Monday, December 30, 2013


We were watching the movie Festival Express recently and it was fun to see glimpses of a 25-year-old Ivaan in his trademark Spanish hat strolling around onstage taking photographs.  Here are a couple of screen shots of him during a performance by Tom Rush.  He's the skinny guy wearing a white jean jacket and blue jeans.

If you are watching the movie on YouTube, much of the footage of Ivaan occurs at about 1:33:00 to 1:37:00. Sometimes he shows up wearing a vest with pockets and some tall brown boots, but more often he's in his hat and white jean jacket.  Just a little blast from the past.

Some of Ivaan's own photographs from the Festival Express are on exhibit right now at the Stephen Bulger Gallery on Queen Street West, in an exhibit called Summer Lovin', which runs until about January 18th, 2014.  Well worth seeing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013


When I awake tomorrow morning, it will be five years since my beloved Ivaan left the planet. It does not feel like five years.  It feels like about half an hour. Despite the number of times I've heard people tell me that time heals all wounds, I can say with some authority that it does not. Our friend Jirina once wrote something to me which resonated deeply at the time and has stayed close to my heart ever since:

In times of sorrow, love heals.

I've had lots of time over the years to think about those words, and many occasions on which to reflect on the ways we try to comfort others in times of sadness.  And as often as I think of Jirina's words, I think of my friend Patricia, who once said two simple words to me which, literally, carried me one bleak day.  It would be impossible to say something more gracious and enduring than this to someone with a broken heart:

I care.

Tomorrow morning, I'm heading to the cemetery for a visit.  I'm bringing the usual:  some fresh bread for the birds and squirrels, some dried lavender, some pine boughs to cover the grave for the winter, and a pebble from somewhere I've visited recently - in this case, from the new Aquarium.

Since Ivaan's death, I've encountered plenty of things I could cheerfully live without:  suggestions that I stop signing cards and gifts from "Ivaan & Eya" , queries about why our phone listing is still in his name,  when I plan to remarry (almost always followed by, "you know, for companionship"),  why I wear both our wedding rings, the look of discomfort on some people's faces when his name comes up in conversation, as though speaking about a deceased person is a breach of etiquette.  I'm not crazy about the W word, because I'm still very much Ivaan's wife.  And, perhaps most of all, sentences that begin with "Ivaan wouldn't have wanted you to...", as though Ivaan, from his place in the next world, had appointed an emissary to tell me what I ought to be doing.

But this is not about the things I could live without.  It's about the things I miss.

I miss laughing my head off ten times a day.  I miss falling asleep with my head on Ivaan's left shoulder.  I miss the pleasure of watching him enjoy eating something delicious.  I miss making sure his coffee is exactly the way he likes it.   I miss his nicknames for me, I miss reading to him, I miss the fabulous birthday and anniversary cards he drew for me, I miss hearing his conversations with pigeons, squirrels and our dear old cat Pinky, I miss the mischief he and our nephews, The Pyromaniacs, got up to, I miss the early days of our marriage when I'd be busy around the house and he'd call out to me from wherever he was and say, "I love hearing you singing".  I really miss dancing with him.    I will never, ever be able to sleep on his side of the bed. And I love that, at least in his eyes, I was the most capable, resourceful genius in the entire world.  It is nice to have had someone in your life who is so utterly, unabashedly (and often unjustifiably) proud of you. 

Ivaan, my beloved husband, it is nice to be your wife. 

IVAAN, August 2008, by Slava Lukashenkov

Monday, November 25, 2013


Ivaan once told me that the best thing about being a jeweller is that you only ever get to see happy people.  They come in with hope and anticipation lighting up their faces, and they leave smiling from ear to ear.  He's absolutely right.  If you're a florist, you might be selling flowers to celebrate a birthday, an anniversary, or the birth of a child.  You might also be preparing flowers for someone seeking forgiveness, for someone in hospital, or even for a bereavement.   But, if you're looking for a steady stream of happiness, making beautiful jewellery is a thrill.

One day, not too long ago, a really nice young man came into Atelier Ivaan. He's a loving husband and a devoted father of two. He comes from an extremely supportive family, and with their help, he has become a highly skilled and very successful tradesman. Yet, for all his success, he remains down to earth, modest, honest and sincere.  He was very interested in what goes on at Atelier Ivaan, and you could see he really appreciated Ivaan's exquisite work.  He said he'd like to order a special piece of jewellery one day.

