Friday, December 31, 2010


For two years now, Ivaan's navy cashmere overcoat has been hanging in the closet.  That overcoat, together with a stylish navy fedora, was Ivaan's standard outer attire for occasions requiring a little je ne sais quoi in the sartorial department:  church, weddings, funerals or an evening at the opera. As overcoats go, it's a classic.

Truthfully, much of Ivaan's style over the years has revolved around items of attire.  In the 1970s he wore a black hat with a wide brim and some rustic looking bells and beads around the crown.  He wore the jeans I've described in an earlier blog.  He once had a pair of red velvet trousers made for himself, inspired apparently by what my father was wearing on the occasion they first met.   He's had two black leather jackets with his classic Ivaan signature in red chenille on the back.  (That's what the lettering on varsity-type leather jackets is called.)  In recent years, he was best known for a brown sheepskin aviator jacket, which he wore winter and summer, claiming that it was like insulation: it kept him at the perfect temperature.  Our nephew, Angus, who is a pilot, now wears this jacket in tribute to his uncle.

Ivaan's shoes were a source of wonder to members of our family.  He collected beautiful, expensive and stylish shoes and several members of our family who share a common shoe size have Ivaan to thank for their best footwear.

But the navy cashmere overcoat hung in the closet, unclaimed, and each time a family member tried it on I was secretly relieved that it didn't fit.  I wasn't ready to give it up.  Around the second anniversary of Ivaan's death, a chance remark by our close friend, Chris Robinson, about one of her daughters-in-law, suddenly woke me up to the destiny of the cashmere overcoat.    Chris has really, really good taste in daughters-in-law.  As a matter of fact, if you have sons of marriageable age, I urge you to consult with Chris about how to influence the most wonderful young women to join your family.

Chris' middle son, Gareth, is married to a drop-dead gorgeous, incredibly talented and utterly fabulous young woman named Meghan.  Among her many talents is the fact that she's a brilliant, inspired and accomplished costume maker.  Need I say more?  One quick email to Meghan - who adored Ivaan - had her and Gareth at my door.  I showed her the coat, told her what I was hoping for, and voila!  Last evening Meghan dropped over with the navy cashmere overcoat, completely taken apart and remade to fit me like a glove.

I love how I look in it.  I feel when I'm wearing it that I'm in Ivaan's warm embrace.   Now, I know that with Meghan's talents, if anyone else asked her to remake a man's overcoat into a woman's, she'd say, "Uh, no."  But this was a labour of love and she has made me (and Ivaan) very, very proud.  Thank you, Meg.  You are a peach.  I will post some photos as soon as I get someone to point a camera in my direction.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


(c) Estate of Nick Gavinchuk
In 1949 Ivaan, his sister Nadia and their parents arrived in Canada from Germany, where they had lived for four years following their release from the Nazi forced labour camp where they were interned and in which Ivaan was born.   After the liberation, they had lived as refugees in a Displaced Persons camp for four years, until the Red Cross was able to find a sponsor for them, to enable them to immigrate to Canada.

Their sponsor was Alex Tywoniuk (pronounced Ti-von-YOOK).  He was the local blacksmith in the town of Smoky Lake, Alberta.  He had been a childhood friend of Ivaan's father in Ukraine, and had emigrated to Canada before the Second World War.  The Tywoniuk family arranged a place for the Kotulsky family to live, helped the parents find employment and get settled in their new country.  Ivaan often watched Mr. Tywoniuk at work in his blacksmith shop and became fascinated with the properties of molten metal.

The town is located about 90 minutes north-east of Edmonton. Winters aren't easy in Smoky Lake and Ivaan's father was already frail from years of forced labour in Nazi Germany.  When the local Ukrainian Orthodox Priest, Reverend Foty, was reassigned to the St. Volodymyr parish in Toronto in 1951, he urged Ivaan's parents to follow him to Toronto, where they'd be able to find employment that was less physically demanding, become part of his congregation, and join the already burgeoning Ukrainian community in Toronto.  It was good advice, and within a year or two, Ivaan's parents were able to buy their first modest home on Wyatt Avenue.

Flash forward to 1969.  Ivaan was working as a photographer for Chatelaine magazine when he was sent to Alberta on assignment.  While there, he made a point of stopping by Smoky Lake and visiting the Tywoniuk family.  Again, his fascination with metalsmithing was awakened, and when Ivaan returned to Toronto, he started experimenting with metal work.  By December of that year, he was so engrossed in his new passion that he often stayed up all night working on a project.  Although he kept working at Maclean Hunter until 1973, his love of metal work eventually won out; he quit his job at Maclean Hunter to devote himself full time to his newfound career.

Ivaan and his sister Nadia often reminisced about Smoky Lake, and by 2000 Ivaan had decided they were going to make a pilgrimage back there. However, Ivaan suffered his first stroke in March of that year and Nadia's husband, Nick, suffered a heart attack in May.  Their trip to Smoky Lake  was postponed till the following year, which happened to be the 75th anniversary of the town.   Ivaan and Nadia arrived in the midst of the anniversary celebrations, and received a warm welcome.  The local newspaper wrote a feature article about them.  They visited Alex Tywoniuk in the nursing home where he lived.  They visited the cemetery where his wife was buried.  They visited the old blacksmith shop.  They ate peach bread - which, they were quick to point out, contains no peaches. They were chauffeured around by Alex Tywoniuk's son Walter and his wife Lucie.   And incredibly, 50 years after they left, the townspeople still remembered them with affection.   It was an emotional experience for both Nadia and Ivaan, and a bonding experience too.  They often talked nostalgically about their return to Smoky Lake, and even years later, it always seemed they were talking about an event that had happened just last week.

Smoky Lake is a little, cold town in northern Alberta.  It's the place where Nadia fell in love with books and Ivaan fell in love with metal arts. But for this small family,  who had resided there for less than two years, Smoky Lake was - and remains - the warmest place on earth.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


(c) 2010 Trillium Gift of Life Network
I wrote recently about the fact that I'd been asked to be photographed for the 2011 Trillium Gift of Life Network calendar. (I'm "Miss March".)  Well, here's some shameless self-promotion: they also put me on one of their posters.  The green card I'm holding contains their new slogan, which exhorts health care professionals to speak with families about end-of-life patients being screened as possible organ and tissue donors and to call TGLN to make the connection between possible organ and tissue donors and patients in urgent need of a transplant.  I've been volunteering with TGLN for six years now and I'm really passionate about organ and tissue donation.  It's the only way after our own lives are over that we can continue to make a positive physical difference here on earth.  Most of us never have the chance in our lifetimes to save a life, to be a hero.  Unless we're a firefighter, a paramedic or other health care professional, a lifeguard or a volunteer on a suicide prevention hotline, for whom heroism is daily life, our opportunity to make this kind of difference in an unknown person's life is very limited.

Ivaan was a donor.  He'd made this decision of his own accord and I admire him tremendously for it.  He always said he wasn't a courageous sort of person, but he's my hero.  He knew it would make a huge positive difference to some unknown other families.  He was right.  It did.

