Pack saddlers made packsaddles, that is, the parts placed on the back of the pack-animals used as a seat for the rider or/and to fasten loads. This craft dates back from the beginning of the use of pack animals (such as horses, donkeys, mules). It was a bread-winning occupation and at the same time a folk art concerning the woodcut ornaments of the packsaddles. The art of pack-saddlery was usually passed on from father to son, and more rarely, it was taught by some old master craftsmen to apprentices (since pack saddlers used to work alone).
The making of a packsaddle consisted of six phases and was completed in about four days. In the first phase, the craftsman took the measurements of the animal, the packsaddle of which should be (four fingers) larger than its sides so that it would not cause discomfort. Then he cut the wooden pieces in the suitable shape for the creation of the saddletree (the wooden frame). In the third phase, he assembled the parts of the saddletree: first, he attached the wooden base bars (kentekia) that connected the front (nomos) and the back part of the frame, and then the bars which firmed and reinforced the connection of these two parts (skarvelia or planetes). The upper bars stood out from the pommel and had a small kerf, for bounding the loads, while there was a similar kerf at the back.
In the fourth phase, he stitched the felt (fabric of goat hair covering the exterior of the saddle) with the leather, fixed it on the frame and stuffed it with straw (more at the front and back side where the load was carried and less in the middle, so that the animal’s backbone would not be overburdened). In the fifth phase, he decorated the pommel and the cantle with woodcut patterns and various beads, studs etc. and finally he painted it.
When a packsaddle was cracked he repaired it, or, as he said, he “patched” it by placing an iron band (tserki) on the cracked areas, while every five to six years they changed the felt and stuffed it with new straw, because it became worn out through overuse.
The main tools of the pack saddler were: saw, axe, hammer, chisels, drawing knife, awl, scissors, bodkin, bevel (tool for cuts) etc., while the materials he used were: wood (mainly walnut or plane wood – strong but heavy wood, as well as willow or mulberry wood – lighter but less strong), leather, felt, straw, nails for fixing and studs for decoration, cord, varnish, brush, beads.
Upon the appearance of cars, the necessity of packsaddles and consequently of pack saddlers became extinct. Today, in Chios and Lesvos there are some pack saddlers making mainly decorative packsaddles.
- Interview with Apostolos Karanikolas [pack saddler and lay clerk], in Mandamados, Lesvos, 23/07/2004
- Interview with Haralambos Kyriazis [pack saddler] in Plomari, Lesvos, 24/01/1996, within the framework of the application of the “Aegean Ark” programme, under the supervision of S. Chtouris
- Interview with Thomas Moutafis [pack saddler] in Volissos, Chios, 11/07/2005
- Ch. Paraskevaïdis, Olden Agia Paraskevi of Lesvos: Historical, Genealogical and Folkloric Analects, Cultural Centre of the Community of Agia Paraskevi, Lesvos, Athens - Agia Paraskevi, 1991
- D. Sklepari, “Folklore Art and Packsaddles”, Mytilini, Volume 1, “Theofilos” Club of friends of art of Mytilene, Mytilene, 1984