Wednesday, July 12, 2017


I am so happy to say that, after a slightly rocky start, my new little publishing website has launched.

Pilgrim Small Press is named after Ivaan, whose nickname (to me, anyway) was Pellegrino, the Italian word for pilgrim.  It was a particularly apt nickname for him, as his entire life was a pilgrimage to a place where he felt the most free and unencumbered.  No artist myself, I could see how important it was for him to make this journey.

I was often amused, during our married life, by people who looked askance at what must have seemed to them a really traditional marriage.  Ivaan never washed a dish, never shovelled the snow, never mowed the lawn, took out the garbage, never cooked a meal or wielded a vacuum cleaner.

He never expected me - or anyone - to do those things.  He didn't even recognize that they were things that ought to be done. I did a great many other things, such as laying cobblestones in our front and back gardens, carpentry, tiling, electrical and - well, just about everything - quite cheerfully, because expecting Ivaan to participate in any of those things would have been a waste of my time, and even more important, a waste of Ivaan's time, too.

It was more important for me to enable him to concentrate on his art, a decision I have never regretted.  His one regular foray into domestic life was grocery shopping, which he loved.  Happily, this was the one thing I disliked, so we were well matched.  He sliced fruit for my breakfast, he once took a loaf of bread out of the oven, and he once helped me take down a wall.  Other than that, his domestic endeavours consisted of holding out his open wallet, saying frantically, "Take!  Take!"  This meant, "My money is yours.  Take all you want to hire someone to help you do whatever you want around here; just don't ask me to help you."

I knew exactly what I wanted Pilgrim Small Press website to look like.  Thanks to the kindness of a couple of seriously talented people,  it does look exactly like the image inside my head.  And, just like that, is a thing.

Sunday, June 11, 2017


Two weeks ago, I received official confirmation from the City of Toronto that one of Ivaan's beloved laneways has been named in his honour.  The laneway runs south from Dupont Street, just east of Shaw Street, as far as Melville Avenue.  Later this summer, the street signs will be installed and we have been invited to have a little unveiling ceremony once the signs are in place at each end of the laneway.

There are certain conditions that must be met before a laneway is named after an individual.  The first is that this individual must no longer be alive.
I guess the assumption is that once someone is deceased, they can no longer do anything discreditable, like become a white supremacist or a bank robber or something.  The second is that they have made a significant contribution to their community or the City.  And in fact Ivaan has had a significant positive impact on the City of Toronto.  Thousands of his photographs are owned by the City of Toronto, depicting life on the streets of downtown Toronto in the 1990s.  Distinctive jewellery by Ivaan is collected and worn with pride by thousands of people and he has truly enriched the artistic environment in Toronto.

So I am really happy that there will be this permanent memorial to Ivaan.  He loved Toronto laneways and often photographed  them.  These are the  hidden paths that Toronto natives often use to traverse their neighbourhoods:  not the major commuter streets used by vehicles and people just passing through.

One advantage of  having laneways named is that they appear on GPS mapping and are easier for first responders to identify in case of a fire or medical emergency.  Another advantage is that it ties a neighbourhood together.  We have some other named laneways in the vicinity, including the
humorously named Vermouth Lane (an amalgam of Vermont and Yarmouth, two nearby streets).

I think Ivaan's parents would have been astonished to learn that their son's name adorns a laneway.  Ivaan would have been thrilled.  I imagine his
sister will be proud to see her brother's name on a couple of street signs.

And his wife?  I just hope the City doesn't think I'll be responsible for shovelling the snow on Ivaan Kotulsky Lane. Although I do so much snow shovelling in the neighbourhood that it might be me the paramedics find lying beside my trusty snow shovel.  I will post photographs of the signs as soon as they are installed, and of our unveiling ceremony.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017


I'm almost embarrassed to admit that the 5 year anniversary of the opening of Atelier Ivaan on Dupont Street went right by me. May 31st, in case you care. In fact, it was only three days later that I asked myself, "When's our anniversary coming up?" and realized it had passed unheralded.  That is something that would never have happened in our marriage, because we married on April Fool's Day, and there are always plenty of reminders that our wedding anniversary is approaching.

This year, I've been burning the candle at both ends.  I've been on a mission to complete the upgrading of my degree in Italian to a Specialist degree, and la tocca finita, as they say in Italian, of the Italian Specialist program is to undertake a research term on one of a few projects under the direction of a professor.   I had applied to a project involving a collection of vintage Italian films, and was accepted.  I asked if my research term could be moved up so I could complete it during the summer months, and received approval.  So in addition to running the store, working in the palliative care hospice where I volunteer, my piano lessons and everything else, I would now be spending 20 hours a week working on the repair and conservation of vintage films.

And that is where I was on May 31st: in a chilly archival vault wearing steel-toed construction boots.   I had to race home at the end of the day for client appointments, and I really felt as though my life had been turned on its head.

But, five years, you know, feels like an achievement.  Still, I often feel quite incompetent as a shopkeeper.  I still wander away from the shop on occasion, leaving the door unlocked.  Only last week, I was expecting a friend to come by, so I went upstairs to the kitchen to make lunch in case she was hungry when she arrived.  As I was taking an apple crumble out of the oven, I heard a female voice downstairs, calling "Hello!"  I assumed it was my friend, so I went to the stairwell and called back, "Hey, Sandra, I'm up here".  But it wasn't Sandra, it was a customer, who had logically assumed this was a self-serve operation and chosen the items she wanted to purchase without any assistance from the shopkeeper.