If you're thinking you want to make this kind of difference, there are three things you need to do:

(1) Talk to your family about it, and tell them expressly what your wishes are.  You may not be conscious at the end of your life, so they need to know.  They don't have to agree with your decision, but they need to know.

(2)  Register your consent.  You can download the form from the Trillium Gift of Life website, - - fill it out, sign it and send it in.  You can't apply online, but you can get the blank forms online.

(3) It's nice to carry a wallet card, but it's even better to go to the Health Card renewal place (ServiceOntario), tell them you want to register your consent to be a donor, and they will arrange to have your consent entered in the Ministry of Health database AND indicated on your Health Card.

And now, Poster Girl had better swivel herself around on the piano bench and get some practising done.  I'll bet my piano teacher wants to know why I appear to have turned my back on music.

If you're in a health care facility in 2011 and you see me smiling down at you from a poster, smile back.  And consider registering your consent to be a donor.  Please.  Thank you from Ivaan and from me.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Connie's Ring
(c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

Today is the second anniversary of Ivaan's having left the planet, so I thought I'd use this occasion to write about someone else who left the planet and her enduring legacy.

Connie was a colleague of mine at Old City Hall, which is a courthouse in downtown Toronto, where I worked from 1988 until 1997.  She had a lot of style, and I often thought she could have had a successful theatrical career.  She had a handsome face, a strong voice, perfect elocution, a large vocabulary and considerable dramatic flair.  She was also what used to be called "well bred", a fact which probably mitigated against her taking up a career on the stage.  Connie had two young adult daughters, of whom she was justifiably proud.  They shared her strong good looks and had clearly inherited her sharp intellect and quick wit.

Connie loved Ivaan's jewellery, and one of the things on her to-do list was to get bracelets by Ivaan for her daughters, Vanessa and Tanya.  One of the very funny stories she used to tell was of the time when she decided to go to Ivaan's Queen Street West studio and look at bracelets.  Not realizing that Ivaan kept very erratic hours, she showed up one day and found the studio door locked.  Thinking he'd be back momentarily, Connie went into the local Greek restaurant to have a cup of tea and read the newspaper while she awaited his return.  She was busy doing both when she noticed the previously noisy restaurant had become silent.  Looking up, she quickly realized that she was the only female in the restaurant, that all the male customers and staff were watching her intently...and she began to suspect  that the coffee cups in front of them may have contained something stronger than coffee.  Clearly, it was a case of mistaken identity on two counts:  they thought Connie was an undercover cop, and she would cheerfully have joined them in something stronger than coffee if she'd known it was being served!

Connie never got to see any bracelets that day, but she told this story with great glee for months afterwards.

Six years ago, Connie felt that her life was becoming an increasingly uphill struggle, and she made the decision to end it.  Fiercely independent, she planned her exit so as to leave the planet with grace, dignity and a sense of purpose.  A few days later, Ivaan and I heard the news from another of my colleagues.  Ivaan, already quite ill himself, was very moved by her death and asked me to try to contact her daughters.  He wanted to offer each of them a piece of his jewellery, as a gift from their mother, to "close the loop" on the bracelet story. The problem was, both daughters were married and I couldn't recall their surnames and didn't know how to reach them.

When Ivaan died in December, 2008, contacting  Connie's daughters was still an item on his to-do list.  One day, out of the blue, the surname of her younger daughter, Tanya, suddenly came to mind and I was able to reach her through Facebook.  Tanya came to see All That Matters, the 40-year retrospective of Ivaan's work at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada, loved his work, and chose a ring which would be her mother's gift to her.   She asked her sister, Vanessa, to look at Ivaan's website and choose something for herself. Tanya and Vanessa are very different people.  Though they share many of Connie's attributes, they are complete individuals.  Yet, incredibly, they both chose exactly the same ring.

I hope that Ivaan and Connie are enjoying something a bit stronger than coffee in The World To Come and I'm sure they are probably still laughing over the bracelet story.  Both Tanya and Vanessa feel strongly connected to their rings and to their mother's legacy.  They are both fabulous, devoted mothers themselves.  They - and I - remember Connie with affection, pride and admiration.  Like Ivaan, she was larger than life.

Thursday, November 11, 2010



Do you know this girl?  

In 1992, Ivaan took this photo of a young lady sitting on the sidewalk playing the flute.  I've always just assumed it was Queen and Bathurst, but I could be wrong.  The sign on her flute case read:  "JUST HITCHED FROM VANCOUVER.  FLAT BROKE".    It's a large photo; this is just  a section  of it, and it's partly the scale of the whole photograph that makes it so appealing.  Ivaan made two very big enlargements of this photo, one for himself and the other he hoped to give to her.   But even though he was always out and about in the Queen West neighbourhood, he never saw her.

Flash forward to the beginning of December, 2002.  This same young woman, now married and with children, ran into Ivaan on the street and instantly recognized him as the man who had taken her photo more than a decade earlier.  He was thrilled, told her he had a print waiting  for her and gave her a business card with the address of his studio on it.

Three days later, Ivaan suffered a massive stroke and was hospitalized for months.  The building that contained his store was sold, and we had to move  all the contents of his store to a new studio location.   Ivaan's partner Tamas was in the store packing up one day in preparation for the move, when this young woman came by, hoping to pick up her copy of the photo.  Unfortunately, Tamas didn't know the story, wouldn't have known where to look for the photo in any case, and the young woman went away, very disappointed, without leaving her contact information.

The following year, Ivaan was in a wheelchair but anxious to do something artistic.  We decided to mount a show of his photographs, which he entitled World Class City.  It was part of the Contact 2003 festival, and it was exhibited at the Artword Gallery.  Ivaan included this photo in the exhibition.  He named it:  "FLAT BROKE.  JUST HITCHED FROM VANCOUVER"  hoping the young lady would hear about it and drop in.  She didn't.  But Ivaan always remembered her, and frequently asked me to try and locate her so she could have a copy of the photo.  

It's now 18 years since he took this photo, but someone out there knows who this girl is, and I'd love to give her the enlargement we've been saving for her.

I am offering a reward to anyone who can tell me who this is and get her to contact me.  A $100  bill or a piece of jewellery.  Your choice.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


formerly (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky.  Now (c) Ryerson University!

I guess this is the last time I'll ever write "(c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky" underneath this photograph, or any other photos taken  by Ivaan of The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Jimi Hendrix, because Ryerson University, Ivaan's alma mater, has asked to acquire all of his photos and the copyright to the images.  On the one hand, the prospect of them leaving my possession is bittersweet.  On the other hand, Ivaan would have been thrilled that Ryerson is their new home.

Ryerson University recently bought Maple Leaf Gardens, where this photo and all Ivaan's photos of Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger were taken, so it's a great fit, because the photos will be in the public domain, instead of in a closet.  I'm really grateful to our longtime friend, Stephen Bulger, whose photographic gallery on Queen Street West, the Stephen Bulger Gallery, has actually been housing the collection for me since Ivaan's death, and who kindly handled the transaction with Ryerson on behalf of Ivaan and me.  If you haven't been to his gallery, please don't miss the opportunity.  You'll get to see some beautiful photography.

