The Ancient Art of Pottery: Crafting Our Myth With Clay Vessels

Greek Master Potter explains the pottery-making process to a group of traveling artists in Greece

It was a last-minute decision, but I couldn't resist. Although I was responsible for a large group of 19 artists and tasked with getting them to the ancient city of Lindos on the island of Rhodes, as promised in the itinerary, I couldn't resist the offer.

My romantic heart couldn’t say no to a pottery lesson in the ancient art of creating vessels at a professional studio. Even though we didn't have the time for it, and the rest of our day might be rushed, I knew that deep inspiration awaited us just a few hours ahead.

The Rich Tradition of Bonis Pottery Studio

We kept the whole trip a surprise to the others. While winding along seaside roads on the mini-bus we dropped hints and made innuendos, asking our artist friends if they had seen the movie "Ghost," starring Patrick Swayze. The bus arrived at Bonis Pottery Studio perched on a high cliff overlooking Zambia Beach, featuring a million-dollar view of the azure blue coastline.

Breathtaking inspiration infused us all immediately. We were greeted by a team of older Greek men smiling and pulling us away from taking pictures of the view and guiding us into the studio.

We immediately saw rows and rows of terracotta clay pots and dishes lining 50 or more shelves telling Rhodes' heroic stories. Dimitris Bonis proudly told our group all about the pottery-making process and that his family had carried the ancient tradition since 1969 when they established the studio.

We met his son Manolis who is in his 20s. I asked him if he was passionate about his family's business and planned to be a part of it long term. He said, “Look at me. I am the only person under the age of 40 who cares about this tradition and plans to continue it."

He feels a responsibility to carry the torch forward. He feels connected to the ancient tradition.

The Art of Pottery Guided by the Master Potter

Elli Milan at a pottery studio in Rhodes, Greece learning the art of pottery with a master potter

The pottery lessons began, and one by one, we each took turns working with their master potter – a man in his 70s with a calm and peaceful spirit. He did not speak English, but he was able to explain how to craft and mold the pot with his hands holding ours, gently shaping the clay and forming it into the vessel.

Like the scene from the movie "Ghost," our Greek Patrick Swayze worked with every one of us until we had a beautifully crafted pot.

It felt so good to have my hands wet with the slick clay, feeling it move between my fingers and rise into its form. I was immediately transported back to my college years when I would make ceramic pots and sell them as a vendor on the streets of Athens. Back then, pottery had been an addiction for me. I could not get enough.

It occurred to me that perhaps one of my Greek ancestors was a master potter, and the love for this craft was enfolded in my DNA. It feels so natural and familiar to work on the potter's wheel and to create something beautiful and useful from a mound of mud.

Connecting and Crafting Our Mythic Vessels

A week later, I returned to the studio alone because I wanted to carve my own pot. I sat down at the carving station alongside the women who engrave each pot by hand without stencils or templates. Each one engraves freehand as if the designs are forever imprinted on their hearts.

I held the needle in my hand and began to carve the clay. I created two Pegasus facing each other. It was like I was looking at myself from generations passed. I felt like my hands have done this before. I was inscribing in clay the stories of great exploits and victories of my generations. I could see ships and wild seas, horses, and armies. I heard drums beating the rhythms of dance.

I knew I was touching something ancient within me. I was connecting with the one Master Potter and Divine Artist who holds our hands in the wet clay and helps us form our vessels.

We are the Vessels Displaying Our Stories and Destinies 

We are not alone and disconnected. We are the many pots of all shapes and sizes that line the shelves of the potter’s studio. We each display the profound stories and destinies inscribed in the intricate lines and patterns of our terracotta forms.

We are legends. We are mystery. We are useful and we shine most beautifully in our acts of service. We are the vessels that hold the Divine and serve each other through our stories and our myth.

Share you experience in the comments below!


  • Sarah

    You have a true gift to inspire – thank you! One summer many years ago, I had worked as an archaeological illustrator on-site at an excavation in Turkey. They collected Hittite pottery (among other finds) and my job was to draw them. Following in the same vein as your story, there was one pot I remember with a fingerprint relief in the clay where the base of the handle meets the vessel…the fingerprint of the person who crafted it from an ancient time. When I handled the piece, I was transported through time.

    As humans – and artists – these are the literal things we leave behind which connect us intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. It is powerful.

    Thank you sharing your power. You inspire me.

  • Iris Ztarr

    Elli you have a beautiful talent for writing as well as painting! I felt connected to the ancient mosaic artists of Italy when I started creating mosaics with handmade art glass and millefiori. Such a great tradition of amazing art and stories. Would love to come on one of your retreats to Greece one year.

  • Georgette

    HI Eli, Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us ❤️ Greece it’s culture, people, landscape and super history is so mystical and fabulous. You have a beautiful gift of writing, capturing our spirit with your insight. Being a vessel example, inspiring me to live fully authentically. Have a great day😊Georgette

  • Maria

    What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing and I hope to join you at the next artist’s retreat in Greece! I love the pottery you created! My husband and I plan to visit Italy in 2 years (now a goal of mine) because I want to see the land where my ancestors come from! I have been slowly learning Italian and love to learn about their culture, I give thanks to you and the academy for helping me see that and wanting to feel more connected to my heritage! Thank you for the inspiring emails each week!

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