Monday, November 14, 2011
In 1996, The Advocates' Society approached Ivaan to discuss creating an original sculpture which would become their Award of Justice.
The Society already used as their symbol the gryphon, a mythical creature said to be the offspring of an eagle and a lion, which had a long tradition of symbolizing justice in English Common Law.
The Advocates' Society is a Toronto-based organization of Ontario trial lawyers and judges, the roots of which go back to 1965. Its membership includes the most famous and remarkable legal minds in Canada. Ivaan was thrilled at the prospect of creating a sculpture for them.
The Award of Justice was intended as an award which would be presented biennially to a lawyer who had distinguished himself or herself by taking on a legal case which would have been considered unpopular or unwinnable, either because of the nature of the case or the disfavour in which the public might have held the person accused - in other words, a case which could have damaged the career of any barrister who took it on. So a lawyer who might be worthy of an award like this would be someone who believed that an unpopular accused's right to a fair trial and excellent legal representation outweighed any potential harm that might be done to the reputation of the individual defending such an accused.
Ivaan's gryphon sculpture project began with him looking at other examples of how gryphons had been depicted throughout history and in art. Not satisfied with what he saw, he set out to create a realistic looking sculpture of a gryphon - not easy, because no one had ever seen one. He carved his vision in a hard, sticky type of wax, which was incredibly difficult and labour intensive. Sometimes he'd bring it home from his studio and work on it at the kitchen table after dinner. I used to tease him that it looked like a squirrel that had fallen into a vat of tar. He nicknamed it Froggie, for some reason, but as Froggie took shape, it was clear that this was going to be one of Ivaan's most remarkable works of art. We had endless discussions about the nose, or beak, and Ivaan always claimed that he had modelled it on the handsome and prominent proboscis of Mr. Justice Charles Dubin. Although Ivaan hated the idea of anyone interfering in his art, he eventually recruited me to cut out some of the feathers to apply to the upper torso of Froggie.
In a playful moment, Ivaan carved a heart on Froggie's chest, right where a human heart would be, and inside the heart, he carved the word MOM. He then covered the heart "tattoo" with a feather, and explained to me that behind every fine lawyer who was destined to receive this award was a mother who deserved some recognition for her support and encouragement.
When Froggie was finished, he held aloft a sword, on the tip of which was unevenly balanced a set of weigh scales, representing a legal case which was so tipped against the accused as to be unwinnable.
Froggie, or The Award of Justice, as he was now known, was first presented in 1997, coincidentally by Mr. Justice Charles Dubin, whose nose had served as a model for the sculpture. It is not the most prestigious award The Advocates' Society presents. That honour would fall to The Advocates' Society Medal. But Ivaan attended every presentation of The Award of Justice, until his death, and never failed to point out to the recipient's mother exactly where the MOM heart tattoo was located, and what it meant. I often think of the individuals who have received The Award of Justice to date: Raj Anand, Jeffery Wilson, Barbara Jackman, David Lepofsky, Jacquie Chic, Susan Vella and Lawrence Greenspon, and how they must marvel at this gothic creature watching over their legal career.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Ivaan was never a man to plan ahead. He lived in the moment. So I was a bit surprised, in early 2007, to find him sitting at the computer doing research on coffins. He explained how impressed he had been by the funeral, many years prior, of a Bishop of his church, Vladyka Michael. (Vladyka means Bishop in Ukrainian.) It seems that Vladyka Michael had chosen to be buried in a simple linen shroud and a plain pine casket. As Ukrainian Orthodox funerals go, this would have been quite "unorthodox". For a Bishop, it would have been virtually unheard of. Ivaan decided that when he died, in tribute to Vladyka Michael, whom he admired enormously, he also would be buried in a linen shroud and a plain pine coffin.
Two weeks later, Ivaan suffered his fourth stroke. It was a serious one and the hospital felt it was time for Ivaan to go into a long term care facility. I was determined that his wish to return to Toronto Rehabilitation Institute be respected, as I knew Ivaan would go downhill very quickly if placed in a nursing home. I quickly learned that the best interests and wishes of the patient are not deciding factors in determining where they are transferred from the acute care hospital, and it was a real battle to get the all-powerful social worker's decision reversed. Fortunately, Toronto Rehab intervened and agreed to take Ivaan for five weeks of rehabilitation, to enable me to sell our home and find wheelchair accessible accommodation for us near his hospitals.
We were still in the acute care hospital, however, when our friend Myron Dylynsky, who works in real estate, jumped into action and put our house up for sale immediately. The first day it was listed, a request for a showing was received. There was no lock box on the house yet, so Myron called the hospital and asked if I could go home and unlock the door for the prospective buyers. I hurried home. When I arrived, the telephone was ringing. As I answered it, I was opening the blinds on the living room window. It was the hospital social worker on the telephone. Listening to her, I couldn't comprehend what she was trying to tell me. The words "end of life situation" meant nothing to me. As I struggled to understand the reason for her call, I was also watching a UPS truck pull up in front of our house and unload a large box from the back of the vehicle. Mystified, I watched the delivery men approach our house and knock on the front door. Again, the social worker reiterated the phrase "end of life situation" and I suddenly realized what the delivery was.