After completing her purchase, the customer gave me a funny look and a gentle lecture about leaving money lying out in the open when the shop door is unlocked.  Point taken!

So while the five-year anniversary passed unnoticed, another anniversary is fast approaching that is already causing me anxiety.  This is the year - and the month - where I will become the same age as Ivaan.  I'm not remotely preoccupied with the effects of aging.   Grey hair?  I've always wanted that. Wrinkles?  I think they suit me. I look at myself and say, "Nothing hurts, everything works, and I have more strength and energy than most 30 year olds.  I'm incredibly lucky."  But by the time he was 64, Ivaan was dead.  I've kind of taken over being Ivaan, and this month I'm going to catch up with him, and then surpass him.

So if that's what my five-year plan was, to "just keep right on going", I will have to build in some time for quiet reflection, to decide what I hope the next five years will bring.

Sunday, May 14, 2017


Sunday April 30th was a triumphant day at Atelier Ivaan, as we hosted the launch party for 30 Pieces of Silver.  It's hard to imagine that we packed 35 people into this little place.  We can't actually prove it, because it was so crowded we couldn't take photographs, but we opened up the second floor and the basement so people could  escape the crowds if they were feeling suffocated.

I spent the morning driving around picking up the Sweets From The Earth carrot cake, the samosas and the falafel/pita/tahini/pickles which I'd ordered.  Just after I arrived back, my nephew Angus's partner, Sara, arrived to help me set up.  That's when the fun began, because she let it slip that Angus was flying in from Winnipeg to attend the launch.   I was so thrilled.  A few minutes later, I heard a key in the lock, and I thought, "Angus!"  But no:  it was Ivor, my other nephew (who is the VP of Atelier Ivaan).  He had driven in from Kingston to surprise me.  I was completely beside myself.  Sara had managed to keep that little detail secret.  She's tricky that way.

So I felt on top of the world.  I didn't care if anybody else came at that point, because my boys and Sara were here.  And we had cake! Here's what the shop looked like before we put the food out:

Then the guests started arriving.  It took people a while to start digging in to the refreshments, but at any party, once there is a critical mass of people, they will generally start eating and drinking.  We reached that critical mass within about half an hour.  We had planned the launch to be held from two until five in the afternoon, but in fact it was seven before the last guest left.

To my amazement, when I went upstairs, the nephews and Sara had already done the dishes and much of the cleaning up.  So in addition to coming from great distances to Toronto, they acted as gracious co-hosts, and then became the busboys.  That evening, Ivor drove Angus back to Kingston to visit their parents.  They were both exhausted when they arrived. It was a stellar gesture of support from both of them.

Two days later, I headed for the airport, where I met up with Ivor, and the two of us boarded a plane for Iceland.  We'd been talking about taking a trip back to Iceland together for a while.  I'd decided to go, and finally Ivor booked himself a seat on my flight, directly across the aisle from me.  We had a great flight and arrived to beautiful weather in Reykjavik.....just as torrential rains started in southern Ontario.  Meanwhile, the Icelanders thought we'd brought the gorgeous weather with us, because it remained glorious all week.

Here's the house we stayed in, on Bergstaðastraeti. It's a 110 year old wooden house clad in metal.  That's very, very old for an Icelandic house.

The first day, we took it easy and walked around downtown Reykjavik, visiting Hallgrimskirkja, the very large modern Lutheran church close to our house, which has a magnificent pipe organ.  We went up the tower for a fantastic 360 degree view of Reykjavik.

Then we went to Glō, one of our favourite vegan restaurants, and then walked along Laugavegur, the main shopping street.  Here are some photos of buildings we passed.

We planned a trip to Vestmannaeyjar, some islands off the south coast of Iceland which had been buried under a volcanic eruption in 1973.  This involved a two-hour bus ride at seven a.m. to Landeyjahofn, the harbour where the ferry to Vestmannaeyjar sets sail. Here's the ferry.

The 35 minute crossing was very rough.  When we arrived at Vestmannaeyjar, I was pretty sure I'd made a big mistake, because as beautiful as the islands were, I knew we'd have to return on the same ferry.  When you travel with a 19 year old, though, you can expect miracles.  A few minutes of sipping warm ginger ale while watching Ivor's thumbs on the keyboard of his phone yielded dramatic results.  "There's an airport within walking distance", he said.  "If you can walk up that hill for about an hour, I've booked us on a small plane to fly us back to Reykjavik". At that point, if he'd told me to walk up Mount Everest to get on a small plane, I'd have done it.  Sure enough, we walked past sheep and unusual buildings and eventually ended up at a tiny airport which was totally unoccupied.  About an hour later, a small plane landed, we got on board, and within 20 minutes we were back in Reykjavik.  Here is some of the scenery en route to the Vestmannaeyjar airport:

On one of our remaining days, we visited Harpa, the exquisite concert hall on the Reykjavik Harbour.  It's like being in a honeycomb.  Ivor pointed out that Icelanders don't use it just as a concert hall.  It's also a sort of community hub where people meet to talk or have a snack, or attend a party.  But apart from its social significance, it is a magnificent concert hall.

The walls of Harpa from the inside

The ceiling of Harpa

Harpa exterior
Another highlight (for me, anyway) was buying a summer dress at Kjolar & Konfekt, though Ivor was surprisingly supportive through this process.
Here's my flamingo print dress:

We also took a small (very pleasant) ferry to Viðey, to visit the John Lennon "Imagine Peace" memorial (here's Ivor at the memorial) .
And I braved the cool waters of the North Atlantic to retrieve a stone to bring to Ivaan's grave.  We brought back some pieces of lava as souvenirs and gifts. On our way back to the airport for the flight back to Canada, we stopped at the Blue Lagoon for a soak in the thermal baths - a surefire way to ward off jet lag.

