.
Since then, when my grandfather started, a lot has changed, but some have not changed at all. Classic options still rank high in people’s preferences. Every season we add new patterns and colors to the collection to keep pace with the aesthetics and demands of the times. Changes are associated not only with this, but also with our own desire, the goal of development and promotion. We pay a lot of attention to improving jewelry, constantly experimenting and, of course, planning a business. We are fortunate enough to do work that would not have happened if we hadn’t been so versatile and flexible.
Classic and modern, monochrome and colored, patterned or transparent, minimalistic, playful – decorations create a festive atmosphere. Are there any fashion for them?
– I would say that everything is relative. For many people, Christmas and, in particular, the decoration of the Christmas tree represents memories and images that they have experienced, captured and want to preserve, in which case the classics are also timeless. The interest and challenge for us is to be able to create such new jewelry, which will later become beautiful and fond memories of today. We try to do our job so that our products cause a feeling of joy. So that people experience this joy and share it with those they love. At home, of course, I have collectible jewelry made by my father. They are of great sentimental and historical value to us.
Each ball created in the workshop contains the breath of its creators, the warmth of their hands and hearts. The work is creative and psychotherapeutic – patience and perseverance are needed. And yet, it would seem, you need good lungs. But the point is not in them, but in the technique – it is similar to that which musicians who play wind instruments own. You need to be able to calculate the strength of the breath – for many years the master gains the experience to do this accurately. Well, what about inspiration?
– To get to the creation of any decoration, initially we must like it ourselves. So whatever we do, Christmas or special editions, we love it and we enjoy it. Inspiration and ideas can be around us – in nature, in a fairy tale, in a fictional story … They can be born simply from combinations of colors and shapes that are created during their play. The workshop works all year round. This is a good incentive, it means that our inspiration is not limited to the Christmas period alone. Each season, production is rebuilt, depending on demand and our capabilities. We have a lot of modern decorations that we create with Mom – Halloween, Easter, summer decorations. They handle individual orders – this can be, for example, wedding and baptismal souvenirs, corporate gifts.
Secrets will remain secrets
Glass Christmas decorations are light and elegant. However, the simplicity of their creation is apparent. Now in the workshop on the street of Halkidiki it is the hottest time. The journey to Christmas, which began here almost half a century ago, continues. What are your dreams this year?
– Working many hours without days off is the hardest part of our work. We feel tired of the constant and intense work schedule. And along with this – relief from the fact that they held out for another year. Thanks for doing the finest job in the world. Yes, we have secrets and they will remain secrets. The joy of creativity and the end result, when, after several days of labor, we see each piece of jewelry perfect, and the kind words that we hear are what rewards us. It’s nice that lately, the society is beginning to value manual labor and glassware again. There is nothing more grateful than making people happier, especially in the run-up to Christmas. May we have good health, kind hearts and full hugs.
Photo from the personal archive of A. Kotopoulou.