A few weeks later, he returned, and said he'd made up his mind.  He wanted me to make the most special ring I could manage, as a gift for his wife.  Every time he mentioned her, his face lit up.  He told me that years ago, in the early stages of their relationship, his wife had faced a serious health crisis which nearly destroyed her, and from which few people ever recover.  She fought her way back, tooth and nail, and for nearly five years she has been free of her illness.   He spoke with awe of her courage and determination to get better.

On December 15th, this young couple will celebrate the fifth anniversary of her recovery.  He wanted something absolutely jaw-dropping to present to her as a gift, in recognition of not merely her return to health, but of what an inspiration she has been to him.

My client brought his wife in to meet me a few days ago.  She hasn't seen the ring, of course, but she knows he has something up his sleeve. She is one of those people you warm to right away, and I liked her immediately. I kept wanting to turn around and introduce her to Ivaan, because I knew he would like her too.

But on December 15th, when she tries on this ring, I won't have to introduce her to Ivaan, because they will have just met.

So, I'll simply say this. From Ivaan and from me, to the two of you: may good health and happiness follow you wherever you go.  You are both a huge inspiration.


Sunday, November 10, 2013


If you've ever been to Atelier Ivaan, you've probably noticed that there is a beautiful cabinet grand piano in the store.  It's a 1905 Chickering, the same piano that Glenn Gould played on as a child.  I've had it for a long time and I play it fairly regularly, though not as regularly as Glenn did.   His playing had probably surpassed mine when he was about four.  On the other hand, I am still alive and Glenn's not, and in my case it's all about the journey, not the destination.

I recently saw some ten-year-old film footage of my nephew Angus and I doing a piano-violin duet and I was chagrined to observe that I played better then than I do now.  So perhaps my present crankiness has something to do with that.

When strangers come into Atelier Ivaan, the piano is one of the first things they notice.   Sometimes it takes them a while to get to the shiny stuff in the showcases.  So the conversation goes like this:

     THEM:  There's a grand piano in here.
     ME:  Yes, I know.
    THEM:  Why is it here?  Do you give lessons?
     ME:  No.
    THEM:  Then why is it here?  Do you play it?
     ME:   Yes.
     THEM:  Would you like to play something for me?

Now, I know that there is a perfectly well-mannered way of responding in the negative to this question, but I can never think of it at the time, because I am too busy wondering what prompted them to ask the question.   I mean, there's a telephone in here; would they care to listen to me make a phone call?   My school books are usually here too.  How'd they like to watch me do my homework?

So I'm trying to come up with a humorous but polite way of saying that the very last thing on earth I'd like to do is perform an impromptu recital for a total stranger who just wandered in off the street in the middle of working hours.  So far my best line has been, "The only thing I'm playing today is the cash register." If you happen to think of a clever comeback, please let me know. All of my neighbours will thank you.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


If you are thinking of proposing marriage to someone you love, you may want to read this post first.

Here's the story: you fall in love and decide to share your life with someone. Once you start talking about making that commitment public, a subtle pressure begins to mount.  Even if it's unspoken, the spectre of a diamond ring begins to loom.  Now, this diamond ring that's hovering is not a symbol of your mutual love and trust.  It's more of a commodity, and that commodity takes on a life of its own, which has nothing whatever to do with your relationship, your love, your commitment and your future life together.  It has everything to do with satisfying a societal pressure, and it's fuelled by advertising, friends, social media, family and a deep psychological need to "measure up" to a standard that shifts like sand.

Six years ago, our friend T received a marriage proposal from her beloved, Z. He'd chosen a white gold and diamond ring by Ivaan - a ring of modest proportions, of a style that would look excellent on T's long slim hand.  As soon as he saw it, Z knew that was the ring.  And it was.  T absolutely loved it.   Recently, T and Z dropped by with their children.  I offered to give her engagement ring a quick polish to make it look brand new again, and I was struck by how gracefully that ring had stood the test of time.  It looks beautiful with her wedding ring, and on its own it looks as fresh and current as though Z had slipped it on her finger the day before yesterday.

In those six years, I've also seen people buying engagement rings with large diamonds of inferior quality, planning to 'upgrade'  after the wedding to a better quality stone.  Sometimes they upgrade the setting as well.  I often wonder if they have plans to upgrade their spouse.