This was my fourth trip to Iceland, my second with Ivor, and my first with Ivor as an adult. Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat. I love travelling with him. He's super easygoing, up for any adventure, and nothing fazes him.  He fit right in to Icelandic culture and people just assumed he was Icelandic. He picks up languages easily, so by day four he was answering them back in Icelandic.  We are going to try to keep up our Icelandic till our next visit - because we are definitely going again.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


It's almost the eve of the book launch, celebrating the release of 30 Pieces of Silver: The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky,  my long-awaited book about some of Ivaan's most iconic pieces.

Writing the book was not difficult.  Choosing the pieces to be photographed was only slightly difficult.  Seeing the book in finished form has been
far more difficult than I anticipated.  Celebrating its release is extraordinarily tough, though, and it's difficult in a way that is hard to quantify.  On the one hand, I know I will be surrounded by friends and people who care about me and Ivaan, I'll be on home turf and the place will be packed with guests, laughing, talking, eating, drinking and showing off their Ivaan jewellery. What's not to like?

I'll give a short speech, welcoming everyone, thanking them for coming, and recognizing the people who played a special part in the creation of the book. I've never suffered from stage fright.  You could send me into a room of a million strangers and tell me to charm them right out of their seats or speak to them about astrophysics, and I wouldn't turn a hair, because I'm not invested in my ability to charm people or my knowledge of astrophysics.

But I am deeply invested in wanting to ensure I've done Ivaan justice.  I didn't want to write a hagiography; he wasn't remotely saintly and would not have been flattered to be presented as one.  In fact, he was extraordinarily quirky, and it's just as well that he was very good-looking, because that kind of quirkiness is rarely well tolerated in someone less beautiful in appearance.  But he was an artistic genius and a very kind, generous and large-spirited human being who loved every hair on my head, and I wanted to pay tribute to the whole person, not just one facet of him.

This evening I received an email from a friend who is also an artistic genius. And the interesting thing about this friend is that she has exactly the same very rare quality Ivaan had:  when she walks into a room, it's as though someone had suddenly turned on all the lights.  It's an extraordinarily attractive quality.

She emailed to tell me that she had just read my book.  Here's how she described it:

"It's like a love poem with beautiful pictures".

When I read that, I nearly started howling, because she's a perceptive person and she was able to see what I had been unable to see: that I had, in fact, written a 30-stanza love poem.

In replying to her, I suddenly remembered a poem I'd found among Ivaan's personal papers a few months after he died.  The poem had been written by me 40 years prior and he had saved it all those years.  I transcribed that poem in a blog post dated April 2014.

This brought me to thinking of another, shorter poem I'd written about Ivaan during a dream I had on January 18, 2002.  I wrote it down on actual paper on waking from the dream at 5:30 a.m:


I turn and study faces in the places you have been
To see if any traces of you yet remain therein
You left on me your imprimatur, fingerprint and sign
I wonder if you touched their life as much as you touched mine.

Very soon after I wrote this poem, Ivaan suffered a second stroke which severely compromised his wellbeing for the remainder of his life.  It seemed to be a foreshadowing of what was to come.  But I now realize, thanks to my friend's perceptive words, that I have written about Ivaan in three different poems during three stages of my life, and in doing so I have in fact done what I set out to do:  pay tribute to the whole person, and not just one facet.  It is an incredible relief.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I like to think that I'm pretty excellent about keeping promises.  It's just that some promises take longer to keep than others.  It's been 8 years, 4 months and 2 days since I promised Ivaan I would write the book he had been planning to write for years.  Yesterday I fulfilled that promise.

Trying to explain why it took me so long is not easy.  Perhaps for the first couple of years I secretly hoped Ivaan would come back and write it himself. Being around his art all the time makes it hard to come to terms with the reality that I'm experiencing his presence in a different way.

Do I miss him?  Incredibly so.  I miss his enjoyment of things.  I miss laughing so hard I'm crying.  My friend Crystal was reminding me last Saturday, when it was Ivaan's and my 22nd wedding anniversary, how he used to affectionately tease me all the time.  I remember the first time Crystal came home with me for lunch.  She and I were musicology students together at University of Toronto about 12 years ago.  She and Matt were newlyweds, Matt hadn't even started medical school yet, and our lives were so different than they are today. 

Ivaan was already quite paralyzed, but we still lived in our house on Portland Street, and one day I invited Crystal to come home with me after class for lunch, so she could meet Ivaan.  I set up lunch on the deck at the rear of our house.  When I brought out a bottle of green juice for us to drink, Ivaan noticed right away that Crystal looked mildly surprised.  "Swamp water", he quipped, just loud enough for her to hear, and she burst out laughing.  Right away, I knew Crystal and I were going to be lifelong friends, because she "got" Ivaan right away.  And I think she liked the swamp water, too.

Crystal and I have remained close friends, and because she and I have been through a lot of joy and grief together,  we still communicate in a kind of code that only very close friends share.  One way she does that is by remembering the days that are important to me - the sad ones, the happy ones, the poignant ones.  So I'll get an email from her, reminding me of Ivaan's teasing, and she keeps those memories alive and present for me.

