Kostas Mouggolias is the one and only Greek spintop maker. Among other things.
In his workshop –that reminds you of Santa’s workshop- he makes toys from the past, spintops, ker-bangers and yoyos, full of memories from those old enough to have played with them. For the younger ones, they are simply artsy, tasteful toys that bring them to contact with times long gone past.
The spintop workshop “Aeikiniton” that we found our way to on Monday afternoon, is filled with myriads of spintops. Tiny, bigger, really big, huge. The beautiful miniature-brochure that accompanies them talks about “a representation of the natural world in small-scale. Our planet, the universe itself is swirling in a perpetual motion in time and space, and the spintop right in front of us mimics for some moments this cosmic swirl.” Kostas Mouggolias used to be an archaeologist, nowadays he’s a spintop maker and musician –during the time we had our coffee he was talking to us about his last trip to a festival in Ireland where they took part playing bagpipes.
At the same time Manteau is relentlessly taking pictures of the workshop and the toys, Kostas talks to us about how he took up spintop making some years ago.
“I was born in Keratsini, Piraeus, where I stayed up until the first grade of elementary school and then due to family reasons, I found myself in a village in Kalavryta, Skotani.” he says. “I grew up there with my grandpa and grandma, so from the alleys of Keratsini I found myself in the countryside literally among goats. In a room with no electricity, with cats, chicken, and a petroleum lamp. With the dairy farms, the creameries and such. We weren’t actually located in a housing complex, we used to stay by ourselves in the forest, together with animals, the goats were giving birth in our house. I went to school there. My life changed quite a lot, my grandfather used to work with wood and sticks and there I came in first contact with this material. I started scraping the wood with my pocketknife to various small objects.”
“I came back to Athens on the first grade of highschool, I landed in New Philadelphia in a two-bedroom flat. I couldn’t go around the city, I wasn’t able to even cross a road, so I was enrolled in a private school. The school-bus was coming over, they picked me up and then brought me back home. After finishing highschool I went to Thessaloniki to study archaeology. I went to Macedonia in various excavations and then I set off to Italy –irrelevant with archaeology- because I was also playing music. I’m in a band with bagpipes and such. We’re calling ourselves Alistrata.”
“As a child my role models were Aris Velouchiotis, Karaiskakis and my two grandfathers, one coming from Smyrna, a musician and the other a member of the underground resistance. I grew up with them, actually. During the elementary I had covered the entire works of the Russian classics, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy and Kazantzakis. I remember I used to borrow book from the community library of the village. One night my grandfather browsed though one, read something about bandits and mobs and tossed it in the fire. He was the general secretary on the regional communist party! The next morning I woke up with a copy of Anafora ston Grecko sitting next to my pillow. I opened the book and I remember that on the first page it was writing “I bow down inside me and I shudder.” I was on the third grade of elementary when I discovered Kazantzakis.
I road-tripped for two years across Europe, with my sazi, from place to place, based on Sardinia. Then I went to Mt. Sinai, lived in a monastery for six months. I went through a mind-phase like that, I flirted with the idea of becoming a monk. I went to Mt. Athos, and then I got back, worked in excavations again.
For a period I was unpaid for six months, so I decided to quit being an archaeologist. I gave up. I got back to Athens, took up various jobs, but I always had problems with the bosses, I came to conflict, couldn’t settle down somewhere. On one occasion, an uncle of mine that used to have lathes made some spintops, I took them, went to fair, sold them all in zero time, and so I started. Just as a joke.
I decided to take the thing on a new level, to dig to this. So I got into spinning objects. One visit to Turkey had preceded with dervishes and swirls. In general I was drawn by the swirl. So I got on, selling on the street. This used to be my life. I was going around with a stand that was detachable and you could fit it in a small suitcase and the cops where after me.
Then I built this workshop and this is how I go by until now. The spintop exists as a word in all languages of the world, in all countries, it is primordial toy. In Africa they do it with a fruit which they spin, but the first reference comes from Homer. They were calling it stromvos, or strovilos or vemvycka. In 20th century Greece it reached its golden era during the 50’s and 60’s. Today it’s almost in extinction. Collecting folklore material from the entire Greece, I tried to make spintops the old-school way. For the traditional spintop a necessary accessory is the cord and the penny, which are made in Greece. In the olive-wood spintop the genuine “garyfalloproka” from military boots is put on, which during the 50’s and 60’s they were being used by kids as a nail for their spintops. I’ve made countless trips across the whole Greece to gather them. We are also making spin-tops from other places of the world like the “dervish”, the “dancer” and the “queen”, which are spintops using a support. Also, twin spintops.
I work with a group of people; each has his own task, I can’t do everything by myself. From the carpenter to the lathe, then they are painted and polished. The rotation is something difficult to happen, things must be carefully built in order to spin.
Our customers are collectors, elderly, that lived with the spintop during the past decades. They regard it as a decorative item basically. Their prices start at 2 Euros to 1000, usually from 10 to 50. It’s an object that it, makes you want to collect it.
I’m proud because I started in ’99 with 200 thousand drachmas on loan and I became self-supported. I made something big out of nothing. I had inherited a mountain and now I’m walking on the plains. Five months ago my son was born and I manage to make ends meet. I just regret having wasted so much time on the street and not having done something more creative earlier.
A little before we go, he took us on a tour of his workshop and he shows some of the toys around us
The golden era of the traditional spintop is the 50’s to 60’s. In the 70’s they suddenly begin to perish. It was a group game, it was played outdoors. It requires a dexterity that you won’t find these days in Greece. Anybody below 35 years has never heard of it. Whoever is over 50, and specifically on certain regions of Greece like Thessalia know how to toss one. There are all sizes and shapes: batha, kampanela, tzitziloni and others. It’s the only game existing in any language of the world, even in Africa. It is primordial.
It is based on a natural phenomenon cord turbulence. It was discovered in 1890 by an American and she patented it. The patent eventually expired and in 1950 a Danish engineer, he sells the rights to Kellogg’s and they spread to the whole planet as a gift inside the packaging of their products.
An unemployed guy, Duncan was hanging around in a fair where he saw a guy from Philippines playing with a yoyo. In Philippines there were used as a game and a weapon, but it was unheard of in other places. He bought it for a dollar and then he sold as many yoyo’s as the Pyramid of Cheops. He became very wealthy.
It belongs to the tradition of central Europe. You can find them in Chech republic, Germany and others. It spins with a support.
A Japanese-origin spintop. The Zen monks spin them at the tips of their swords.
An ancient Greek object that is associated with the erotic witchcraft. Legend says, Iyga was a girl, daughter of Panas and Echo, who with her singing seduced Zeus luring him to fall for Ios. So Hera blinded from her jealousy transforms her to the bird minx. Another legend says that Jason wanted to allure Medeia, with the singing of Afroditi, he tied a minx on a radial wheel that he was spinning while casting a spell. So minx was established as a symbol of erotic witchcraft. The name “Iyga” was eventually used to describe the spinning wheel itself.
This particular one is a replica of the English “take all’ from the 20’s. It’s the only spintop that has a negative aura. During the dictatorship in Greece it was banned as gambling, because they used to play a lot with it. It’s being played on New Year’s eve.
It reached Greece in ’72. It was making a lot of racket and you could hurt your wrists with it so it was also banned during the dictatorship.
“The wood we are using is produce of Greece, oak from Florina and olive from Mytilini” he says. We cut it and work it on the lathe. It’s being painted, polished and the cords are put in…”
The spintop workshop “Aeikiniton” is located in Filadelfia, Athens (Efessou 30, tel: 2102586852)
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