Ivaan's acerbic quip, "Girls are a diamond's best friend" definitely applies to the 'upgraders', but I don't think it applies to the people who fall in love with what Ivaan's rings are:  pieces of small sculpture with which the wearer develops a deep emotional bond.  These sculptures go on to be a symbol of the love between life partners, but first and foremost they are stand-alone works of art.

My modest proposal, therefore, is that if you are considering a ring as part of your marriage proposal, or your wedding ceremony, that you choose a ring that is truly a work of art, not a mere commodity.  Ivaan's diamond rings feature beautiful gold settings with small, excellent diamonds. They stand on their own as works of art; they cost hundreds, not thousands, and there is nothing to upgrade.  I rest my case.
14 kt white gold Eve Ring, one tasteful, beautiful diamond, size 5
(c) Atelier Ivaan
14 kt white gold Wave Ring, three
tasteful, lovely diamonds, size 6
(c) Atelier Ivaan

Wave Ring: the other side


Euro Bezel Ring with London Blue Topaz
(c) Atelier Ivaan
Lately I've been having a little love affair with blue gemstones. Possibly it's the time of year, because topaz is a birthstone, but I think it has more to do with my current interest in all things marine.

So I had a good wax of Ivaan's famous Euro Bezel ring sitting in the showcase, and I decided to cast it in sterling and set a blue stone in the centre. There are basically two colours of blue topaz.  One is called Swiss Blue, which is soft, feminine and pastel.  The other is London Blue. It's more indigo, more masculine, and I like the tension between the undulating lines of the ring and the stiff-upper-lip of the London Blue stone.

So I went with London Blue, and I think it was the right choice.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Though the great majority of the work at Atelier Ivaan involves slavishly producing Ivaan's metal art with painstaking attention to detail, every so often, I'll be asked to make a more classic or traditional engagement ring. Sometimes it's because the ring will  include a gemstone that is being passed from one generation to another.  Always, when a stone carries great sentimental value, it's essential to ensure the jewel is well protected in its new setting, because if it becomes damaged, or falls out and is lost, no amount of money will replace it. 

This part of being a jeweller is really rewarding.  Often, I'm helping a bridegroom-to-be choose a setting for his future wife, and as I work with him to decide what is going to best suit the two of them, I learn little details about things she likes, her quirky side, the back story of the inherited gemstone, how they met, what kind of husband he hopes to be....for those few hours, I'm almost like a member of the family.  I've learned to be very, very discreet, because if I happen to pass the young couple on the street, he definitely doesn't want to have to make any awkward introductions.

Choosing a setting for an inherited stone also means paying close attention to the way the stone is cut.  Too low a setting means the pointed end of a diamond will be poking through the setting and touching the finger.  Too high, and that ring is going to spend more time in the soap dish than on Mama's finger, once their first baby comes along.

But always, when I make a classic ring to mark an engagement or marriage, I like to ensure that there is an element that distinguishes their ring from any other.  Here's a good example of a modern classic engagement ring with an inherited centre stone.  Note the prongs are actually a continuation of the band, not an attachment.  They're substantial, so the stone is well protected.   But what sets this ring apart are the six fiery gypsy-set diamonds on the shoulders of the ring.  They're not all crammed together. The "real estate" between those stones gives the ring a lot of distinction, and they enhance the centre stone, rather than competing with it.  The groom thought so, too.  And the bride?  Well, she said yes.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


PUNCHING THROUGH (C) 2012 Bart Synowiec

This evening, one of my dreams was fulfilled.

There.  I think I'll let that sentence just hang in the air for a minute.  

A few months ago, I was introduced by a mutual friend to a young fine art photographer, Bart Synowiec.  After meeting Bart, I had a look at his website, and was really struck by the images.  They were all unsettling, but never for the same reason.   The composition was striking, but each photograph evoked a powerful sense:  a feeling of vertigo, the vestigial memory of a  long-ago place, profound aloneness, incredible stillness, deep longing, sometimes that heightened awareness that you feel at the edge of the high diving board.  Even looking at the images on Bart's website ( I lost the sense that I was looking at a photograph, and I knew how that place smelled, because I was present, just at the edge of the scene.  I know Ivaan would have shared this sense: a combination of feeling present and having to remind yourself to breathe at the same time.

