United States

Zaferios G. Caragianades: A True Greek-American Artist

January 16, 2022

I’ve only ‘met’ Zaferios G Caragianades once in the pages of history. He was in full-swing, as they say, painting and experiencing some long overdue public recognition. It was early March in 1950. An unnamed reporter from the Battleboro Daily Reformer in Vermont interviewed this popular artist. It is an incredibly detailed account (Battleboro Daily Reformer (VT) March 1, 1950). Names, dates, locations – everything a historian might want to know is found in this account. Not too surprisingly, I was also able to trace some of  Caragianades’ work through Greek-American cultural historian Meletios Pouliopoulos. Once Greek-American History is recognized as a legitimate field of study persons such as Caragianades will finally receive the attention they most certainly deserve as maintainers of Greek culture in the New World.

In 1883, Caragianades was born in Constantinople to Greek parents. Given the cosmopolitan nature of ‘The City’, young Caragianades, was over time fluent not only in his native Greek but in Turkish and Russian. He also had with he called “a certain understanding of Polish.” So, upon his arrival in New England it did not take the Greek artist long to learn American English.

As the unnamed reporter relates, Caragianades’ first art teacher was a Russian with whom he studied for three years in a private school in the city of Bartum (also known as Batumi) located, now as then, in southwestern Georgia. Later, Caragianades continued his studies with a Greek artist. For those interested in such things, Bartum is the site of the Hellenic colony of Bathys.

In 1912, Caragianades, due to the growing troubles that would soon erupt into the Balkan Wars, made the long voyage to New England. As anyone reading the Battleboro Daily Reformer account (hereafter BDR) will soon discover, our local unnamed American reporter was at times quite condescending concerning Caragianades as an artist. The reporter stressed that it took Caragianades some six years to get his footing in Ameriki such that he was able to earn his living solely as an artist. Nonetheless, from 1918 onward Caragianades found full-time work in Greek communities across New England.

While a trained Eastern Orthodox iconographer Caragianades, whose iconography can still be seen in churches across New England, this artist also found work painting murals in a host of Greek-owned restaurants and nightclubs. Asked where this body of work could be readily found, all that Caragianades could recall, on the spur of the moment, were a mix of his iconography for churches and murals for Greek restaurants and nightclubs. “Examples of his work may be seen in Montpelier; Littleton, Concord, Manchester, and Portsmouth, N.H.; Lowell, Boston and Atol, MA; Brunswick and Bidderford, ME. There are other places that he can’t think of offhand. He also left his mark in the Star Restaurant in Bellows Falls and in the Chimes Restaurant in Bradford (BDR).”

The initial story the unidentified Brattleboro Reporter was chartered to cover was Caragianades’ creation of murals at the Chimes Café in Bellow Falls, VT. At that specific moment in time Caragianades was painting a mural of the Trojan Horse and the sack of Troy, as well as a scene of the wanderings of Ulysses. As it so happened, the murals Caragianades was then painting for the Chimes Café were the second set of murals he was commissioned to paint at this very same location. For whatever reason(s) the American reporter never identified the first two murals Caragianades had adorned the Chimes Café with, saying only that they had been in the process of being painted in 1941 at the very moment the Japanese were bombing Pearl Harbor. Whatever the case may have been, clearly the owners of the Chimes Café were so pleased with Caragianades’ first set of murals they had asked him back some nine years later for additional art.

Caragianades’ creation of the two new murals, “coincides with the extensive alterations project being carried on by Nicholas Goutas, manager of the restaurant. When the renovations are completed there will be a new bar upstairs, and a bar and a dance floor in the basement directly under the restaurant (BDR).” Such detailed newspaper articles on the establishment, renovations, or alternative directions soon to be undertaken by local Greek-owned restaurants, night clubs and other businesses are common in the daily press all across the nation.

Another aspect of under-reported Greek-American history is the extremely active role local Greeks in major metropolises, cities, towns, small townships and even the smallest of community centers played in the entertainment forms all such communities came to enjoy. News accounts of local Greeks sponsoring such diverse ‘All-American’ entertainment such as hayrides, local dance bands, noted singers, and other touring performance groups are commonplace. I should take care to note that these local Greek-sponsored entertainment events reflected the interests of their specific surrounding community.

As just one example we can note that, during the 1930s, Polish and German dance bands were brought from Detroit and ultimately from around the nation on weekends to an otherwise undistinguished bar, the ‘Lorelei’ then located in Bay City county, Michigan. Two Greeks based in Midland, MI owned this bar with two more Greeks who worked the week-end crowd. During the week this was a local bar with a respectable number of regular patrons on average while on weekends the bar was packed to (and often well-beyond) capacity. It was reported to me that the bands often played so loud that the ground felt as if it actually shook. Being outside Detroit and in proximity to other nearby communities, the bar enjoyed the general neglect of county officials.

In turn Caragianades and other Greek-born iconographers/painters like him are the ones who first provided Greeks living in North America with artwork that was specifically based on traditions  with unquestionable Greek religious, cultural, and historic images. The long established fact that Greeks living in North America were and remain avid producers and consumers of Greek cultural artifacts escapes academic and/or general intellectual attention.

Curiously, only within the realm of recorded music has the suggestion even been made that Greek-Americans were (and remain) avid consumers of music recorded in Greece. Knowledge that this market for such imported records exists has even spread to non-Greek music lovers who now also demand recordings of various Greek musicians and styles of imported music.

I have long argued that the reason(s) we do not see detailed historic accounts of how Greeks gradually formed their communities and so their own distinct organizations (and so aesthetics) in North America is because it is to no one’s advantage at the university. With the narrative established that distinct Euro-American ethnic groups basically no longer exist and have in fact only been assimilated into the broader American culture over the decades, the attitude seems to be: “what is there to report?”

At the time of this 1950 interview Caragianades lived and maintained a studio in Manchester, NH. This being the case, I naturally asked Meletios Pouliopoulos, long time Greek-American cultural historian, what he might know or even have of Caragianades’ life of work. As it turns out Meleti is deeply involved in ‘The St. George Memory Project – Library Organization and Oral History’ now underway at the St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Manchester. And as part of that wider project an icon that Zaferios G. Caragianades painted and signed from the original parish’s iconography is now part of the Cathedral’s collection of historical treasures.

Clearly, we have a rich and diverse collection of historically written accounts, actual objects, and other forms of documentation right at our finger tips. Should we then not expect to see written and richly illustrated  accounts that reflect something of our own memories of the Greek-American experience and culture from which we all hail?



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