SAMOS The Aegean Island Favored by the Muses
Articles on Greece by AURELIA

The Muses dance in the light of Samos It is said that when the Muses need inspiration, they go to the Island of Samos, known since antiquity as 'The Island of the Blest.' Assembling first at Delphi, the Nine Sisters engage the Charioteer to escort them to this enchanted island, preferring to arrive in the dark black of night, guided by a single bright light on the mountaintop.

The light is said to represent the spirit of Pythagoras, philosopher and mathematician, and other creative ancients born on this unique, Aegean Island. It is the very land on which Pythagoras walked and contemplated the relationship between right angles and celestial bodies and the elegant harmony of the spheres.

If you have ever been to Samos, you will understand why it attracts artists and other creative people. Located in the beautiful seaside village of Ayios Constantinos on the northern coast of Samos, it is indeed far from the madding crowd.

Separated from the Turkish mainland by the two kilometer wide Strait of Mycale, it is closer to Asia Minor than any other Greek island. The island is approximately thirty miles long and fifteen miles wide, is extremely verdant, and is known for its famous wine, olives, tobacco, and raisins. Samos has a population of 43,000 residents who fiercely maintain their island traditions. Unique and distinctive villages are snuggled beneath the island's two mountains, Mt. Ampelos and Mt. Kerkis, among the largest in Greece.

And in the summer months, it is in these mountains, in these secluded, small villages, where you will find artists who have come to fulfill their creative needs, following in the paths of the ancients. Among the ancients are the aforementioned Pythagoras, who was born on Samos nearly 2,000 years ago; Roikos and Theodoros, 5th Century B.C., architects of the Temple of Hera; Mandrocles, 6th Century B.C., who built the floating bridge on the Bosphorus for Darius; Evpanlino from Megara, builder of the famous aqueduct at Pythagoreio; and Aristarchos, 3rd Century B.C., one of the most famous astronomers of antiquity.

Today's artists are not engaged in building bridges or aqueducts, but are most likely working with clay or paints. They are enrolled in the Art School of the Aegean, founded in 1990 by Susan Trovas, an American woman who lives in Sarasota, Florida and New York City with her Greek husband, Dimitris, whose parents were born on Samos.

Susan and Dimitris have merged their individual talents and created a comprehensive summer program featuring a variety of art classes as well as classes in the Greek language and discussions of history. Classes this summer will be held from June 17 to July 18. Students may enroll for three different Studio Art Classes during the first three weeks, and participate in two workshops during the final week.

Studio Art Classes will include 'Painting the Landscape,' by Yannis Ziogas; 'Sculpture,' by Antonia Papatzanaki; and 'Photography,' by Kirsten Bengston. A program entitled 'The Creativity Workshop' will be held during the fourth week.

Students may choose to participate in other activities as well, including a three-day guided tour of Athens with a day trip to Delphi; a day-long excursion to Patmos, home of the 11th Century monastery where St. John wrote 'The Book of Revelations;' and a trip to Turkey to visit the ancient city of Ephesus and the Turkish market in Kushadasi.

All in all, this summer program is unique and offers an artistically enriching experience and creative interaction with students and practicing artists from all over the United States and Europe. By living in modest pensions, students quickly become immersed in the rich culture life of the village and students and villagers both benefit from the interaction.

Persons of all ages and backgrounds have come to the Art School of the Aegean since its inception eleven years ago. The island itself is a unique resource where students have intimate looks at Byzantine monasteries, old rustic villages, Greek and Roman ruins, and the extraordinary holdings from the Temple of Hera in the Samos Museum.

At the Art School of the Aegean, students will have that rare opportunity to focus on their artistic abilities, enrich their knowledge of ancient and modern Greece, and experience a time of personal and artistic renewal and rejuvenation.

Susan Trovas, a painter, worked thirteen years in New York's Museum of Modern Art as Manager of the Membership Department. She is currently working for the Vice President of Academic Affairs at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Florida.

Dimitris Trovas, who is passionate about his Greek heritage and is intent on preserving and perpetuating Greek culture on the island, teaches the language courses and shares his knowledge of Greek history and the history of the island. Usually fifteen people are enrolled each summer and a few residents of the island are now participating, enriching the curriculum and promoting a natural cultural exchange.