One memory that was not going to go away was the memory of my promise to him to write the book he planned to call 30 Pieces of Silver. I think I started planning it about two years ago.  First I decided to blog about it, because once I started, I wouldn't be able to stop the forward momentum.  At first I thought I'd be perfectly capable of handling every aspect of the book myself.  It was only when I'd finished the first draft, I had to accept that I'd need professional help for photography.  And that's where a very talented photographer, Richard Freedman, who knew Ivaan well, came on board.  Richard enlisted Sean, a graphic artist he worked with, to come and help us with the layout and appearance. It was a wise decision, and it really improved the appearance of the manuscript and kept the project moving along.

Yesterday the first shipment of hardcover books arrived.  I was astonishingly nervous when I heard they were being delivered.  I had a razor blade ready to cut the first box open, but my hands were shaking so much, I feared there'd be blood all over the white book covers.

I removed the first copy from one of the cardboard cartons, carried it over to the table as gingerly as if it were a priceless, ancient manuscript, or a hand grenade, and picked up a pen that I had purchased for just this occasion.  I inscribed the book to my dear sister Lesley, who is my closest friend in the world and my most valued wise counsel, among my many wonderful friends. I packed it up in a padded mailing envelope to send to her.

Then I took another book from the box, inscribed it to Ivaan's sister Nadia, rented a car, drove over to Nadia's house and sneaked it into her mailbox. I came home, took a third copy, packed it up and sent it to the national archives in Ottawa, where all books published in Canada by a publishing company are required by law to be catalogued and kept for the use of members of the public.

My next privilege is to show some pages of the book to the people who read this blog. I am always touched to hear from people who have read it and laughed right along with me at the stories about Ivaan.  So even though I may not know who these people are, the fact they care enough to read my blog makes me feel they have a special right to share in this moment with me.

Here, then, is 30 Pieces of Silver: The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky.  It is my loving tribute to my truly beloved husband.



Friday, March 31, 2017


On March 11th, I received a letter by email from a young woman named Sonia. She was writing to tell me about how she came to acquire an Ivaan ring in 1989 and 28 years later, it's a ring that she still cherishes.  This in itself is not unusual.  Ivaan's work is easily recognizable, and for people who are attracted to his work, it makes a big impression when they see it for the first time.

But I'll let Sonia pick up the story:

"Dear Eya,

It's been a great surprise and pleasure for me to have found you and your shop, on line.  I have spent time reading the love stories you've shared as well as perusing the photos of your beautiful pieces of amazing art.   Also, at the risk of sounding like a veritable weirdo, I've read many of your blog postings.   

I have had the privilege of owning a beautiful ring of Ivaan's since the winter of 1989.  I was a young 18 year old girl from Wawa, ON, staying in Toronto with my aunt's friend, Stepha. She had been so kind in taking me to the Japanese consulate so that I could then travel to Tokyo where I would be staying with my aunt, Laura.  Stepha was such a wonderful, stylish young woman who whisked me around to her favourite restaurants and also "gave" me the gorgeous ring!

As we rode the subway, she just took it off her finger and presented it to me, saying her friend Ivaan had given it to her claiming it wasn't anything of great value because he would run his pieces in silver, as trials before making the final piece de resistance...I was grateful and a little embarrassed by her extravagant generosity.

This ring has been such an auspicious token for years garnering many, many compliments and much interest.  Once, even, when I was about 22 I nearly lost it, but a gallant young waiter returned it to me, on the street.  I was playing that hand slapping game with my now husband, and because it hurt to be wearing it, while he slapped my hand, I had put it in the clean ashtray on the table of the restaurant...Fortunately for me, it came back!     

After reading about your trip to Sault Ste. Marie, I knew I had to contact you! First of all, you posted that lovely story on my birthday and I lived in the Soo from 1992 to 2008.  Both of my children are born there so it really does hold a special place in my heart as well.  The other interesting coincidence about all of this; your nephews Angus and Ivor attended the school where I taught.

Naturally, when I read about your visit to Sault Ste. Marie I was filled with nostalgia and awe. Your nephews must still remember that wonderful week of unadulterated fun with joyful hearts, as I am sure you do, too!  

Well, I hope this brings you a smile and a bit of a laugh, too.  I am forwarding a few photos of the ring.  

Thank you for your continued inspired work and legacy toward your dear, loving Ivaan.  Yours was a love affair of a life time and I know you must miss him, always.  

En espérant, un beau jour, de te rencontrer dans ton atelier!

Kindest regards, 

I couldn't help smiling when I read her letter and saw the photos, because no doubt Sonia was teaching in my nephews' school while Ivaan and I were staying with them in Sault Ste. Marie.  Because we picked them up for violin lessons and returned them to school afterwards, (wiping Boston creme donut residue off their chins), Sonia and Ivaan likely unwittingly came close to meeting each other in the hallways of the school.  And when I shared her letter and photographs with my nephews, who are now adults, they could hardly believe it (they say she hasn't changed a bit).

Here's Sonia, and here's her ring.  I'm so glad she tracked me down.  And hey, I'm always thrilled to know that someone reads my blog.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


We lived on Portland Street for most of our married life, in a three-storey house that resembled a shoebox tipped up on end.  It's right downtown, where few houses exist. We loved it there.  We had a backyard the size of a postage stamp. At night, our back yard would be lit up by flood lights illuminating the silhouettes of marauding raccoons.

Ivaan loved raccoons, but not as much as he loved our cat, Pinky.  The raccoons were cramping Pinky's style. At one time, there was a mother and father raccoon, whom we called Fat and Skinny, and their five cubs, all inhabiting our back yard. It was them or us. Ivaan rented a humane trap, and invested in seven cans of sardines.

