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The permanent exhibition – containing representative examples of every branch of every branch of modern Greek Folk Art – give prominence to the features that formed the cultural identity of modern Greeks in the period from 17th to the beginning of the 20th c. the three floors of the museum are home to exhibitions containing outstanding examples of embroidery, weaving, traditional costumes, masquerades, the shadow theatre, silverware, metalware, pottery, wood carving, folk painting and stone carving.
On the ground floor of the museum, visitors will see elegant examples of traditional embroidery from the whole of Greece. They include polychrome and white embroideries-laces and gold embroideries intended to meet the needs of dress, house and church. Particular interest attaches to pleated embroidered chemises of Crete, the relics of a female dress type with Renaissance roots that is found in other islands in the Archipelago during the period of Frankish rule (17th – 18th c.).Their hems are embroidered with alternating representations of gorgons, double-headed eagles, flower-vases, fantastic birds, and etc. The Dodecanesian “sperveri” - an embroidered curtain used to separate the bridal bed from the rest of the one roomed house – is also very impressive. Also on display are pillows, bed valances and sheets to adorn the marriage bed (Sporades, Epirus) with motifs of a decorative (cockerel, double-headed eagle) or narrative character (wedding procession). There are also hieratic vestments-gold-embroidered “amphia”-and embroideries used in the Orthodox church services.
On the mezzanine floor a number of small group of ceramic objects, donated by P. and E. Michelis, are displayed . Items of pastoral wood-carving (weaving instruments, wooden stamps, bread stamps etc ) as well as figures from the Greek shadow theatre (Karagiozis), shown here together with a reconstruction of a “berdes” (screen-stage). The folk shadow theatre, a creation of the east, represents an unusual form of theatre art that has been kept alive to the present day. Its main expressive means are the berdes, words, music, song and the figures made of leather or cardboard. With these the shadow theatre player creates plays on the berdes which capture the folk spirit and give expression to the political and social life of the land, aiming to entertain people. The same spirit of delight extends to the masquerades presented in the same room (Carnival dresses from the village Sochos, “Boules” from the town Naousa, “Yeros and Korella” from the island Skyros). Masquerades, which have primeval origins and a fertility character, like the ancient festivals of Dionysus, were designed to secure health, vegetation and the fructification of the earth.
The second floor of the Museum is given over to the presentation of silver objects representing one of the most splendid branches of Modern Greek Folk Art, which has a strong tradition and presence from ancient times to the present day. Here visitors will see work of both secular (ornaments for headdresses, forehead earrings, necklaces, brooches, belts, bracelets, finger-rings) and ecclesiastical silverware (gospel books, patents, chalices, crosses, flabella, wedding wreaths, ex votos) covering the output of the centres at which the Greek silver craftsmen were active (Thrace, Syrrako, Kalarrytes, Ioannina, Stemnitsa, Asia Minor, Pontus, Constantinople, Cyprus etc). Outstanding amongst these exhibits is the impressive diadem with tasseled ornaments, a tufted forehead ornament for the bride’ s headdress, which may evoke in visitors the idea of a secular ruler’s crown. Visitors will also admire the Museum’s collection of weapons (rifles, pistols, cartridge-belts, drinking cups) used by freedom fighters during the Greek uprising of 1821 (donated by M. Economides), and the ecclesiastical heirlooms (patens, gospel books, sanctification crosses, etc) brought with them by refugees from Asia Minor.
The last floor of the Museum is devoted to a presentation of Greek traditional costumes. Here visitors will see everyday costumes, but mainly wedding and festive dresses from almost every part of Greece: male costumes, usually with severe colours (black or dark red) and austere decoration, and striking female costumes with bright colours and elaborate ornamentation. The explanatory texts and background material (photographs and drawings) provide visitors with information about the objects on display.
The temporary exhibition room occupies the larger part of the first floor. The rest of this floor is devoted to a permanent exhibition of works by the folk artist Theophilos Chatzimichail (1860-1934). The small room, in which the detached decoration and ceiling of a house painted by Theophilos on Lesbos Island are displayed, is very impressive. This is a wonderful example of folk painting in which all the features of Theophilos’ painting are present: two dimensional perception, free use of colour, timelessness (Alexander the great set alongside freedom fighters of 1821), narrative and written comments that extend and interpret the image.