Bart was soon represented by the Mark Christopher Gallery, on Queen Street West.  I found myself occasionally visiting Bart's website, wondering which I'd choose if I could manage to have only one photograph.  At first, I fixed my covetous eye on a photograph entitled Curvy - I'll let you look it up on his website - and then it was Cooling Tower, and then, during a period wherein I was thinking about the Atlantic, and about ocean liners, I suddenly found myself hardly able to catch my breath while looking at Punching Through.  I was bowled over by the power of the picture, the motion, the enormity.

I made an appointment to go down to the Mark Christopher Gallery, where I met the proprietor, Mark Zadorozny, and spent some time with him and Bart. At this point, I'd never seen any of the photographs in person. They showed me a print of Curvy and it was very tempting just to put it under my arm, hand them my chequebook, and walk out the door.

In the end, I decided I could be impulsive and restrained at the same time: I'd buy Punching Through, but I wouldn't let myself see it until it was mounted and delivered several weeks hence.

Today was the day.  Every time I turn and look at it, I feel like someone turned on the oxygen.  Now, you've got some options. You can go to Bart's website or the gallery website and see it for yourself, or (and I recommend this option) you can come to Atelier Ivaan and see it on the wall.

Just remember to breathe.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Vinny, my neighbour, knows I love rapini.  My "desert island" meal of choice would be some new potatoes with olive oil and a plate of rapini.   Yesterday, my nephew Angus did a fly-past, on his way from London to Kingston, and he stopped in next door to Vinny's Panini to order a breaded eggplant panino, which he brought back to Atelier Ivaan to enjoy.  He so much reminded me of Ivaan, because there was no point in talking to him while he was enjoying his food.  All his concentration was on his meal.  And that's exactly how Ivaan was.  The only difference is that Angus eats quietly, while Ivaan would moan softly as he chewed, his eyes half closed, when he was particularly enjoying his meal.
Angus couldn't stay for long, but just after I hugged him goodbye, the door to the store opened and in came Vinny, with a surprise he'd made especially for me.
Now, Vinny's Panini isn't vegan.  Not by a long shot.  The closest they get is the breaded eggplant, which Angus absolutely loved.  But Vinny knows I'm vegan and that I love rapini, so here's half of what he made me:
Why half, you ask?  Because by the time I remembered to get my camera out, the first half of the panino had mysteriously vanished, and I was wiping the evidence off my chin. Okay, in all its glory, here it is:  a very fresh bun, tomato sauce, red peppers, rapini in garlic and olive oil, sauteed onions, mushrooms.  It was heavenly. I suppose I could have saved the other half for dinner, but somehow I just felt like moaning softly with my eyes half closed.
Ivaan, if you read our blog, this panino is truly worth coming back to earth for, because in your immortal words, it contains ingredients.


Today, I felt a surge of brilliance coming on, and I just know it's a memo from Ivaan.  He has a way of letting me know when he wants me to get to work and produce something spectacular.  He even manages to let me know from which decade he'd like the brilliance to materialize.  Today, when I walked into the store, I had an urge to look at large, flat gemstones.  What caught my eye was a large, luminous oval Madagascar Labradorite:
And then I started reminiscing about the beautiful work Ivaan did in the 1990s.  Looking through the waxes, I found a beautiful ring he made in 1993 - exactly 20 years ago.  Something about the cool simplicity of the stone seemed to call out to the intricate gorgeousness of the ring. Here's what the stone looks like, nestled into the ring like a toe in a slipper:
Pantoufle Ring, 1993 (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky
My mission, should I choose to accept it, will be to decide what metal to cast the ring in - although I do love it in blue wax.  I remember 1993 so well.  It was the year Ivaan suffered his first heart attack, on January 6th, in church.  So when he made this ring, he was in the throes of an incredibly creative surge which always followed a period of forced inactivity.  When I finish the ring and set the stone, I will post photos of it.

