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by Andrew G. Saffas

The sculptor reflects on the origins of his art and on the vitality of dance, and remembers his parents.

As a ten-year old student in Kansas City, Missouri, I was both proud and embarrassed when my fourth grade teacher held up my drawing in front of the entire class and proclaimed it a beautiful work of art. Then Mrs. Dorsey politely asked me to stay after school for a few minutes.

The previous day my class had been on a field trip to the local zoological park to draw animals from life. I made a drawing of a male lion, but didn't complete it before we left the park, so the same night, I finished it at home with water colors, and had submitted it to her that morning.

At the end of the day, when the class was dismissed I remained in my seat, not knowing what to expect. I was terrified when I saw the Principal ~ Mrs.Campbell ~ walk in who, along with my teacher, confronted me with my drawing.

Surprised by the accuracy of the anatomy, they questioned me, "How did you know to draw all these muscles in the right place?" I told them, "I don't know anything about muscles; or what they're called, I only drew what I saw." Then they asked, "Did anyone help you?" When I assured them I had no help, the Principal placed her hand upon mine, and with her piercing blue eyes staring into mine, stated, "Andrew, you have artistic talent." The memory of that moment is so vivid, to this day I can see her piercing blue eyes, set in a long, thin, kindly face with rouged cheeks, that was framed by white hair pulled into a bun.

I was greatly relieved and pleased by her declaration. She instilled in me a new sense of myself as an artist, and inspired me to explore and develop my talent. I was pleased and flattered when Mrs. Dorsey asked me to decorate the class blackboards with drawings for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas, thereby giving me the opportunity to draw my first murals. In later years, I would paint murals on the walls of many theaters.

At home, studying our books about Greece, I was awed by pictures of Greek statues and captivated by the beauty of the human form. Those pictures sparked a desire in me to create art from life. I started experimenting on Ivory soap, carving a life-like torso of a man, and a lion, for which my father praised me. I took the lion carving to school and received even greater praise from the teacher and the principal.

When I was a Sophomore in high school, my art teacher, Mrs. Schmidt, recommended me for a special six week Saturday morning sculpting class at the Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art. It was there that I sculpted my first nude statue in clay, which was highly praised and later displayed at the gallery.

Although I had spoken both Greek and English for eleven years, my parents thought it best that I attend Greek School, to become fluent in the language, and probably to ensure I would retain the Greek traditions.

At the age of sixteen, I memorized and delivered on stage more than forty pages of Greek dialogue in the play, "O Yero Dimos", presented by the Greek School teacher. The leading part, for which I received rave reviews from the community, was the longest dialogue spoken in Greek. I am proud that ~ at age eighteen ~ I was the only student to receive an award for the highest marks and good attendance at Greek School for seven years.

As I learned about Greek History and the Greek heroes, Alexander the Great, Leonidas and his Spartans, Kolokotronis and the other Revolutionary heroes, I was impressed by their bravery, and wanted to emulate them.

Circa 1815 ~ having heard that the Greek freedom fighter, Kolokotronis, was marshaling his revolutionary forces in the hills of Corinth ~ a group of Greeks consisting of eighteen families left Asia Minor, traveled by way of Russia and the Balkans to Souli, Ipiros, Greece. From Souli, they traveled by boat to the Island of Zakynthos, which was under British rule at that time. After some of the men signed their names in mastic (mastiha) on the icon of the Panayia, and swore an oath before the icon to fight to liberate Greece, they departed for Corinth to join Kolokotronis and the Revolution. The Tsouloufas, Tsakalis and Pavlou families settled in the oldest village of the area, Old Thalero, Corinth.

My great grandfather, Angelos Tsouloufas, was one of those heroes. Following the tradition of my forebear, I too, volunteered to fight for the liberty of my country when it was attacked on 7 December 1941. Unfortunately, I was rejected because of a perforated eardrum. Fortunately, the UMKC PE Instructor recommended me to the Navy, who employed me as a Civilian Calisthenics Instructor for Navy V-5 and V-12 Cadets, who were attending the University.

In 1940, continuing my interest in my Greek heritage, I created my first oil painting on canvas, Greek Shepherd with his Flock. The next year I won the First Prize Blue Ribbon Award for it at UMKC, University of Missouri at Kansas City. I donated the painting to the Greek Orthodox Church of Kansas City, Missouri.

Soon thereafter, Archbishop Athenagoras visited the Church. After viewing the painting, he gave me his blessing. Raising his staff, he pointed to the shepherd's shoes, and asked, "Where did you find such a wealthy shepherd in Greece? He's wearing Douglas shoes!"

While attending UMKC, I began to read Greek mythology. I also read, and studied ~ in Classical Greek ~ The Iliad and The Odyssey, as well as Xenophon's Anabasis and Katabasis and the New Testament. At that time I was elected President of the Art Club, won a mural painting competition, was selected Staff Artist of the campus newspaper, and 1945 Year Book Photographer. I received a BA Degree in Art. Photography was a hobby, which in later years became a profession.

In 1949, I was elected to the Board of Trustees and appointed to the Sunday School Board of the Oakland Church of the Assumption. I donated a mural of the Panayia, and other icons; and also donated Choir, HYA and New Building Fund logos to the Church. In 1951, I was elected President of Oakland Chapter 171 of the Order of AHEPA. In 1959 ~ along with Cedric Bourboulis ~ I painted the icons of the Apostles in the dome of the new Oakland Church of the Ascension. From 1959 to 1987, I worked for Anglo/Crocker/Wells Fargo Bank achieving the position of AVP in direct lending.

Sculpting became a very serious and enjoyable medium for me at UMKC, where I studied sculpting under the President of the Kansas City Art Institute, Wallace Rosenbaur. He taught me a great deal about anatomy; "Look at the figure as a cylinder, and if ever in doubt about the muscles, sculpt the anatomy in the round."

Mr. Rosenbaur also stated, "Emotion in sculpture can be as powerful as motion, and often more difficult to achieve." I strive to achieve this principle in my sculptures.

Sculpting is the art of modeling clay or wax into whatever forms one may desire. If the form is sculpted in clay it can be fired and glazed, or it can be used as a model for creating a mold to be cast in bronze. Sculptors such as Phidias and Michelangelo worked with marble or stone, chiseling the stone away to reveal the statue, which ~ they rightfully insisted ~ existed within the stone.

The ancient Greek cast-bronze sculptures ~ mostly of the human form ~ have lasted for centuries. True to Greek tradition, I feel compelled to re-create the human form because I am captivated by its strength and beauty. I draw my inspiration from Greek history and mythology and have concentrated on sculpting the female form.

The best compliments I have received about all of my statues (Andromeda, Amphitriti, Terpsihori, Sappho and the Soldier) are, they "seem alive"; they "subtly seem to be in motion".

As I sculpt my statues, I don't strive for a special style or technique. I apply the clay as I was taught to do and the natural stroke of my tools establishes the technique.

My present sculpture of a soldier in full battle dress represents a member of the Greek/US Operational Group who fought to liberate Greece during WW II. He reflects the relaxed, natural pose of a soldier proceeding cautiously, alert and ready for combat.

Without question, my pride in my Greek heritage, love of Greek art, and admiration of the human body is reflected in my work.


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