He had heard that if you transport raccoons across a body of water,  they won't find their way back. The Don River was five or six miles away.  Ivaan figured we could catch them one at a time, take them across the Don River by cab, release them all in the identical spot, and return for the next one, until the whole family was relocated.

We set up the metal cage in the back yard.  As soon as it got dark, Skinny showed up.  It didn't take him long to smell the sardines.  Once Skinny was in the cage, the gate snapped shut, and immediately Ivaan was ready with a large contractor garbage bag, into which he slid the cage, sardines, Skinny and all.  He called for a taxi, requesting a cab with a large, empty trunk.  The taxi arrived.  Ivaan loaded the cage into the trunk and we headed east along King Street.  When we crossed the Don River, he asked the cab driver to pull over, got  the cage out of the trunk, walked to a little wooded area and carefully unlatched the cage.

Ivaan didn't have to ask Skinny twice.  Skinny acted like he'd just robbed a bank. He got out of there so fast, he didn't even bother to finish his sardines.

Ivaan got back in the taxi, returning the cage to the trunk, and we returned home.   So far we'd spent $30 on cab fare.

We set up the cage again with a fresh can of sardines.  Within half an hour, Fat came by with a nonchalant air. She looked like she was just checking out a new pop-up restaurant.  She barely fit in the cage, but free sardines?  She wasn't going to pass those up.

Things worked exactly as they had before.  We called another cab, headed east on King, stopped in the same spot, and honestly, it wasn't that easy to get Fat to back out of the cage.  Ivaan had to tip it up on end, so she and her sardine dinner were ignominiously dumped by the wooded area.  He got back in the cab and we went home, forking out another $30 to the taxi driver.

On round three, we caught one of the cubs, called a cab, went to the wooded area and released the cub.  Ivaan was starting to do the math.  If we relocated the entire family by taxi, we were going to have to spend over $200.  And we were getting funny looks from the taxi drivers.  So Ivaan persuaded me that our return trip, with the empty cage, should be by TTC.  "After all", he said, "the streetcar stops right at Portland Street."  So we paid the taxi driver $15, went to the streetcar stop and waited.  Just before we boarded the 504 streetcar, Ivaan handed me the contractor bag containing the cage.

Now that I was actually holding it, I realized the whole apparatus smelled strongly of angry raccoon mixed with sardine.  Ivaan got on the streetcar first and paid our fares.  I clambered up behind him with the cage, but Ivaan was already half way down the streetcar.  As I came close to him, he arched his eyebrows, looked disdainfully at me and the cage, and said to a passenger seated nearby:  "Some people!"  

It was a rather quiet ride back to Portland Street.  Once we were home again, Ivaan set up the cage for a fourth time, caught another cub, called a taxi, loaded the cage into the trunk and climbed in the back seat.  Instead of getting in after him, I just leaned in the door, said to the driver, "Some people!",  closed the car door smartly and went back into the house.

By the time we'd run out of sardines and returned the rented cage and tallied up our transportation costs, we'd spent nearly three hundred dollars.  Fat, Skinny and the kids got a waterfront property, and Pinky got his yard back. It was a memorable, if expensive, evening. But we like to think it was worth it, and we know Pinky felt the same.

Monday, March 20, 2017


I love getting fan mail.

I receive a surprising amount of fan mail, but I'm unlikely to get a swelled head as a result, because it's almost never about me.  I often remark on what a bad idea it would be for two artists to marry: the dishes would never get done, and what house could possibly be big enough for two egos in constant collision?

A big reason why Ivaan's and my marriage was so happy and successful was because only one of us was an artist.  Of course, there are plenty of other reasons, such as that I like creating peace, harmony and order, and I don't like putting unrealistic expectations - such as peace, harmony and order - on other people. (This might explain why Ivaan showed up at our wedding ceremony in a leather jacket and a silk scarf, but I digress.)  I'm not an artist and I've never wanted to be. If you asked Ivaan what role if any I played in his artistic life, he'd reply, "She's really, really good at sweeping."  And he'd have been right. It's one of my skills.

But back to the fan mail. I get letters from people telling me how they acquired a piece of jewellery by Ivaan, how they treasure it above everything else, asking questions about it, sometimes asking for an appraisal, sometimes asking how much I'll offer for it, sometimes asking if they can get a duplicate. I get letters from people who want the exact same piece of jewellery they have admired on someone else.  I get letters from people, distraught because they've lost a piece of Ivaan jewellery that they treasure, or else they've had a break-in or been robbed. But pretty much everyone who contacts me is awash in admiration for Ivaan.  If heads could swell vicariously, I'd have had to install double doors at Atelier Ivaan, to fit my enlarged skull.

Then there are people who contact me for an entirely different reason, and we coincidentally find a connection to Ivaan.  In fact, one of these just happened last week.  I was engaged in a discussion online with a man in Calgary about a particular Group of Seven piece of art that has had a long and intense meaning for our family.  We concluded our very interesting conversation. A couple of days later, he contacted me again.