Ivaan, today is your birthday.  It's the last year of the decade you were in when you left the planet.  I miss you beyond all measure.  I know you are shining down on me; otherwise, where would I be getting surges of brilliance from?   After I finish up here in the Atelier Ivaan Slave Shop, I'll come to visit you, with some birthday cake for the birds and squirrels.
Я люблю тебе, мій коханий чоловік.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


One of the things I love best about the location of Atelier Ivaan is the fact that we are next door to Vinny's.  Vinny and his wonderful mother, Mena, are the proprietors of Vinny's Panini, perhaps the most noteworthy Italian sandwich shop in Toronto. Ivaan loved Vinny's hot meatball sandwiches, though as his illness progressed he could no longer feed himself, nor could he eat sandwiches.  If he wanted a Vinny's meatball sandwich, it had to be deconstructed:  the meatball over here, the sauce in a little dish, and the bun over there.  He ate them in teaspoon size mouthfuls, one bite at a time. Feeding Ivaan half a Vinny's sandwich took forever, but it was worth it to see him enjoy his meal.

When I first bought this building, I went over to re-introduce myself to Vinny, and he remembered his former customer who preferred the deconstructed hot meatball panini.

I love being next door to Vinny.  He's the best neighbour.  When I need to describe to someone where I'm located, I can just say I'm "next door to Vinny's Panini".   Everybody knows Vinny's.   If I'm expecting a shipment, Vinny will watch out for the delivery truck.   When I have contractors working here, Vinny feeds them.  If I'm in the store late at night, Vinny keeps an eye on me. The customers at Vinny's are from the widest spectrum of society, all united by the love of a good Italian sandwich. Sometimes they'll stop in for a chat while they're waiting for their sandwich, and everyone has a good word to say about Vinny. Sometimes people even stop by accidentally: so eager are they to reach Vinny's door, they come in here by mistake,  blurt out "I'll have a steak sandwich to go, with rapini on the side" and they will suddenly look around, realize they're not in Vinny's, and start to laugh.

A few days ago, some broken glass at Vinny's gave me a chance to help out by doing what I love to do best:  sweeping.   And yesterday morning, Vinny arrived with a thank you gift, put together very artistically by his wife Jenny, following their apple-picking Sunday drive in the country.

Ivaan's favourite short story is entitled A Basket of Apples, by Shirley Faessler. It's a  beautifully written story about family, hardships and love, but most of all it's about neighbourhood.  Vinny's gift of apples reminded me immediately of this story. And once again, as I very often am, I was reminded how glad I am to be Vinny's neighbour.

Friday, September 13, 2013


Seashore Bangle (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky
It's probably a natural instinct among people who own retail operations, the ability to predict an emerging trend.  I do not have that natural instinct.    So it was a complete surprise to me to realize that there were almost no bracelets left in the showcases.   Little by little, all the bracelets had been sold, while I remained seemingly oblivious.

The wax injector was set up in the store, so I brought up some rubber bracelet moulds from the basement and started making waxes, just to see what I came up with.  Wax injecting requires a strong, steady pair of hands and an even temperament, because even if you inject a perfect wax, you might break it getting it out of the rubber mould.

The stars were aligned last week, because Angus and Sara spent a few days here.  You remember the story about Tom Sawyer whitewashing the fence and convincing his friend Huckleberry Finn how much fun it was?  Well, something like that occurred around here and Angus, watching me  inject waxes, asked, "Would it be okay if I tried one?" And before you know it, Angus and Sara were having fun injecting waxes and I was making myself look busy with other things.

Angus and Sara seemed to have a natural ability to inject waxes, and quite soon I had quite a few perfect waxes of bracelets.  So it has been a busy week casting and finishing new bracelets.  I've never even seen the Seashore Bangle, above, but it's absolutely beautiful.  Then, there's the double calla lily bracelet - in bronze, it's Sara's favourite - which is a happy coincidence, as it fits her perfectly.

Double Calla Lily Bangle (c) 1999 Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky
I definitely won't be posting a photo of my hands any time soon.  They are a sorry sight from all the grinding and polishing that has occurred this week. But here's the tips of my fingers holding one final bracelet, a sterling silver cuff bracelet with two bead-set amethysts, the original of which Ivaan made as a commission for the Art Gallery of Ontario back in 1980.

Sterling Cuff With Amethysts (c) 1980 Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky
Angus and Sara:  if you're reading this, merci mille fois!  You totally made my week.  Come back for a visit as soon as you're back in town.  I'll put the kettle - and the wax injector - on.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


"A STAR IS BORN", thanks to
A couple of months ago, Atelier Ivaan was selected as one of the subjects for a Globe and Mail feature called "How I Started".  The series reveals the "back story" of interesting small businesses, with the owner being filmed explaining the idea behind the business, how they launched it, what obstacles they faced, and finally, offering advice to other prospective entrepreneurs, based on their experience.