So that is why I have been organizing Ivaan's photos over the past few weeks.   There are tens of thousands of them already sorted, and I have a long way to go yet.  I'm going to post a few photos, in the hopes that someone out there knows the mystery person in the photo.  Actually, that will be the subject of my next post.

Anyway, to The Beatles, Mick and Jimi:  it's been nice sharing cupboard space with you.  Enjoy your new home.  I know Ivaan will be winking down at you from the great darkroom in the sky.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIG: Update on The Exquisite Object

The Exquisite Object (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky
In my September 30th post, I wrote about The Exquisite Object, an unsigned, undated piece of Ivaan's work that I had found among his archives. At the end of that post, I expressed a hope that one day I would know more about it.

That was three weeks ago.  A lot has happened since then.  One of the most important (and still secret) things that has occurred requires me to organize Ivaan's photographs.  This is no small undertaking.  By 2006, Ivaan had amassed a collection of over 700 film cameras.    They were mostly classic cameras from the 1940s onwards, but a few dozen were the old "folders" that dated back to the beginning of the 20th century. We  kept them in a warehouse building two doors away from our house on Portland Street, along with the additional lenses, flashes, tripods, bins of film in odd sizes, camera cases and assorted paraphernalia that goes along with a camera collection of this size.

Ivaan didn't just collect cameras; he used them.  For many years, he shot a roll of film a day.  His photography fell into three different categories:  he photographed his metal art and jewellery, he documented the street life
around him, and he chronicled people's lives - not necessarily people he knew, but people who caught his imagination somehow.  Ivaan's filing system was quirky in the extreme.  He had his film processed, but didn't necessarily make prints.  Instead of identifying the sheet of negatives with a useful description, it was more often "Mamiya 3, f5.6 at 30, Tri-X Pan, clouds".  It worked for him, because he was more likely to remember what camera he was wearing than the date he took the photo or the name of the person in the photos.

All that to say, it's been a long week sorting photographs.  My reward, however, has been the discovery of a photograph of the original wax carving of The Exquisite Object.   Ivaan has photographed it against a background of open rubber jewellery moulds, which enables me to date The Exquisite Object with some precision.  It's either 1979 or 1980, because the rubber moulds are part of his original Tutankhamun collection for the  Art Gallery of Ontario.  This is a real revelation, because I'd always assumed The Exquisite Object was made much later.  He used different colours of wax, so the detail really stands out in the photograph.
The Exquisite Object, circa 1979.   (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

My next wish is to understand the context for the creation of this object:  was it a commission?  Was it inspired by something he'd seen somewhere?  Is there more than one version?  The finished version above is not identical to the wax original.  Note how the protrusions at seven and nine o'clock on the finished product appear on the wax (at eleven and one o'clock in the photo directly above) as dark lines.  It's as though the piece evolved over time.

In future posts, I'll feature some pictures of the cast of characters Ivaan photographed over the years.
I'll also explain why I'm organizing all his photographs - once it's no longer a secret.  Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


In late 2008, Ivaan was very eager to undergo the ELANA By-Pass, a pioneering neurosurgical procedure that would reroute the blood flow through his brain while the surgeons grafted on a by-pass blood vessel to circumvent the damaged artery that was causing his strokes.  He was excited about being the first person in Canada to undergo this procedure.   In spite of the enormous risk of his not surviving the surgery, he felt that volunteering for this procedure would greatly advance medical knowledge and pave the way for better outcomes for future patients.  While we both hoped that a successful outcome would mean an improvement in his own dire condition, we knew the chances were slim.  "Plan B" for Ivaan was that he was determined to become an organ and tissue donor should he not survive the surgery, and dying in hospital provided the best chance of achieving that goal.

Ivaan underwent the surgery on December 2nd, 2008, and although the surgery itself was a complete succsss, Ivaan suffered a massive stroke on the operating table, never regained consciousness and died a few days later.

Shortly after his death, I received a letter from the Eye Bank of Canada, telling me about two successful surgeries that had taken place.  Ivaan's eyes had been harvested after his death, and both of his corneas were transplanted, one each into the eyes of two people who had previously been blind.  Those surgeries were successful, and both recipients were able to see as a result. Ivaan would have been thrilled.

I've been a volunteer with Trillium Gift of Life Network, the organ and tissue donation people, for many years.  Recently, they wrote to me to ask if I would agree to be photographed for their 2011 calendar.  This calendar honours the medical professionals who make the connection between the families of potential donors and TGLN, thereby facilitating organ and tissue harvesting and transplantation.

So here I am, about to become a Calendar Girl!  This must be the midlife crisis I've been waiting for.  My only regret is that apparently I'm expected to be fully clothed for the photo shoot.  (I guess Photoshop can only do so much!) Ivaan's niece, Anna, has suggested I greet the camera crew draped only in a sheet, with a rose between my teeth.   It's very tempting.  It would give new meaning to the term, Hot Flash.

Ivaan, I'm sure, will be extremely gratified by this tribute to his Gift of Life.  If you see a 2011 TGLN calendar anywhere, please pick it up and have a peek. I'm hoping to be Miss October.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

EAT YOUR HEART OUT: Anita's Tiny Perfect Bracelets

Anita worked in the art department of an advertising agency in the mid-1980s when she was first introduced to Ivaan by mutual friends who thought she'd be interested in seeing his work.  She later said that finding his work was like finding a piece of herself, so powerful was her connection to his art.

Now and again, Ivaan would drop by the ad agency with his latest creations all jumbled up in a plastic shopping bag, and just tip the contents of the bag onto her desk.

Anita was particularly in love with bracelets; she commissioned three magnificent specimens, each a "one-off", meaning no mould would be made of them.  Anita has incredibly slender wrists, so these bracelets are tiny.

Much has changed in Anita's life since the 1980s:  after her daughter was born, she moved out of the highly stressful world of advertising and started a home-based business, Anita's Kitchen, where she makes cookies.  What hasn't changed is her love of Ivaan's work.  She drops round every so often to look at the treasures I've discovered among Ivaan's vintage moulds.  I think she secretly misses the days when Ivaan would drop by her office unannounced and empty a plastic bag full of gorgeous stuff on her desk.

Anyway,  here are Anita's bracelets.   Later on I'll post a photo of Anita's new ring.  (Later on, meaning, when I finish it.)  It's a beauty.

OCTOBER 9th: A Beautiful Day On Which To Be Born

It was really warm and sunny at the cemetery today, but you could already smell the first hint of decaying leaves wafting on the breeze, heralding the end of the season.  I planted a few new things, swept up a bit, fed the birds and squirrels, spread out a blanket,  re-read The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, listened to some of Ivaan's favourite music (Handel, Beethoven, Gorecki), sang O Sole Mio (Di Capua) and I Will (Lennon/McCartney), ate an apple, smoked a liquorice cigar or two.  It's always sad having to leave, especially knowing a long, cold winter lies ahead. Better get all my visits in while I can. Happy Birthday, Ivaan.