The program is designed for a diverse group of individuals of different ages and backgrounds who would like to advance their creative interests while exploring a Greek island as a source of inspiration. An experienced teaching staff, some of whom are well-known artists, work one-on-one with the students.

Every effort is made to enrich the students' understanding of Greek culture and Dimitris Trovas, who is a multi-talented singer, teacher, and teller of tales takes pride in teaching in this area. Mr. Trovas is not only a fine singer, but he has an extensive knowledge of the history of Rembetiko music and the more than 2,000 songs that evolved from that genre.

Students listen with rapt attention as Mr. Dimitris tells the story of the burning of Smyrna, the refugees flight to the ghettos of Athens, and the gut-wrenching music that evolved from this catastrophe. He also entertains with Rembetiko songs, which he describes as his 'passion.'

When he talks about the island, Mr. Trovas explains that Samos has been independent for most of its history and was a great naval power between the years 532 to 522. It became part of the Delian Alliance in 478 B.C.

In more recent times, Samos rose up against the Turks in 1821 and kept them out of Samos until 1830 when the Great Powers gave the island to turkey. In 1912, however, a hero named Themistoklis Sophoulis landed on Samos with volunteers and was soon joined by locals who fought fiercely and drove the Turks away. The island was officially united with Greece in 1913.

The history discussions enrich the basic courses the school offers. These include workshops on sculpture, painting, photography, ceramics, and watercolors. Field trips are part of the experience and students pile into jeeps to visit Byzantine monasteries and go deeper into the rustic villages.

There are many famous attractions on Samos, including the Temple of Hera; the Evpalineios tunnel, once one of the seven wonders of the world because the mountain was dug simultaneously from both sides and the crews met in the exact middle; and the Archaeological Museum and the Byzantine Museum, with beautiful icons from the seventeenth century.

Yannis Ziogas, a well-established Athens painter, is Co-Director and painting instructor.

Susan Trovas fell in love with Samos and Greece when she first went to Samos to paint in 1989. She explains that, although she is not Greek, she always had an emotional tie with Greece. 'It is the landscape,' she explains, 'it is the idea of Greece.'

In 1990, Susan learned that there once was an art school in Samos and she was inspired to create her own school. She thought it was a chance of a lifetime and did not want to miss the opportunity. 'It was my ticket back to Greece,' she says. Susan explains, 'I consider it a privilege to experience the Greek life-style and to understand their culture and history. These are special people. Greece is a place where people have been able to keep their dignity and appreciation for life in years of poverty, occupation, and war.'

Susan met Dimitris Trovas on Samos and had a whirlwind courtship; when they married they shared a common goal to start the school.

After establishing a home in New York City, Susan worked on recruiting students for the summer, while Dimitris' parents made a farmhouse available on Samos. This became the initial site for the school. The second year brought seven students and a new location, a public school building, where the school is today. Three instructors who have helped Susan and Dimitris build a strong foundation for the classes are Yannis Ziogas, Louis Trakis, a sculptor from New York City; and Kathy Shaggs, an American artist who teachers tile making.

Susan said the Art School of the Aegean is becoming 'stronger' and she attributes this to the fact that students who are enrolling are 'serious about Greece - this had made the difference,' she says.

Susan and Dimitris work all year round to perfect the four-week summer program. Both are totally committed to the school and to Samos. 'It is wonderful to bring artists to Greece,' Susan says, 'because they are not your average tourist. Artists produce things. They like to observe and they are generally interested in the experience as well as learning. It is satisfying to know that people in Greece may have benefited from their presence. One year our students produced two large tile installations at the school building. This was beyond the imaginations of the local people and impossible to put a value on. The installations are real works of art.' Susan continues, 'The school is a very healthy and positive enterprise and it is great, especially for the young people of Samos. We have had a few women from the island join our program and one young girl who wants to be an artist is now part of our group.'

Plans for the future include building artists studios in the villages so that artists can live in the mountains. One artist, Daniel Bonham, is thinking about doing just this.

Susan asks, 'Can you imagine, if you are an artist, setting up a studio high in the mountains, in splendid solitude and living and working there for several months? Malista, Yes. That is why the Muses come to Samos.


Visit the Art School at Art School of the Aegean

A Lone Red Apple
Aurelia is the author of A Lone Red Apple, a love story set on the Greek island of Mykonos.

A Lone Red Apple