Afanasia Kotopoulou’s handmade Christmas decoration workshop is the only one in Greece that managed to survive the crisis and preserve the tradition of the “fire, glass and art” triptych.
In a small workshop on the street of Halkidiki in Thessaloniki, a miracle has been performed daily for almost half a century. This is where handmade glass Christmas decorations are born. The owner of the family business in the third generation, Athanasia KOTOPOULOU, grew up in this workshop, and all her childhood memories are connected with her: “When a glass tube turns into a ball before your eyes, which then becomes an elegant Christmas decoration, it all looked like magic.” Today she is a sorceress herself, whose talent and diligence, loyalty to traditions and the idea of continuity helped to survive in difficult times and save the workshop.
Athanasius Kotopoulou at work.
The production of Christmas decorations is a piece business. Obviously troublesome and requiring full dedication, but very effective at the finish line. Fragile, like glass itself – sometimes it can be difficult to keep it afloat. Not everyone is up to it. Doing it for almost half a century is worth a lot.
– As far as I know, for several years 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 magic. Glass tube meets fire
The basis for the manufacture of the 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 the tube, it becomes plastic and cut into small pieces for further work. A piece is taken, and this workpiece is heated. When the master, due to experience and intuition, understands that the glass has melted sufficiently, he begins to blow air into it through the “antennae” (the long end of the workpiece), dosing the volume – this is how a ball appears. Then follows the “silver coating” – the ball acquires a mirror shine inside. Thanks to painting in matte or glossy colors and artistic painting, the ball acquires its final form. It can pass through the hands of the master from one to six times, everything is done without the use of stencils. After that, the “antennae” is heated, twisted and cut off. The ball cap is inserted and the finished product is packaged. It takes three to ten days to create each ball.
– In 1973, my grandfather Konstantinos Kotopoulos came up with the brilliant idea to open a Christmas decoration business. Very soon Father Dimitrios Kotopoulos joined him along with my mother Anastasia Kotopoulou. Thanks to their talent and vivid imagination, they managed to grow and develop a business for thirty-three years. Dad turned from a self-taught person into a real master. Mom’s sense of style added charm to each collection. Parents are the foundation of everything. The jewelry they made was sold all over Greece. I got my knowledge and experience from them.
In 2007, the sudden loss of my father was the hardest thing we had to deal with on a personal level. The decision to continue 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 grandfather and father, because to this day in the workshop, already known as “Fire, Glass and Art”, we preserve the tradition, develop and adapt to our era, preserving romance and beauty handmade jewelry. With high quality, great variety and constant 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.
The fight between glass and plastic
Life is such that it is rapidly changing not every year, but almost every day, and presents not always pleasant surprises. Have to deal with.
– Long before the economic crisis, our industry suffered a lot of damage due to the import of Christmas decorations, mainly from China, as well as plastic decorations that flooded the Greek market. Despite such unfavorable conditions for business, we remained true to ourselves. In order to stay competitive and stay ahead of the curve, we are constantly innovating jewelry designs. The pandemic has also affected our activities. But life is creativity, and we do our work for those who need it and who enjoy it with us.
A lot has changed since my grandfather started, and some things haven’t changed at all. Classic options still occupy high positions in people’s preferences. Every season we add new patterns and colors to the collection to keep up with the aesthetics and demands of the times. Changes are connected not only with this, but also with our own desire, the goal of development and advancement. We pay a lot of attention to the improvement of jewelry, we are constantly experimenting and, of course, we are engaged in business planning. We have been fortunate to do work that would not have been possible if we were not so versatile and flexible.
Classic and modern, monochrome and colours, patterned or transparent, minimalistic, playful – decorations create a festive atmosphere. Do they have fashion?
– I would say that everything is relative. For many people, Christmas, and in particular the decoration of the Christmas tree, represents the memories and images that they have experienced, captured and want to keep, and in this case, the classics are also timeless. The interest and challenge for us is to be able to create such new jewelry that will later become beautiful and good memories of today. We try to do our job in such a way that our products evoke a feeling of joy. For people to experience this joy and share it with those they love. At home, of course, I have collectible jewelry that my father made. They are of great sentimental and historical value to us.
In each ball created in the workshop, there is the breath of its creators, the warmth of their hands and hearts. Creative and psychotherapeutic work requires patience and perseverance. And yet, it would seem, we need good lungs. But the point is not in them, but in the technique – it is similar to that which is owned by musicians playing wind instruments. You need to be able to calculate the strength of breathing – for many years the master gains experience in doing this accurately. Well, what about inspiration?
– In order to reach the creation of any decoration, initially we ourselves must like it. So whatever we do, Christmas or specials, we love it and we enjoy it. Inspiration and ideas can be found all around us – in nature, in a fairy tale, in a fictional story… They can be born simply from the combinations of colors and shapes that are created in the course of their play. The workshop is open all year round. This is a good incentive, it means that our inspiration is not limited to the Christmas period. Each season, production, depending on demand and our capabilities, is rebuilt. We have a lot of modern decorations that we create together with my mother – on the theme of Halloween, Easter, summer. They deal with individual orders – these can be, for example, wedding and baptismal souvenirs, corporate gifts.
Secrets will remain secrets
Christmas decorations made of glass are light and elegant. However, the simplicity of their creation is apparent. Now the workshop on the street of Halkidiki is the hottest time. The journey to Christmas, which began here almost half a century ago, continues. What are they dreaming of this year?
– Many hours of work without days off is the hardest part of our work. We feel tired from a constant and intense work schedule. And along with that, the relief of holding on for another year. Thank you for doing the finest work 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 work we see each decoration as perfect, and the kind words that we hear – that’s what rewards us. It’s nice that in recent years, society is again beginning to appreciate manual labor and glassware. There is nothing more grateful than making people happier, especially on the eve of Christmas. May we have good health, kind hearts and full embraces.
Photo from the personal archive of A. Kotopoulu.