Friday, October 8, 2010

IVAAN'S BIRD'S NEST RING: A Vintage Treasure

Tomorrow (October 9th) is Ivaan's 66th birthday.  In honour of his birthday, I thought I'd show you the latest vintage treasure I've unearthed from his collection of moulds.  Doesn't it remind you of a bird's nest full of eggs?  I made it in sterling silver, but I toned these photographs so it looks like gold, which is probably what he made the original in.

   It doesn't fit me, naturally - too small - but I absolutely love just being able to look at it.

   My next post will be about three excellent bracelets.  Please don't read it or look at the photos if you are a fool for bracelets, because it will only break your heart.  They are all one-offs and in the late 1980s they were made for Anita, who has the tiniest wrists you can imagine.

   Happy Birthday, Ivaan.  Wish you were here.  xxx

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


After Lowon Pope outgrew their shared location at 692 Queen Street West and moved across the street, Ivaan's friend Tamas Mozer moved in.  No two guys were more dissimilar in terms of style. Ivaan was upbeat and gregarious; Tamas was quiet and serious. Ivaan was entirely self-taught in metal arts; Tamas was a classically-trained jeweller.   Ivaan was disorganized; Tamas was meticulous.  Sometimes it seemed as though Tamas were fighting a losing battle against utter chaos.  One thing they had in common was a dislike of being interrupted by someone coming in to order something when they were busy working.  However, if someone wanted to come in for a chat,  or to drag them out for a coffee or a pizza, well, that was another matter.  692 Queen Street West was almost like a social club.  Ivaan used to claim that there was a secret tunnel  under Queen Street, connecting their store to Dufflet's Pastry Shop, and that it had been carved out with a dessert fork.
In 2001, someone came by and offered to do a watercolour sketch of their store.  Today I found the sketch in Ivaan's journal.   It's not overly realistic - the actual shop wasn't so pretty looking and Ivaan's side of the window was rarely that neat, but the artist captured some of the uniqueness of Ivaan Fine Metal and Platinum Plus. Siobhan, this post is for you.  I hope it brings back some fond memories.

DANIEL P. IZZARD: Timing Is Everything


I often wonder how many of the decisions we make are based on reason, how many are based on emotion, and how many are the result of listening to that little voice that exists just below our consciousness.  I've often told the story of the first time I saw the paintings of Ivaan's friend and fellow artist, Danny Izzard.   In his younger days, Danny was an award-winning art director in the film and commercial industry, but his true passion was painting.  He came by his vocation honestly:  his father, the late Daniel J. Izzard, was a renowned landscape artist.  In the mid-1990s, Danny left the film industry and devoted himself to painting full time.  In about 1998, Ivaan and I attended the opening of a solo exhibition of Danny's paintings at a gallery on Parliament Street.

We walked into the gallery.  I glanced at the paintings on the walls and I was seized with one of the Seven Deadly Sins:  covetousness.  I wanted some of those paintings so badly, it hurt.   It must have shown on my face, because within a few months, Ivaan suggested we buy a Daniel Izzard painting.  We bought one of his Venice series, and spent our next vacation scouring Venice (in vain) for the exact location of our painting.  

When we returned, we decided to buy another painting.  This time we chose a massive canvas painted in Corsica, entitled Soupe de Poisson for Dinner (see above).  Ten years later, it still takes my breath away.    

In August 2002, that little voice that speaks neither with reason nor with emotion whispered to me that I should ask Danny to paint a portrait of Ivaan.  Bless his heart, Danny said he'd love to, and the topmost painting (above) is the result.   We unveiled it at a fabulous party in honour of Ivaan's birthday in October that year.  Two months later, Ivaan suffered a debilitating stroke, the second in a series of five.   He was still the gorgeous guy in the painting, but he was never again able to cross his arms like this.  Every time I look at this painting, I am reminded that indeed, timing is everything.

Over the years, we collected eight paintings of Danny's, and often joked that we should name our house Gallery Izzard.  My latest acquisition, Lemon Festival (above, centre) was a Valentine's Day present to myself three months after Ivaan's death.  I like to think it's a Valentine's gift from Ivaan, because if he'd lived to see the painting, he'd surely have fallen in love with it too.

If you've ever wanted to give someone (or yourself) a really special gift, I can tell you without hesitation that a portrait of someone you love is a brilliant idea.   But timing is everything.  I am so glad I listened to that little voice in my head.    Thank  you, Danny.

If you want to see more of Danny's work, visit his website at or the gallery that carries his work, Harbour Gallery, down on the Lakeshore in Mississauga.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010



These are Ivaan's jeans, circa 1969.  Ivaan sewed on each of the patches by hand.  His needlework is remarkably fine.  They are hemmed in baby blue crushed velvet.

These jeans became the symbol of a remarkable 40-year retrospective of Ivaan's life in metal arts, entitled:  All That Matters:  The Art of Ivaan Kotulsky in Retrospect, which opened at the Ukrainian Museum of Canada (Ontario Branch) on January 23, 2009 and closed on October 31st of the same year.

The co-curators, Sonia Holiad and Daria Diakowsky, created an inspired exhibition in the gallery space at St. Vladimir Institute on Spadina Avenue in Toronto.  Work began on this very comprehensive exhibition in August of 2008, and it is fortunate that Ivaan lived to play an active part in providing the curators with historical information about his work.  Although he died about six weeks before the retrospective opened, his presence was very much felt by the Museum staff, our family, the curators, our friends and members of the public who attended the Museum.

Three receptions were held while the retrospective was in place:  the first was the opening on January 23rd, the second occurred in March, and the final reception was in honour of Ivaan's 65th birthday, on October 9th.

Ivaan's beloved blue jeans were hung on a door as part of the exhibition, in an area where a mock-up of his work table was set up, with some of the tools of his trade, plus his trademark red leather shoes under the table,  and one of his silk shirts with silver buttons handmade by Ivaan, draped over the back of his chair.  It looked exactly as though he'd just gotten up from his work table.  The display included a half-eaten butter tart - art imitating life.  People who attended the exhibition spontaneously started signing their names and writing their phone numbers on the door, in memory of Ivaan's habit of making notes of names and numbers on the wall by his telephone.  The door, absolutely covered with signatures, messages and phone numbers,  with his jeans still hanging from the hook, is now on display in our home.

I am so lucky that our friends Stefan Genyk-Berezowsky, Igor Korpan and Franko Diakowsky were kind enough to take video footage and extensive photographic coverage of this outstanding exhibition.  One of my greatest pleasures is to look at the photos, watch the film footage, and be reminded of this memorable occasion.   My gratitude to everyone who created, recorded, assisted with and attended this exhibition knows no bounds.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


One of the best features of their home on Wyatt Avenue, from Ivaan's point of view, was its proximity to the Don River and to the industrial lands and abandoned factories which were the source of many of his most memorable stories.

