Maria-Tina Karamanlakis grew up in a house in Miami Beach where women were constantly working with their hands. She remembers her one giagia opening the dough for diples and koulouraki with a broomstick in the kitchen while the other, her great-giagia, would crotchet, embroider, knit and create bead work flowers. On the weekends, they would take the bus to downtown Miami looking for textile patterns which they would then design and sew into Easter dresses, outfits for Barbie dolls, and other couture patterns. These early memories of her giagia’s hands at work and the vibrant frescoes of bull-jumping bare-breasted girls on the walls of the ancient palace at Knossos, Crete that one summer holiday with her parents when she was just eight years old influenced her future oeuvre. She is an artist that works in gold and precious stone to create one-of-a-kind hand-crafted jewelry based on Minoan motifs.
The typical good-Greek girl in her began college with a major in pre-med and science, bowing to the dictates of her authoritarian father. But the artist and the rebel in her quickly changed course to major in art and then to graphic design. “It was like God had opened up my head,” she explains when she took that drawing class in college, the one she had received a full scholarship to. Her father did not look highly on her choice of artist as career. Ironically, it had been her mother, a chemist, who had wanted to be an artist. But art was her destiny. “My life is making beautiful art,” she thinks back reflectively. She had fallen in love with logos collecting a whole wall of them before she found her way to studying graphic design. “The logo is connected to the Greek idea of ‘Logos’,” she realized. Her start in graphic design landed her a series of design jobs that pushed her into the world of broadcast TV graphics, first in Atlanta for CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX then Telemundo and Univision. She is the first female design director in the history of Hispanic network television. Her first design director position was at Telemundo Network, then after receiving a full scholarship to grad school at University of Miami in Art and Art History, she became promoted as design director at Univision network. She was part of the creative team that put the bright colors and intense lighting into the Latino broadcast signature that is so recognizable today. Because she got overwhelmed with working with the negative news images, “dead baby graphics” as she termed them in news broadcasts, she sparked ZOETV, a campaign to give people beauty instead of tragedy. Her aesthetic sense garnered her six Emmy awards and 13 international design awards for broadcast television art direction, design, and styling. She was voted best in the world 12 times by her colleagues at the Broadcast Designers Association.
Maria-Tina at work, “Fire and gold is alchemy.”
Although busy with a career in broadcasting, shad always dabbled in jewelry. Once she got laid off from her job after 9/11, she had more time to take a “real” class in jewelry making learning proper metal smything and working in gold and copper. She rented out a space in the jewelry school in San Francisco and got to work. “Fire and gold is magical,” she states. “There’s alchemy in it. Once I get into my zone, I’m in eternity.” She instinctively started using Minoan designs because as she says, “These symbols are primordial and have been carried through time, enduring many cultures, and carrying a message that each individual culture has defined in its own way. I try to incorporate Minoan icons in all my artwork as they awaken a cellular memory deep within our DNA.”
Indeed it is the power and sacredness that these Minoan icons harbor that Maria-Tina as a woman of Cretan descent instinctively latched onto. She later took a course on Shamanism which only reconfirmed what she already knew deep in her blood—that the power of Minoan iconography comes from the power of the Goddess-worshipping civilization that gave rise to them. Minoan civilization enjoyed 1,500 years of peace, the longest record of peaceful co-habitation in the history of humankind, was matriarchal, and expounded values such as tolerance, equality, and “What people fail to realize is that the majority of human history, close to 30,000 years, was marked by matriarchy and goddess-worship,” she says, “unlike the patriarchy that we in the modern day take as given.” It is this reconnection to the Goddess, perhaps, that makes her designs so popular. “When people wear my work,” she states, “it makes them feel more regal. They can feel the energy of the symbols coming through.” By understanding her Minoan ancestry, Maria-Tina came to an understanding of herself, “No wonder I am the way I am,” she confesses. Now she makes a conscious effort to incorporate these designs into all her work because she wants to bring the message of Minoan wisdom to the modern world. A fact the Getty Villa Museum shop has capitalized on by choosing her designs to accompany its exhibit of Byzantine icons.
She works in 22K gold with the same ancestral tools. She torches the pure gold and alloy in a crucible herself then transfers the molten gold in an ingot, pulling it through a mill, annealing, shaping, forming eventually hammering or incising details and mounting rubies and other precious stones. She does this all by hand meticulously basically from scratch. She does not use the more “male-dominated” jeweler techniques of casting or carving wax and pouring into a mold.
Maria-Tina’s work is in the hands of private collectors but has also been exhibited in museums and art galleries around the world. Her pieces even hang around the necks of celebrities; in 2007, her “Open Floating Heart” necklace was presented to the top 10 female nominees for Oscar Awards. Currently, she has found a new niche in making gold makeovers. Clients send her old gold pieces and have her recycle and refashion them in new ways. Jewelry-making as an art form holds deep meaning for both her and her clients. “It is really timeless, enjoyable, and has intrinsic value,” she says, “It is an external badge that holds eternity and carries meaning for each individual.” This is why some of her clients won’t ever take her pieces off—ever. She makes pieces across metals, including bronze, to meet everyone’s price point. She excels in making stefana for use in the Orthodox wedding service and even dabbles in wedding rings.
Keeping true to the values of philanthropy, Maria Tina has also founded a not-for-profit organization, When Women Ruled the World, that provides micro-loans so that women in poverty can start their own business in the third world. She supports the academic, emotional and social health of girls by providing the tuition to pay for their high school education in Kenya. She has created the Daraja Bangle, “daraja” meaning “bridge,” in support of art auctions for this charity.
She is hopeful that Maria-Tina’s Vision will bridge the mystique of Minoan civilization for millennia to come through the power of wearable art.
A little inspiration from Maria-Tina’s Vision at Greek Island House Party
Minoan Icons Used in Maria-Tina Designs:
The most ancient of symbols representing alternatively, the labyrinth, eternity, transformation, the snake renewal. The spiral has been revealed to be the shape that captures the essence of life, the double-helix in DNA as it does the spiral movement of the galaxy and the COSMOS.
The Minoan Queen Bee:
The symbol of the mother goddess, the creator of honey, or alternatively holding the cosmos. “For 30,000 years woman has been honored as the creative source and of all life, compared to only 3,000 years for the patriarchy,” Maria Tina remarks.
A symbol that contains both male and female elements has been a long symbol of the Goddess prominent on walls at Knossos. Actually, when you look straight on to the female organs they look like a bull’s head. It symbolizes the dual nature of life and nature as having the same source.
Square with dot
A square having a point or dot in the middle stands for “the seed of creativity” or the vulva with a male seed in its middle.
Long held as a symbol of resurrection as it can be seen as butterfly wings or even a double vulva.
“One of my favorite icons as it is womanly and voluptuous by mimicking the female form.”