I was working on the Tinos chapter today and I remembered – it’s not only the dovecotes I was keen on. As I drove further north, I closed in on the two museums I wanted to visit: the Halepas Museum, a tribute to the local boy who went on to became one of Greece’s prime sculptors, and the Museum of Tinian Artists which is a showcase for the local talent who are following in his footsteps (€3 for both, 9am-2.30pm & 5pm-8pm).

Tinos, like Paros and Naxos, has extensive quarries with a marble that is yellower and sunnier than the deep white of Paros and different in structure and colour than the black emery of Naxos. The small island has bred an inordinate amount of artists compared to his size, and among those is Yannoulis Halepas (1851-1938) whose most famous sculpture for the tomb of Sophia Afentaki, the Sleeping Girl, is the highlight of any visit to the Athens cemetery. Sadly it was vandalized back in 2007, since Halepas was obviously one of the guilty parties for Greece’s woes.

I like Halepas. He was a tortured soul on the boundary between madness and genius; he only worked up to the age of 26 and then only after he was 67, until his death twenty-two years later.

His parents had a marble business so he was co-opted  to help his father, but he went further than what was expected of him commercially and studied sculpture in Athens (1869-1872) and then Munich (1873-1876). In 1877 he created the Sleeping Girl but soon after he had a nervous breakdown after his beloved’s parents refused his request to marry her. he tried to commit suicide. As psychology wasn’t then what it is now, his depression wasn’t diagnosed and in 1888 he was admitted in a asylum in Corfu until the death of his father in 1901. His elderly mother then took him in to take care of her in their house in Pyrgos,  where the museum now lies; there, he was treated cruelly, like the village idiot  being his mother’s virtual slave.

Neither the doctors nor his mother allowed him to sculpt or design anything, believing that his devotion to art was his downfall; in fact, they broke and destroyed if they found he has secretly stashed an object anywhere. Only after the death of his mother, forgotten and penniless did he start creating again and tried to gain lost time. Incredibly he made a name for himself again when most people look forward to retirement and died in 1938, in Athens – at last, recognized and successful.

The house of Halepas may be the big draw but the whole marble village of Pyrgos is stunning. The bus stop is made of solid marble; the street signs are made of marble; and as for the small cemetery- it is an open art gallery. The few who enter are astonished that a small village, tucked far away in the north of an unfashionable Greek island can contain monuments of such creativity.