On weekends, one of Ivaan's favourite activities was to sneak into the abandoned factory buildings, just to see what was inside them.  Sometimes the properties were patrolled by security staff.  Just as often, they were unguarded.  Ivaan must have been about ten years old one Saturday when he and a friend took the friend's wagon and found a way into one of these abandoned factories.  It was clearly a building that had at one time been used for the manufacture of ammunition for the war effort.  Inside the building, Ivaan and his friend found an empty shell casing.  It must have been quite large, because it was with some difficulty that they got it over the fence, loaded it into the wagon and headed for home.  They had just left the property when a policeman on patrol stopped them and made them return this piece of ammunition to the factory. The boys did as they were told, but as soon as the policeman continued on his rounds, they climbed the fence once more, put the shell casing back into the wagon, covering it with an old newspaper.  Hurrying to climb back over, anxious lest the officer should return, Ivaan got his shoe stuck in the fence and had to abandon it.  He was obliged to return after dusk to retrieve it.

The boys took the shell casing back to Ivaan's home, where Ivaan took it down to the basement and filled it with soot from the furnace.  Next day, after the family returned from church, Ivaan took his sister Nadia's kerchief, carried the shell upstairs, and climbed out the window onto the roof.  Once on the roof, he tied Nadia's kerchief to the shell casing.

Meanwhile, down below, every child on Wyatt Avenue had gathered in a semicircle on the pavement, looking up at Ivaan and his bomb on the roof.  All the children were wearing their Sunday best. Most were eating popsicles.  Ivaan manoeuvred his home-made bomb to the edge of the roof and let it drop, expecting that the kerchief would act as a parachute, and that his bomb would descend slowly and gracefully and land on the street in the middle of the semicircle of children.    As one might predict, the bomb fell rather more quickly than he, or his audience, anticipated.  It hit the ground and broke apart, spewing clouds of soot.  When the dust settled, Ivaan saw only a semicircle of dropped popsicles; his audience, their clothes blackened by the soot, had headed for home running.

Recalling the failed experiment many years later, Ivaan said ruefully, "Every kid on the street got a beating that day, not just me."

Friday, October 1, 2010


Several years ago, Ivaan and I became acquainted with two young people, Erin and Alex, who were filmmakers, and partners with our longtime friend Iain Robinson in Endless Films.    As we got to know them better, Ivaan became quite fond of them, and in his quiet way mentioned to me that he hoped they would one day get married.   

Three years ago, we became next-door neighbours to Erin and Alex, as our condo building was right beside the building where Endless Films was located.  We'd see them out and about in the neighbourhood, and I could see exactly what Ivaan meant:  it was one of those relationships where each seemed to be visibly enhanced by the presence of the other.

One day, Ivaan said: "Please email Iain Robinson for me.   Ask him to tell Alex that if he proposes to Erin, I'll offer them their choice of wedding rings."   Iain's response was polite but firm:  "No way", he said.  "I have to work with these people.  I'd like to see them married too, and if it happens, great, but I'm not interfering in their private lives."   Wise words.

Ivaan was not deterred....much.  We talked about it before his death, and he left me with a to-do list.  This was one of the items on the list.  Shortly after his death, Alex and Erin attended a 40-year retrospective of Ivaan's art...and lo and behold, Erin was sporting an engagement ring.    I told her and Alex the story about Ivaan's determination to see them married.  They accepted his offer of wedding rings with enthusiasm, were married on September 3rd, 2010, and kindly invited me to their wedding.  Unfortunately, due to a family commitment, I was unable to attend, but heard afterwards that Alex made a heartfelt tribute to Ivaan during his speech.  Ivaan would have been extremely gratified to see his wish fulfilled.  

Today I received this card (above) from the happy newlyweds.  (Good work, Ivaan.)

Thursday, September 30, 2010


This is the Exquisite Object.  I do not know what it is.  I do not know when Ivaan made it.  I believe it is bronze, but I am too protective of the patina it has developed to confirm this.  If it's not bronze, it's silver.   Ivaan doesn't appear to have signed it - and believe me, I have looked.    If I had made something this beautiful, I would simply put down my tools and never make anything again, content to rest on my laurels for the remainder of my life on Earth.

The Exquisite Object is about four inches in diameter and is shaped like a shallow bowl.  The domed underside is completely smooth - rare for Ivaan.  At the top (under the frilly protrusions at seven and nine o'clock on the photo)  are two holes, suggesting it is meant to hang from something.  It's too beautiful simply to hang on a wall, but it's rather large to wear as a pendant.

Ivaan never mentioned The Exquisite Object to me.  I found it among his archives.  It is undeniably his own work.  There is definitely no mould of it, and I think it would be impossible to duplicate it because of its complexity.  I think I may start wearing it around my neck because it's too beautiful not to.

Not a day goes by that I don't regret being unable to ask Ivaan something.   While I often ask him things at night and wake up knowing the answer, so far I have received no explanation for the existence of The Exquisite Object.

Well, I just wanted to share this unspeakable beauty with you. Maybe one day I'll know more about it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


                                                                            (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

Ivaan was always on the lookout for photographic subjects for his Portraiture assignments at Ryerson.  He wasn't looking for pretty faces; he wanted interesting faces.  One of his subjects, who had a face that Ivaan described as being dramatic enough to belong on Mount Rushmore, happened to be a limousine driver.   In August, 1966, this limousine driver called up Ivaan, said he was being sent to the Toronto Airport to pick up an English rock and roll group called The Beatles, and asked if Ivaan wanted to come along and bring his camera.

Ivaan was not actually a Beatles fan; he preferred The Rolling Stones.  But he decided to come along for the ride, and borrowed an impressive looking array of photographic equipment from his employer, Eatons Camera Department.  Ivaan said some of the lenses he brought were so long, they barely fit in the front seat, where he was sitting next to the driver.

Arriving on the tarmac at the airport, Ivaan jumped out with his equipment and took this photograph of The Beatles getting off the plane.  This was their second visit to Toronto, having performed at Maple Leaf Gardens the previous year.  The Beatles climbed into the back of the limousine, and Ivaan was feeling too shy to say much.  The temperature in the limousine was getting hotter by the minute.  No one could figure out why.  The limo drove to Upper Canada College, where a police paddywagon was waiting.  The Beatles jumped out, climbed into the paddywagon, and Ivaan continued with the limo driver to Maple Leaf Gardens.  It was there he discovered that his extra-long lens had jammed the heat switch on, instead of the air conditioning.  Getting out at Maple Leaf Gardens, Ivaan was mobbed by screaming girls, expecting to find The Beatles inside the limousine.

Meanwhile the paddywagon proceeded uneventfully to Maple Leaf Gardens and The Beatles slipped inside unnoticed.  Ivaan met up with The Beatles again in the Hot Stove Lounge, and photographed them while John was explaining to the press about the remark that got The Beatles kicked out of the Philippines:  his "bigger than Jesus" comment.  Ivaan took over 100 photos of The Beatles.  Four years later, Ivaan had changed his mind about The Beatles; his favourite song was "Here Comes The Sun".


Ivaan loved his high school years at Harbord Collegiate.  He joined the Camera Club and fell in love with photography.  This is a self-portrait of Ivaan at about age 17 in his parents' house on Euclid Avenue.  On the wall above him are some of his photographic portraits.