"Hold the line for a moment", I said to the social worker, "Ivaan's coffin has just arrived."
There was dead silence on the other end of the phone. Clearly the social worker thought it was my idea of a joke, and ended the call abruptly.
It was, however, no joke when the delivery men set the coffin down on the living room floor, handed me a sheet of paper, said "Sign here", then left. I tried to move the coffin. Impossible. It was really heavy. I was pondering what to do when the doorbell rang again. It was the people who had come to see the house. Three men walked in. Four pairs of eyes gazed at the coffin on the living room floor. Silence. Finally, one of the men spoke up. "Does this come with the house?" he asked.
Their whirlwind tour through the house lasted less than five minutes. They left, muttering something about Morticia Addams. Clearly our home had not yet found its new owner. My brother Dave arrived later that day and slid the coffin neatly under the dining room table. That's where it remained, undetected, until the house sold a few days later and we moved.
Over the next few days, I kept Ivaan company in the hospital while doing needlework. One day, our friend Myron Dylynsky dropped in to Ivaan's hospital room for a visit. "Isn't this a nice domestic scene?" he enthused. "You're sitting here, keeping your husband company, and sewing. What are you sewing, my dear?" "His shroud", I replied.
Observing Myron's appalled reaction, I quickly learned to reply, "It's a tablecloth" when anyone inquired about my needlework project.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
Whenever a group of people gets together and starts reminiscing about Ivaan, a frequent topic of conversation involves Ivaan's "back room" and how chaotic it was. Ivaan wasn't a hoarder in the classic sense, but he tended to put things down and hope he'd remember where he'd put them. He was indiscriminate about what he kept, and so whatever constituted his "back room" at any given time was a complete catastrophe: rare classic Leica cameras cheek-by-jowl with rolls of film that had expired during the Korean War, plastic junk from the dollar store sharing shelf space with old telephone books, dead batteries and plastic bags with someone's mother's scrap gold, waiting to be turned into wedding rings. Ivaan's back room was not for the faint of heart.
Usually someone whose memory is heavily tinged with nostalgia will chuckle and say, "Yes, it was a disaster, but Ivaan always knew where everything was."
I love reminiscing about Ivaan, so I'll usually let it go, but the truth is, Ivaan never knew where anything was. Frequently he spent more time worrying about where he'd left one of his creations than he did in making it in the first place. He lost things all the time. He created elaborate scenarios to explain where something was - or wasn't - and he wasn't lying, either: he would completely convince himself that his imagined explanation was gospel.
The ruby-studded gold heart and chain in the photograph above is a case in point. In 2006, Ivaan's studio was in a warehouse building two doors away from our house. The warehouse was huge, and it had to be because it contained Ivaan's entire life: over 700 cameras, 40 years worth of rubber jewellery moulds, bins full of photographs, bins full of metal, his workbench, power tools, books, memorabilia, much of it on - or under - his gigantic round mahogany table. This gold heart is one of the most expensive and labour intensive pieces Ivaan ever made. It's something a female member of the Medici family might wear. It's spectacular. And for some reason, Ivaan believed he had left it on the mahogany table, the day some contractors came to install a ventilation system in his studio.
Two days later, Ivaan said to me, in the quiet voice he used when he was really upset, that the contractors had stolen his ruby heart and chain, which he'd left on the mahogany table. I was slightly incredulous, because I knew what was on that table, and if one were to have touched anything, one risked triggering an avalanche that would have buried the hapless contractors alive. We discussed what to do. Ivaan felt there was no point in reporting it to the police, or building management, or the ventilation company. He said he would take the pain of the theft of his masterpiece to his grave. He was genuinely deeply wounded by the loss.
A year later, I was at home, cleaning out the drawers of Ivaan's dressing table. In the very back of the top right drawer, behind the bow ties, the suspenders, the silk pocket squares, the handkerchiefs, the scarves, the yarmulke, the cufflinks, tucked away neatly, was the ruby heart: the very same ruby heart and chain that Ivaan said the ventilation contractors had stolen.
I tried to keep my face perfectly solemn as I went to Ivaan and asked, "Remember the ruby heart and chain?" Ivaan looked at me with a pained expression. "Don't remind me", he said. "Remember how those workmen took it off your mahogany table?" I persisted. "I will take that memory to my grave", reiterated Ivaan. "It's so strange, what they did", I continued. "What's so strange about it? They stole my masterpiece" cried Ivaan. "They probably didn't even know what it was, and they stole it."
I savoured my moment of triumph. Finally I could resist no longer. "What's so strange isn't that they stole it". I said. "What's strange is that after they stole it, they broke in here and hid it in the back of your dresser drawer." And I opened my hand and showed him the ruby heart and chain.
"Oh", said Ivaan. Just that one word. "Oh."