It was exciting to be chosen, and when I learned that I'd be the subject of a short video, I decided that I'd better call in the big guns.  At times like these, I consider myself extra lucky to know some big guns in the film production industry, and naturally I went straight to the top.

Endless Films is a small but very busy film company based in Toronto.  It's owned by three close friends of Ivaan's and mine, and their work is extraordinarily good.  I was ecstatic when they said two of them, Iain and Alex,  had a few free hours the following week.  I figured, if these guys couldn't make me look attractive and articulate, no one could.

They arrived on schedule, set up their equipment, wired me for sound, and we got to work.  I had wondered if it was going to be a nervewracking experience, but it wasn't in the least.  Although I normally see them in a personal context - they're longtime best friends, wonderful young husbands, and devoted new dads - it seemed perfectly natural to see them in their professional capacity.  It's incredible how they work together, speaking in a kind of quiet shorthand, instinctively trusting each other, with great confidence and skill.

Exactly one hour later, it was "a wrap".  They let me see "the rushes" and immediately I knew this was going to be a success.  The next day, Alex sent me the film, already edited, already perfect.  I have no idea what filters they used on the camera, but they made me look amazing. I should buy ten of them.  (I asked Alex, actually, and he said "No filters; that's just the way you look". What a smooth operator - no wonder he swept Erin off her feet!)

I've just learned that we're likely going to be in the Globe and Mail this coming Tuesday. Don't miss it!  Full credit for this superb little production goes to Endless Films.  Thanks, guys.  Ivaan would be thrilled.  You made me a star!

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Now and again, somebody will come into ATELIER IVAAN and ask "So...what do you do here exactly?"  And though I like to think of the atelier as an understated and elegant home for some breathtakingly beautiful metal art, perhaps we're more understated than I realize.  Sometimes the antique typewriter in the window, which displays our Hours of Operation, confuses people.  Perhaps they are also misled by the paintings and photography on the walls, as I'm occasionally asked if I'd be willing to paint someone's portrait. And my baby grand piano gives some people the impression that I teach music.

I've often thought I should make better use of my space, but usually my daydreams don't go much further than thinking about opening up a massage studio in my office next door, so I can have a massage whenever I want.

But early this morning, I was in the store, chatting on the phone with my brother.  I heard someone trying to open the door of the store.  I turned and saw an elderly Asian man, with what appeared to be a pile of laundry in his arms, pulling at the door handle, then knocking when he realized the door was locked.

I went to the door, unlocked it and asked if I could help him.  He tried to hand me his armload of clothing and said, "I need my pants fixed."  I replied, "Well, we're a jewellery store.  We don't fix pants."  He got a crabby expression on his face, pointed at our sign and asked, "So why does it say ALTERATIONS IVAAN?"

I promptly emailed my friend Lesia the story, knowing she'd get a kick out of it, and she just as promptly replied (and this is why I think she's actually "one of the tribe", living undercover as a member of Toronto's Ukrainian community):

"So would it have killed you to hem his pants?"

It's at moments like this that I can feel Ivaan in here, tears of laughter just streaming down his face.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

MORE OR LESS: You Be The Judge

Sometimes, it's a tough call, deciding whether to enhance a ring with gemstones.  Ivaan's art is in the metal, but just occasionally, a gemstone
adds a little kick that makes the piece attention grabbing from half a block away.  I had a couple of really sparkly diamonds here.  I decided to make a white gold ring to set them in.  Ivaan had made a couple of engagement rings in this vein - one with a very substantial diamond, one a more delicate ring. Both brides love them, and who wouldn't?

Today, I was making a ring in this style for the inventory, and I was looking rather wistfully at the unadorned ring, beside the ring I'd set with diamonds, wondering which I like better.  Here they are:

Normally, it's not a democracy here at Atelier Ivaan, but today, you get to vote.

Thursday, June 20, 2013



Ivaan and his partner, Tamas, had a couple of funny lines they'd use whenever a customer came into their store and tried on a ring that was the wrong size.  For some reason, the laws of probability do not exist in the minds of jewellery buyers.  I mean, what are the chances of a complete stranger walking in off the street, trying on one single ring out of all the rings on display, and finding that it fits them?  Not very good. On the other hand, what are the chances that said customer will proceed to stare at their hand in confused bewilderment and say, "But it doesn't fit!"?  I'd say this happens every single time.
 So Tamas would growl, "We didn't know you were coming". And Ivaan would add, "We only make two sizes:  Too Big, and Too Small". If the customer burst out laughing, they knew they'd made a new friend. 