Never one to make plans for the future, Ivaan had almost finished Grade Thirteen when a teacher asked him what his intentions were for the following year.  Ivaan had no particular goals; he hadn't applied to university or started looking for employment.   The teacher told him about Ryerson Polytechnical Institute's diploma program in Photographic Arts.   Ivaan was intrigued, and asked the teacher to help him apply.  Based on his award-winning photography and an excellent reference from this teacher, Ivaan was accepted into Ryerson.

It was a rigorous program; Ivaan remembered that students were required to dress in jacket and tie and they were taught by some of the most disciplined and accomplished photographers Ivaan ever met.  It was as a result of a photographic assignment for his Portraiture class that Ivaan was invited to meet and to photograph The Beatles in August of 1966.   I'll devote a future entry to Ivaan Meets The Beatles.  It's a funny story.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

THE CABBAGETOWN KID, PART 2: Vegetable Delivery and The Pan Pilipenko Story

A favourite activity of the boys on Wyatt Avenue was to hitch a ride on the back bumper of the vegetable delivery truck.  This truck, which went slowly through the neighbourhood once a week, delivered fresh fruit and vegetables to homes along the delivery route, sometimes stopping to make "cold calls" on the off-chance that the lady of the house might need a basket of apples or a bag of potatoes.  If there were few deliveries to make on a particular street, the truck would pick up speed, but generally it was a slow-moving vehicle.  One Saturday morning when Ivaan was about eight, he jumped onto the rear bumper of the vegetable truck, holding on to the back railing, unbeknownst to the driver, just for the pleasure of a ride down their short street. However, the vehicle picked up speed, turned one corner, then another, and before long Ivaan was in unfamiliar territory.  The driver, glancing in the rear view mirror, eventually noticed his young stowaway and decided to put him to work.  The truck would stop at various homes and Ivaan would hop out of the rear of the truck, where he'd been assembling the next customer's order, deliver it to the door, collect payment and bring it back to the driver,  who would give him instructions about the upcoming order.  By lunchtime, both the driver and Ivaan had worked up an appetite, so the driver went into a restaurant and came out with two fried egg sandwiches.  At home, Ivaan would never have eaten a fried egg sandwich, but out in the fresh air, after a good morning's work, he had a hearty appetite, and enjoyed every mouthful.

Work continued until about four in the afternoon, when a police cruiser pulled up beside the vegetable delivery truck, and the officers asked the driver if he'd seen a dark-haired skinny kid about eight years old.  The driver turned his assistant over to the cops, but not before paying him his wages in full:  a dime.  Ivaan rode home in the police cruiser, to the relief, and then the wrath, of his mother, who promptly confiscated his hard-earned wages.  After all, ten cents was ten cents.  The story ended with a line with which Ivaan concluded most of his Cabbagetown stories:  "And then my mother KILLED me", he'd say.  "She killed me to DEATH".

Soon after moving into 42 Wyatt Avenue, the Kotulsky family got their own telephone.   This was in the early 1950s, and not every home had a phone of their own.  But the Kotulsky family was active in the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and community, so having a telephone enabled them to keep in touch with friends.  Another feature of immigrant life was evening classes for adults, to help them adapt to life in their new community,  by teaching English language basics and other life skills.  It was at one of these evening classes that Ivaan's father learned Proper Telephone Etiquette, and he was anxious to pass on this new-found knowledge to his wife and children.  So one Saturday afternoon, he gathered the family together -  his wife,  their daughter Nadia, and Ivaan - for an instructional session on the correct protocol for using their new telephone.  He demonstrated how to answer the telephone, in English and Ukrainian.  He pointed out that it was not necessary to shout into the mouthpiece.  He showed them proper dialling technique.  And then the family was ready for the big moment, actually placing a call to his friend, Pan Pilipenko.  (The title "Pan" is the Ukrainian equivalent of "Mr." )  He cleared his throat.  He dialled.  The phone could be heard ringing at the other end.  A voice answered.  Ivaan's father, enunciating clearly, replied, "Dobrii Vechir (Good afternoon).  Pan Pilipenko?"  He continued in English:   "Oh, sorry.  Wrong number." And, rather dismayed,  hung up the receiver.

That was the end of the family's lessons in telephone etiquette, but even decades later, Ivaan could be reduced to fits of helpless laughter, just by hearing the name Pilipenko, or hearing someone say, "Sorry, wrong number."


One item that was perennially on Ivaan's to-do list was to write a book.  He intended to call it The Cabbagetown Kid.  It was to be a collection of his stories about growing up in Cabbagetown.   Although I've heard the stories a dozen times, the closest we ever got to working on his book was buying him a portable tape recorder so he could dictate the stories.   He used the tape recorder to make notes of funny thoughts and interesting ideas he had during the day, and had me transcribe them into his journal every evening.  But he never got around to dictating the stories for The Cabbagetown Kid, so I think I'll tell some of the stories on his behalf.

Ivaan's parents bought a house at 42 Wyatt Avenue shortly after they moved to Toronto from Smoky Lake, Alberta.  The first winter in their new house was so cold that Ivaan sometimes stayed home from school, ripping up layers of old linoleum from the floors and burning it in the coal furnace to keep the pipes from freezing.  The basement had an earth floor.  Ivaan's father acquired a load of used bricks from a Tepperman Wreckers demolition site and had them delivered to their front yard.  Ivaan's job was to knock all the mortar off the bricks, and then build a basement floor out of them.  The hammer he used to break off the mortar wore out completely before he floor was completed and it too was thrown into the furnace.  His parents collected partial rolls of wallpaper and used them to paper the walls of the house.  Their father would bring home bags of over-ripe fruit and they would cut it up, discarding the inedible parts, and make fruit salad out of the rest.  Ivaan was an incredibly picky eater.  If he saw as much as a drop of oil floating on top of his bowl of borsch, he would refuse to touch it.  His mother despaired of getting him to eat.  In March of 1953, Ivaan was absent from school for ten consecutive days, suffering from what Dr. Volpe, their family doctor, described as "Spring Fever".  His prescription?  Keep him at home and feed him grapes.   The first food Ivaan remembers enjoying was a ham sandwich, prepared by the mother of his friends Len and Bo.  As a matter of fact, he enjoyed it so much, he asked her to make him another.  His mother, incredibly relieved and mortified at the same time, had to call Len and Bo's mother to ask what the sandwich was made of, so she could replicate it at home.

Ivaan was desperate to have school lunches like his classmates brought:  two pieces of white bread, spread lightly with mustard and nothing else.  He wanted pre-sliced bread, not thick hand-sliced European rye bread sandwiches prepared by his mother.  Ivaan's parents were not easily fooled.  They insisted that white sliced bread was not for sandwiches, it was only for the toaster, a fact which was clearly proven by the name on the plastic bread bag:  Toastmaster.  Ivaan's father was horrified by Canadian eating habits, particularly eating canned goods.  He told his children that Canadians were too lazy to chew, and that food in cans was pre-chewed.