Incredibly, he had come across Ivaan's name in another context: his love of late 1960s music, including the music of Jimi Hendrix.  And of course Ivaan had photographed Jimi Hendrix in December 1969.   So Steve (because that's his name) continued his internet search, found my blog, found our website and felt strongly connected to Ivaan's metal art.  This is where he realized that Ivaan was of Ukrainian origin.  Although Steve is not Ukrainian, he had in fact lived in Ukraine for a year, met and married his wife there (Svetlana is Ukrainian) and now they live in Calgary, where he is a geologist.  In fact, Steve had grown up in Grimsby, Ontario and often travelled with his Dad through the area of Ontario where this Group of Seven work of art was painted.  The memory of those travels and that countryside resonated deeply with him.

So now we're at Six Degrees of Separation, because we've got the Group of Seven, Jimi Hendrix,  Ukraine, and our love of Ivaan's metal art in common. Best of all, Steve travels to Toronto for work from time to time, and we have plans for him to come by Atelier Ivaan next time he's in town.  It will be like meeting an old friend, and not at all like meeting a stranger, because I asked Steve to send me a photograph of him and his wife.  And here they are.  It's a great photo.  Just slightly vertiginous.  Ivaan would have loved it.
STEVE AND SVETA © 2016 Steve Harding

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


Everyone who knew Ivaan really well knew how connected he felt to animals.   Except for dogs, whose company he never enjoyed, Ivaan loved all God's living creatures.  He was a veritable St. Francis of Assisi.

A traumatic event in his boyhood was the pivotal event in developing his compassion for insects, birds, rodents, cats and pretty much everything that moved.  His father had made him a bow and arrow.  Ivaan went out into a wooded area near their home in Cabbagetown and took aim at a little creature.  I can't even remember what it was, because whenever he recalled the incident he became so inconsolable that he could hardly speak. Suffice it to say, he wounded some small creature, but did not kill it, and he was so disgusted with himself that he broke his bow, threw it away and vowed to atone for his unkindness for the remainder of his life.

When I first met Ivaan, he had a polydactic kitten named Thumbs.  It was a very sweet little cat, a very dark grey, and he was deeply attached to it.
Here's a photo of Ivaan and Thumbs.

I never met  his next pet, but I heard about it frequently.  Her name was Peggy.  She was a Praying Mantis with one leg.  Ivaan, who had recently started working in metal, was worried that Peggy wouldn't thrive with just the one leg, so he carved down a toothpick, and using jeweller's wax, attached the wooden leg to the stump of Peggy's missing leg.  He must have done a good job, because Peggy went on to have a surprisingly long and active life.  Her name, Peggy, derived from the fact she had a peg leg, not because of any certainty that she (or he) was a female.

Sadly, no photos of Peggy have survived.

The longest-surviving of Ivaan's animal companions was Pinky.

We found Pinky on the garage roof in June 1991, chirping like a baby bird.  He looked to be about three months old, so we assigned him a birthday of March 31st.   Pinky wasn't a bird; he was a cat. We wouldn't have named him Pinky if we'd known he was a boy, but I had heard that Benazir Bhutto, later the first female Prime Minister of Pakistan, was nicknamed Pinky, and our cat had a little pink nose.  By the time we had lured him off the garage roof with saucers of milk and he became part of our household, we began to suspect he was a boy.  We felt it would be too traumatic for us to change his name, as he was already answering to the name Pinky, so we called him Pinky at home, but if we had to call him in from outside the house, we gave him the street name of Ned.

Here's me and Pinky, looking like we were getting our passport photo taken.

I remember when Pinky bonded with us.  A large black feral cat in the neighbourhood was bullying Pinky.  Ivaan's protective nature took over.  He borrowed a humane trap from Animal Control and set it up in the front yard, baited with a can of sardines.  In the middle of the night, we heard a yowling sound as the feral cat walked into the cage for a sardine snack, realized he was trapped and began to complain loudly.

Ivaan brought the cage inside, lay it on a thick pile of newspapers and we went to bed.  Next morning, little Pinky was luxuriating on the floor, just beyond the reach of the large black cat's claws. Pinky felt like the Big Man on Campus. He looked gloatingly at the black cat, as if to say, "I had salmon for breakfast today.  What did you have?  Oh...nothing?"  After Animal Control came and took the black cat away, Pinky was so bonded with Ivaan that nothing could keep them apart.

They had their own language.  Ivaan taught him tricks.  They were a team. When we moved into our new house, Pinky was very upset and kept on walking back to our old house, until he realized that he actually wanted to be wherever Ivaan was.

Pinky was a cat with a personality.  As he got older, he developed the persona of a bachelor uncle, and his identity was fleshed out with a surname, McBinkey, and an imaginary family back at his ancestral home in Bonehead, Sussex.  Our own nephews became the McBinkey nephews:  Oliver, Lionel, Angus and Ivor McBinkey.  Our niece Nicole became Lucy McBinkey.

The only thing Pinky was unsure about was the nephews.  If they came to visit, Pinky moved to the back yard and wouldn't come back in until they went home and we stood at the back door and said emphatically:  "Pinky! There are NO NEPHEWS!"

Pinky lived to be 14 and a half.  He died on October 13, 2005. Ivaan was so upset that he had to go out for a long drive with his friend Mike, and he didn't come back into the house until I had already conducted funeral rites for Pinky in the back yard of our house.  Pinky was the last pet Ivaan ever had.  They were really attached to each other.  Like Ivaan, Pinky had had a rough start in his early life, and they recognized a kindred spirit in each other.

As Pinky's obituary read, "RequiesCAT in Pacem".

Monday, March 6, 2017


When people are having their home renovated by professionals, there comes a time when the designer shows them the finished product. It's called The Reveal. All the reno mess is removed, all the dust is vacuumed up, everything is in place, and the whole house gleams.