Recently, a group of old friends came by the store for a dinner party.  In case you find yourself invited to a dinner party at the store, don't miss the opportunity, because sometimes it can get pretty funny.  Perhaps my next blog post will be about one of the memorable dinner parties that have taken place in the store. On this occasion, though, it was a group of friends with whom I had worked a couple of decades previously. As it happened, one of the guests was about to be married that weekend.  After dinner, they were all amusing themselves trying on jewellery, and the bride-to-be tried on a one-of-a-kind ring just like the ring in this photo.  It's a gorgeous ring, and the only reason it's still around is because it's - you guessed it - too big.  But she loved it, and wanted to order it in her size.
 I definitely didn't want to cut this one down to size.  What to do, what to do?  So I decided to make a mould of it, make a couple of new waxes from the mould, and reduce the size in the wax.  I started with two waxes and they both came out beautifully.  So, taking this as a Sign From Above, I cast them both, and finished them.  I sent one to the bride-to-be as a wedding gift from Ivaan and me.  
And what about the other one?  You can come in and try it on, if you want.  

But I can guarantee, it'll either be Too Big or Too Small.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Ivaan always wanted to take a photograph of these two men playing chess. Cyril Greenland, on the left,  is my father (and thus Ivaan's devoted father-in-law). Henry Morgentaler, on the right, is his longtime friend and frequent chess partner.  One day about ten years ago, when Dad dropped over to our house on Portland Street with Henry, Ivaan figured his moment had arrived. He loaded his Hasselblad camera with film.  I don't think he realized how seriously these men took their chess. They quickly made it clear that they didn't want a  camera shutter interrupting their concentration.  Cyril was a very superior chess player, but Henry played a ferocious game.  He didn't  lose often, and he certainly didn't lose graciously.  Ivaan didn't play  chess at all, and he wasn't remotely competitive, but he knew when he was beaten.  Cyril and Henry settled on the sofa for a chat, and Ivaan got a chance to take some photos of them in conversation.  I've occasionally been out with Henry and Cyril, and particularly from the rear, I  sometimes had difficulty figuring out who was who.  They were the same height, fairly bald, bearded, wearing glasses, they dressed alike, and they walked slowly.  In Cyril's case, it was because he didn't want Henry to lag behind.

Cyril died on New Year's Day, 2012, aged 92.  We miss him profoundly and remember him with the greatest warmth and affection.

This morning we received the sad news that Henry Morgentaler died peacefully at home, at the age of 90, with his beloved wife Arlene, and his family all around him.  I do not know if there is a Celestial Chess Board set up and waiting in The World To Come, but Henry, if there is,  Cyril has the pieces set up in preparation for your arrival.  And Ivaan has his camera loaded with film.  Those are some photos I'd love to see.  To Cyril and to Henry:  enjoy your game.  Ivaan, get a good shot and beam it back to me.

Saturday, May 25, 2013


Just one short week from today, we'll be celebrating our first year on Dupont Street.  Here's the invitation we sent out.  I'm ashamed to admit our record-keeping hasn't been brilliant so we're not  entirely sure who received an invitation and who didn't.  But frankly, whether there are 10 people in here or 30, it feels like a crowd.  Luckily, the revelry will continue all afternoon on June 1st, and I guess people will be popping in and out at whim.  If it's nice weather outside,  maybe we'll set up a few chairs out front so people can get a breath of fresh air.

Ivor, the VP of Atelier Ivaan, is jetting into town on Thursday evening to help organize things and attend the event. Too bad he'll have to leave on Saturday night, but I'm extremely glad he can make it.  If you come, you'll recognize him:  he's the tall, good-looking one who appears to know what he's doing.

Ivaan, my beloved, let me tell you this: owning and operating a retail store is not for the faint of heart.  It has toughened me up in many ways, but I have had lots of sage advice and inspiration along the way.  I think my favourite lesson came even before I opened our doors to the public for the first time.  I had just taken delivery of my POS terminal, on which credit and debit card purchases are processed.  I'm not afraid of technology whatsoever; I just don't like it.  I was fretting to my friend Tatiana, the owner of Pimlico Design Gallery, from whom I bought this building, about my inability to operate a POS terminal.  She listened patiently for a while, and finally said, "Eya, even STUPID people can use those things."