In Part 2 of The Cabbagetown Kid, I'll tell you about  what accidentally became Ivaan's first paying job:  delivering vegetables.  I'll also tell you the story about Telephone Etiquette:  what Ivaan used to call the Pan Pilipenko Story.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

WINSTON CHURCHILL: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

by Yousuf Karsh


In 1967, during the time that  Ivaan was working in the photo studio at Maclean Hunter Publishing, the world-renowned Armenian-Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh, who lived in Ottawa, came to the photo studio to be photographed, in conjunction with a magazine article that was being written about him.  For Karsh, it was nearly a life-changing event.  Under the direction of Chief Photographer Nicke Luciani, Ivaan and fellow photographer Harvey Lambert had set up the studio to shoot a portrait of Karsh to accompany the article:   backdrop, lights, camera, a chair for the celebrated Karsh to sit on.  Karsh positioned himself on the chair, the lights were turned on, Ivaan was adjusting the camera, and Harvey was standing beside him, surveying the scene.  Suddenly, the hinged arm of one of the light stands began to swing slowly downwards.  Obviously, in the excitement of preparing the studio, the screw on the hinged arm had not been tightened sufficiently, and this heavy light began descending, with increasing velocity, towards Karsh's head.  Ivaan, peering through the viewfinder, was oblivious. Harvey, horrified, dived toward the "business end" of the light and caught it, just before it intersected with Karsh's head, possibly saving Karsh's life and certainly saving all of their reputations.

The photos they took of Karsh are now in the Canadian Museum of Science and Technology on the centenary of Karsh's birth, donated by the late Nicke Luciani's sister, Angela Sabino.  Karsh seemed to have taken a liking to Ivaan, and presented him with a gift:  a copy of the famous portrait he had taken of Winston Churchill in 1941, where he'd reputedly pulled the ever-present cigar from Churchill's lips, resulting in the scowl you see above.  (The photo above is a close-cropped section, not the entire portrait.)


40 years later, this gift from Karsh was languishing among Ivaan's archives in our basement.  It's astonishing that it had never been lost.  I didn't even know of its existence, until Ivaan told me the story of their encounter with Karsh.  I found the portrait, still in perfect condition, and  persuaded Ivaan that he would be wise to sell it.  He reluctantly agreed, and our friend Stephen Bulger, who owns the Stephen Bulger Gallery on Queen Street West, handled the sale for us.

Before handing the portrait over to Stephen, Ivaan decided to make a colour photocopy of this black and white photograph, as a memento.  Actually, he made 36 copies, and then he laminated them.  They look amazing.  A decade later, Yousuf Karsh, Nicke Luciani and Ivaan are probably discussing the finer points of portrait photography in the World To Come (Harvey Lambert is still very much alive) ....and I am left with 36 laminated pictures of Winston Churchill.


These heavily laminated photos are about the size of a placemat.  I have no idea what to do with them.  Perhaps you'd like to have one. If so, please let me know.  I have a grudging respect for Winston Churchill; he stood up to Hitler when no other world leaders would (well, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, Archbishop Krill did, in an act of great bravery, as did Bulgaria's King Boris III).  This was the kind of historical detail that really engaged Ivaan.  I'll write about Ivaan's passion for history in an upcoming post).  Meanwhile, I welcome your suggestions.

Monday, September 13, 2010

IVAAN and the CECILIA STRING QUARTET: Love at first sight...and sound


In early 2005, Ivaan and I went to a lunchtime concert held in the solarium of Falconer Hall, Faculty of Law, at U of T.   We were both feeling very fragile that year, and he was still coming to terms with the presence of the wheelchair in his life.  We decided that it would lift our spirits to get out and hear some music, and a series of free concerts by students in the Faculty of Music at U of T, which were to be held in odd locations around the campus, seemed like the perfect prescription.

Our first concert was a performance by the Cecilia String Quartet - well, it was three members of the original Quartet and a young male classmate of theirs, filling in on cello.  Ivaan was determined he was not going to listen to the concert sitting in his wheelchair.  He asked me to transfer him to a sofa and then hide the wheelchair, as far out of his line of vision as possible.  He was getting ready to enjoy himself, and he couldn't enjoy himself if he was the "disabled" guy in the room.  (It's funny - even on his last day on earth, "disabled" would be the last word I'd use to describe Ivaan.)

I have no recollection what they played, but the Cecilia String Quartet captured Ivaan's heart.  Their performance was so physical, and the interplay among the musicians was so riveting, it was an hour that Ivaan never forgot.  Sarah Nematallah and Liana Berube were on violin.  I think Sharon Wei played viola, and this young man with a Spanish name, who wasn't part of the Quartet at all, was on cello.  I remember I was crying during the concert, partly because their performance was so captivating, but partly because I was witnessing a profound soul-stirring taking place in Ivaan.

Liana Berube, on violin, was all arms and legs.  She was seated on a chair, but only just, because she is such a physical player that I was on pins and needles, waiting to see if she would actually fall off her chair or crash into one of the other musicians.  Liana was mesmerizing to watch, but it was Sarah Nematallah, on second violin, who was holding the reins.  Ivaan was captivated by the fact that the other Quartet members studied her breathing to know when to begin:  a quick inhale by Sarah, and they were off.

Shortly after, the Quartet won the Felix Galimir Award For Chamber Music Excellence and we attended their performance as prizewinners at Walter Hall, Faculty of Music.  When we returned home from that concert, Ivaan decided he wanted each member of the Quartet to have a piece of his jewellery.  He decided on identical dragonfly brooches, and had me deliver them to violinist Scott St. John, who was their professor at U of T.    Subsequently, when we'd go to hear them play, we'd see them wearing Ivaan's dragonflies.

The Quartet had a couple of personnel changes after Felix Galimir:  Liana went on to pursue other interests and then Sharon, who had moved from viola to violin after Liana's departure, also left.  They were replaced by Min-Jeong Koh on violin and Caitlin Boyle on viola.  Cellist Rebecca Wenham and violinist Sarah Nematallah were the original Quartet members.  (I gather the Cecilias have recently acquired a new cellist, Rachel Desoer).

As Ivaan's health declined, we'd still go to hear the Cecilias whenever we had the opportunity.  He'd ask me to send them a cheque if they were going out of town to perform somewhere special, because he wanted them to take themselves out to lunch in Paris or wherever and have a good meal, as a gift from him.  He treasured the communications and correspondence we had from them, and was extremely proud that Sarah wrote to us, offering to bring the Quartet to our condo and perform for Ivaan when they were next in Toronto.  Unfortunately, Ivaan died before this could occur.

The joy Ivaan experienced in listening to the  Cecilia String Quartet inspired my return to university to study Historical Musicology in the fall of 2005.  Sarah Nematallah generously contributed to a paper I wrote about the Mooredale Concerts in which she participated, shortly before the death of founder Kristine Bogyo.  The Cecilias don't just get up on stage and perform; one or the other of them tells the audience about the  music, what's significant about it, why they chose it, what to listen for.  It connects them to the audience, and it connects the audience to them.

I went to hear the Cecilias perform at the St. Lawrence Centre for the Performing Arts shortly after Ivaan's death.  It was very moving, being there without him.  Sarah and Becky were wearing Ivaan's dragonflies (Liana and Sharon of course kept theirs when they left the Quartet).