When I am restoring or completing a piece of jewellery, we also have a reveal.

In my last post, I told you about the 1978 IVAAN ring that had been purchased at an antique store.  Here's what it looked like.

When I first saw it, it reminded me of the ring we call the Connie ring, which was quite a coincidence, because the name of the new owner of this vintage ring happens to be Connie as well.  Here's a Connie ring, made in yellow gold, so you can see the resemblance.

The Connie ring is about one third of the size of the vintage ring, but there's definitely a common thread, and I can't help speculating that the vintage ring was an early prototype of the Connie, which was made in 1980.

I have just finished restoring the vintage ring, and I am rather thrilled with the result.  There were some small holes in the side of the ring top, so I decided to drill them out and set three cabochon garnets in them.  Just like three little punctuation marks.  Now, I'll bet you don't think my efforts were a total waste of time, do you?  So, to the "new" Connie, and her husband Nik, who gave me such a thrill by buying the vintage ring in the first place, and then by letting me restore it, a very big thank you.  I hope you wear it in the best of health for many years to come.

And Nik took this phone of the lovely Connie and Lola, their daughter,  with me when they came by to pick up the restored ring.  Nik and Connie have a wonderful vintage shop in Hamilton called Vintage Soul Geek, in case you are ever out and about in downtown Hamilton.

Photo by Nikola Bulajic2017

Monday, February 27, 2017


People often get in touch with me to say they've acquired a piece of jewellery by Ivaan, and they are curious to know more about it.  Mostly, they've
inherited it from a relative, and almost invariably it will be a production piece: an item of costume jewellery made of non-precious metal.  Very rarely, someone will send me a photograph of a piece of Ivaan's jewellery that will be so astonishingly rare that my head starts spinning and I can hardly type a coherent response to them.

One such instance occurred a couple of weeks ago. A woman, coincidentally named Connie, who lives in Hamilton, emailed me to say she'd just bought a very unusual ring by Ivaan in an antique shop in Cambridge, Ontario, and she wanted to know more about it.  She sent me a photo, and explained that the ring was engraved IVAAN 1978 STERLING 1/1.

It was hard to tell from the photograph exactly how large the ring was, but I was extremely anxious to see it, because it reminded me a lot of a famous ring by Ivaan that we call the "Connie" Ring, and I wondered if by any chance it was the prototype for the Connie Ring, or a missing link that Ivaan made before making the Connie Ring.  One thing I was certain:  I had never seen this ring before.

My curiosity was killing me.  I emailed Connie and asked her if I could send a courier to pick it up, as I'd love to see it, photograph it, and restore it to its original glory for her.  She kindly agreed, and it arrived this morning.

It's a mark of how excited I was that I had to forbid myself to touch it for several hours, until I calmed down.  I didn't want to do something impulsively that might have damaged it.  Silver is a soft metal and this ring is - as the inscription says - a "one of one".  There is no mould. I thought for a moment that perhaps I should make a mould of it, but quickly realized that if Ivaan had wanted a mould made, he'd have made one himself.  He clearly intended it to be an original, and I don't second guess him....unless he's wrong!

Here's what I know about it:  it's a size 7, which is a medium-size ring for a woman to wear, or else a ring for a man's little finger.  But it's far too big and heavy for a little finger.  Connie told me she asked if the antique shop owner had any other pieces by Ivaan, but sadly this was the only one. I'd been hoping she'd bought some estate jewellery that perhaps included other pieces by Ivaan.

Here is another angle:

It looks as though the ring has not been worn much, as it's not very battered looking, but it is exceedingly tarnished and in need of some love.
So I've started to undertake some restoration.  Here's where I've gotten so far:

Stand by for further developments.  It shouldn't take me long.  It's a proud moment for me, being able to bring a genuine original work of art by Ivaan back to life.

Sunday, January 29, 2017


During his illness, Ivaan agreed enthusiastically to any public speaking opportunity, accepted every invitation to attend professional conferences on some aspect of his medical condition, and volunteered as a subject for any research project under way.  To say the least, he was not a passive patient.

One year, when he still had enough clear speech left to make himself understood, but not quite enough memory to deliver a speech unaided, he was asked to speak at an event to raise funds for the expansion of Toronto Rehabilitation Institute.  I helped him write a speech detailing how important Toronto Rehab had been in his recovery from the strokes that affected him so profoundly, but he couldn't see clearly enough to read written text.
So we devised a plan where I'd sit in the front row and give him some key words from each section of his presentation, and he would expand on
what I'd given him.  When he paused, I'd cue him with some more key words from the next section, and off he'd go. It was a terrific speech, and was well received.

On another occasion, his Speech Language Pathologist asked him to attend a conference with her, to demonstrate a technique the two of them  had developed to aid stroke patients in swallowing without choking.  This technique was developed by the traditional practice of Jews at a Passover Seder, who would have a cushion at their chair and recline to the left as they were eating, in slight imitation of earlier generations reclining in comfort on soft cushions on the floor during the Passover meal.  I'd mentioned to Ivaan that they always reclined to the left.  He found that by tilting his head to the left and tucking his chin in, he could swallow with less risk of choking. He mentioned this to his Speech Language Pathologist, who asked him to demonstrate the "Kotulsky Tuck" to a conference of her fellow SLPs.