I'll be going to hear the Cecilia String Quartet again on October 2nd at Koerner Hall, in the Royal Conservatory of Music.  The concert is part of Nuit Blanche, and the tickets are FREE (but cannot be reserved in advance).  The big news is that the Cecilia String Quartet has just won first prize at the 10th Banff International String Quartet competition.  I cannot urge you strongly enough to come out on Saturday, October 2nd and hear the Cecilia String Quartet.  The concert starts at 7:30 p.m.  In the meantime, I'll be working on a couple more a gift to the Cecilias from Ivaan.  Incidentally, there is a type of dragonfly called the Cecilia, a fact that was brought to our attention by Becky Wenham, which  totally delighted Ivaan.

If you are able to attend, pay close attention, as I am sure Ivaan will be in the concert hall, waiting for Sarah to inhale - and start the performance.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

LOWON BEHOLD: Lana's got a new crush.

The "Lana" Ring

Ivaan and Lana Lowon struck up a friendship in December 1994, when he was looking for a retail location on Queen Street West and Lana and her husband Jim Pope were in the market for a new headquarters for Lowon Pope, their custom dress shop.   They decided to join forces and share a location at 692 Queen Street West.  There was some great synergy involved:  Lowon Pope specializes in one-of-a-kind wedding dresses and Ivaan makes rings.  What's not to like?

A big part of the pleasure of sharing a store with Jim and Lana was Ivaan's instant connection with their seven-year-old son.  Max and Ivaan were the best of friends and shared many things, including a love of playing and a love of snacking.  Many scientific experiments were carried out by Max and Ivaan in the back room of the shop which, if they had known, would have been of serious concern to the Fire Department.  If Ivaan and Max weren't busy burning something, it's because they were busy eating something.

Five years later, Jim and Lana needed more space and they moved Lowon Pope to a new shop directly across the street.  I'm surprised the City didn't install a pedestrian crossing at that location, because the flow of traffic between the stores was pretty constant.  Lana was a big fan of Ivaan's work from the start.  She has a good eye for rings, and invariably chooses ones that are feminine but not dainty, with kind of a spare, muscular architecture to them.  Recently, she lost her beloved thumb ring in a taxi and wanted to choose a replacement.  She's totally fallen in love with her new ring, pictured above. It's been named the Lana Ring.  Ivaan would completely approve of her choice.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Every so often, Ivaan would have an extraordinary fit of inspiration and create a wax original of a piece of jewellery that, because of the complexity of the design, could never be duplicated.  The Traffic Stopper, as it has come to be known, is a case in point.  I'd have been perfectly happy with this, if the ring in question had actually fit me.  Even if it had come close to fitting me, I'd have taken the risk of giving it a little stretch, but The Traffic Stopper is a bit of a Cinderella's Glass Slipper, and it either fits you or it doesn't.  If it does, you get to go to the ball, meet Prince Charming and live happily ever after.  If it doesn't, you get to stay home and sweep.

Our friend Sonia was visiting one day and trying on jewellery.  As fate would have it, she tried on this ring and it fit perfectly.   As a matter of fact, it practically jumped out of the tray and landed on her finger.  It's so different from the other Ivaan pieces she owns and yet it's so clearly at home on her.  It was she who named it The Traffic Stopper, and it's very apt, because strangers do stop her on the street to inspect it. 

I'm glad it's out there in the world for people to see, even if it's not on my finger.  And now, if you will excuse me, I will get back to my sweeping.  Grrrrr.

Friday, September 10, 2010

MY NEW BEST FRIENDS: A Wax Injector and 1,954 Moulds

In about 1976, Ivaan started making rubber moulds of his creations as a record of what he had done.  He didn't make a mould of everything, but he did make moulds of 1,954 of them.  Rubber moulds usually last about 10 years, but some of Ivaan's moulds are over 30 years old and still able to produce waxes.  I'm sure the reason for this is that Ivaan rarely used them.  He just kept them as a record of what he had done.  While he loved to admire his vintage pieces, he always had something new and exciting brewing in his head and never reprised his earlier work.  I guess this is the hallmark of a true artist.  Fortunately for the world, I am no artist, and having recently counted and categorized his rubber moulds, I decided to invest in a wax injector so I could make a wax copy of each of the 1,954 pieces.

Once in a television interview, Ivaan said, "I can hardly wait to wake up in the morning.  There's always something hot cooking.  My big thrill is to crack open a mould."  I now know exactly what he meant.  It is incredibly exciting opening a mould and seeing a wax replica of one of his vintage works of art.   I'm especially loving his work from the 1980s.  Some of the bracelets are incredibly beautiful.  And the reason I've never seen them before is that the best ones are owned by his clients, who are all over the world.

Learning to operate a wax injector is not easy.  There are many variables to consider:  the type of wax, the temperature of the melted wax, the PSI (air pressure), the condition of the rubber mould, the complexity of the design.  Right now the wax injector sits in the kitchen, looking like a very industrial food processor.  But I've successfully produced several dozen waxes so far. I wonder how old I'll be by the time I've successfully injected all of them.  I'll never be an artist, but thanks to Ivaan's foresight in preserving this record of his work, I am beginning to understand the thrill of creation.  So, thank you, Ivaan, for leaving me this project.  You feel so totally present when I'm working on preserving your legacy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010


This happens all the time: I'll be going through Ivaan's jewellery and I'll stop in my tracks and say, "Why haven't I paid attention to this ring/bracelet/pendant before?"  Usually it's as a result of trying something on and realizing it fits me.  That was the case with this ring.  It's been in the Art Gallery of Ontario for months.  We were recently switching up the AGO inventory and I brought it home with the others from the Tutankhamun exhibition.  Our nephew Ivor, who is the newly-appointed Vice President of Atelier Ivaan, was doing inventory  last week and I saw him photographing this ring.  I think it looks amazing on me.  Ivaan used to say, "I only make two sizes:  too big and too small."  This explains why most of the things he made don't fit me.  This one is totally gorgeous, though, AND it fits me.  This is a vintage ring - I think he made it in 1980.  I totally love the things he made in that era, many of which I have never seen before.  In another post, I'll explain why I've never seen them and why I'm discovering them now.  Meanwhile, isn't this ring exquisitely beautiful?  Also, in a later post, I'm going to include a photo of Lana's new thumb ring, which has been officially named the Lana Ring because it is uniquely and totally Lana.

Sunday, September 5, 2010




In June 1970, Ivaan was asked to travel across Canada as the official photographer aboard the Festival Express - a train carrying musicians across the country, stopping to perform in various cities en route.  One of the biggest attractions on board was Janis Joplin.    That's her with her guitar on the left, and you can see Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead)  and folk musician Eric Andersen in the background.  On the right, Ivaan is carrying Janis in the fountain in downtown Winnipeg, with Eric Andersen beside them.  Janis was no lightweight, and Ivaan later said he nearly had a heart attack, trying not to drop her.
Four months later, Janis Joplin was dead.  Like Jimi Hendrix, she was 27.