Many of the research experiments in which he took part involved electrical stimulation of the muscles of his right arm, which was his paralyzed side. Ivaan was so certain that with enough electrical current going through his arm he could overcome paralysis that when the researcher's back was turned, Ivaan would adjust the intensity of the electrical stimulation (well, he referred to it as torture) to its maximum level.  He also bought an electrical muscle stimulation machine for use at home, and tried to get me to administer electrical shocks to him. When I demurred, he had the researchers draw the ideal location of the electrodes on his arm with permanent marker, so I'd know where to attach them for maximum effect. I usually tried to get out of aiding him with his unscientific experiments. He became such a fixture at Lyndhurst Hospital, where research was conducted, that he regularly dined with the professional staff at lunchtime in the cafeteria.  He had become just part of the crew.

Sometimes he'd volunteer me as a co-participant in research projects. It was very interesting when they'd ask him a series of questions about something, and then ask me the same questions, to find out how I predicted he would have answered. It's surprising how much I learned about him from these research projects.

After Ivaan's death, I decided to continue as a research subject in the Neurology Research Department at Toronto Western Hospital, as a way of expressing my appreciation for the excellent care he'd received there since his first stroke in 2000.  Eight years later, I'm still a "lab rat", mostly acting as what's called a Healthy Control in studies related to Parkinson's Disease.  Over the years, I've seen PhD students and Post Doctoral researchers cycle through the research lab, marry, have children, continue their careers and participate in exciting new research projects.  I've learned that I am surprisingly good at tasks involving memory, that I share with Ivaan a real pleasure from undergoing MRIs, and I have pictures of my brain on my computer at home. It's quite a nice brain, actually.  One of the researchers told me it was a dense brain, and I admit I was a bit offended until I realized a densely packed brain is a good thing to have, and she wasn't saying I was an imbecile.

All this to say that if future generations are ever leafing through my yearly appointment calendars and they see the words "Lab Rat" written, it's code for the fact that I spent that morning at Toronto Western Hospital with a bunch of nice people I've come to know well, and that I undoubtedly went to my grave with coloured permanent marker on my scalp, drawn at the places where electrical shocks were administered.

Here is an image of my brain, in case you want to admire how dense it is.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


I've always heard writing a book is hard work, and if it isn't hard work, then it's probably not much of a book either. Perhaps my job in writing 30 Pieces of Silver was easier because of this blog, as I was able to work out the kinks of each chapter via blog posts, but honestly, it has not been hard to write the book at all.

Further, the book is not a work of fiction, so most of what I've been doing is selecting representative pieces of Ivaan's work and telling the story of those pieces from my perspective.  Oh, yes, and then brutally slashing my narrative to fit the chosen dimensions of the book.

Another important decision was to scrap my photographs.  It was like performing battlefield surgery, because I had taken photos to illustrate what I was writing about.  The result was a series of photos that weren't horrible individually, but there was no nexus, nothing to link them together and give them a cohesive appearance.

Then I began to doubt my initial decisions about which pieces to include.  In the end, I decided to swap out a couple of pieces of jewellery and sculpture, and I think it was a wise choice, because it enabled me to substitute a couple of extremely interesting pieces of jewellery that were important in Ivaan's creative path.

So I focused on what I do best  - providing a narrative for each piece that told a story and sounded like me speaking to the reader - and left the photography to the experts.  I also got some professional advice (and I am not good at accepting advice) about the layout and dimensions of the finished book.

Two more photos remain to be finished up and then I think we'll have a final draft. But the front cover is going to look something like this.  It's a very exciting time for me.

©2017 Eya Donald Greenland Kotulsky

Friday, January 6, 2017


©2008 Donald Doiron

In 2008, we had a visit from our friend Donald Doiron, who is a sculptor and knifemaker in Messines, Quebec. Ivaan made beautiful knife handles and Donald made beautiful knife blades, so it was no surprise that they had a lot in common. Even though Ivaan was within a few months of the end of his life, he enjoyed socializing with his fellow artist and hearing about what Donald was up to.

One of Donald's specialties was working in Damascus steel.  If you've never seen Damascus steel before, it's the puff pastry of metalsmithing: two or more kinds of steel layered against each other, heated and hammered, folded, heated, hammered and refolded so you can see the pattern made by each of the types of steel.  It takes a lot of skill to make Damascus steel.  Donald's knife blades are exquisite.

About a month after Donald's visit, a heavy package arrived in the mail, addressed to Ivaan.  We tore off the brown paper wrapping.  Inside was a box for a computer printer.  We set the box aside, wondering why Donald was sending us a printer.  I offered to phone Donald that evening when he got in from work and ask him about it.

In moving the box, however, I noted that it seemed unusually heavy for a printer, so I opened one corner of it, pulled out the packaging, and was amazed to discover an incredibly beautiful Damascus steel sculpture inside. We were both stunned into silence, watching the light hitting the sculpture and marvelling at the design and artistry.

It was mounted on a whitish, rough-hewn stone base, and if I were to describe it, it was like the curved tail of a fish above the surface of the ocean. On one side was a flourish of different kinds of steel, as if the fish had shaken a spray of water from its tail into the  air.

This is no small, lightweight sculpture.  It's tall and heavy and has an extraordinary quality that is typical of Ivaan's work, in that it is beautiful from every vantage point.  Ever since 2008, it has had pride of place in our home.

These days, it is usually displayed in the window of Atelier Ivaan, where the light is best.  It attracts a lot of attention, particularly from passersby who are fascinated with metalsmithing.  Every time I see it, Donald's sculpture makes me catch my breath and say a silent thank you to him for his generosity.  He must have realized that this would be the last piece of art Ivaan would acquire in his lifetime, and he wanted to make it magnificent.