That put things in perspective!  I laughed my head off, and in fact although my first customer had to help me process his transaction, after that I was an expert.  Ivaan, I know you thought I was a genius before, but you'd be even more proud of me now.  And you would love this place.  So don't forget to make an appearance on June 1st.  Because there will be food.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

STANDING SIX (feet tall)

IVAAN KOTULSKY, by Daniel P. Izzard (c) 2002
Ivaan's portrait is hanging in the window of Atelier Ivaan at present.  I like it there; it's very eye catching.  He's  standing in a very take-charge pose, and coincidentally he's exactly six feet tall.  That's a perfect example of art imitating life.

This evening, I was in the back of the store, in the dark, just gazing out the window.  I'd have been invisible to passersby.

A young woman was walking her bicycle along the sidewalk past Atelier Ivaan. She looked up at this handsome guy standing in the window with his arms folded, nodded at him and smiled, then continued on her way.  Three steps later, she suddenly stopped and backed up.  Glancing at the handsome guy again, she realized she'd just nodded and smiled at a portrait, and just burst out laughing.

Standing in the back of the store, though she couldn't see me, I couldn't help laughing too.  He's pretty easy on the eyes.

In the world of criminal justice, there is an expression, "standing six", which means "acting as a lookout".  I love to know that Ivaan is  standing six over me and his little empire, here at Atelier Ivaan.          

Monday, April 15, 2013


One of the peculiar things about owning Atelier Ivaan is that our building occupies the entire lot. We're attached to the neighbouring buildings on both sides, and at the front and rear our building continues right up to the lot line. So not a blade of grass, not a dandelion, not a tree grows anywhere at Atelier Ivaan. It's a glorious spring day today, and this afternoon I found myself thinking that if I am going to enjoy communing with nature, I'd better head over to the cemetery for a visit.

This thought had barely registered when a van pulled up outside our building. Seconds later, the lower half of a young man approached the front door.   His upper half reminded me of Scene V from Shakespeare's Macbeth, wherein Macbeth says:

           'Fear not, till Birnam wood
            Do come to Dunsinane': and now a wood
            Comes toward Dunsinane...

It truly looked as though Birnam Wood were advancing on Atelier Ivaan. The floral basket pictured above - an entire lush garden - completely concealed the upper half of the young man.  He could barely make it through our front door.  He asked if I were Eya, which I conceded I was, although if he'd asked if I were Lady Macbeth I would probably have conceded that too.  That's how astonished I was.

I am rarely at a loss for words, but I could barely stammer out the question, "Who is this from?".  The young man's face emerged from behind the basket as he lowered it to the table.  Looking visibly relieved, he said "Oh, there's a card attached.  Enjoy it!" and departed.

I stood there for a few moments in awe.  Then I peered around the other side of this glorious arrangement and found an envelope, from which I extracted a handwritten note.

Now, there is a coincidence that hit me as I read the note, because Shakespeare played an additional part in the story behind this fabulous garden.  The story began on May 14, 1967 when Chatelaine Magazine dispatched a young Ivaan to Stratford, Ontario to photograph a handsome English actor named Alan Bates, who was being interviewed for Chatelaine by a very bright, talented young woman whose star was ascending with considerable velocity in the world of Canadian journalism and broadcasting. This young woman, whom we'll call Barbara Frum, wrote very much as she spoke: with disarming humour and warmth, coupled with a fierce intelligence. Although she looked like a stylish university freshman, she was in fact already married, with two young children.  Her interview with Alan Bates was clearly a hit with the actor, because he included it on his website, where it still resides today.  Bates was performing at the Stratford Shakespearean Festival that summer - although I don't know if he was playing Macbeth.  Barbara clearly won him over, being smart enough to have brought along a picnic of steak sandwiches and danish pastries. And we all know the way to a heartthrob's heart is through his stomach.

Ivaan enjoyed photographing the pair of them, and thought that the photographs were sufficiently important that six years later he climbed into a dumpster to retrieve them, when Maclean Hunter Publishing disbanded its in-house photographic studio and unceremoniously disposed of the entire archive of photographs.  Ivaan kept those photographs for 40 years.

I recently contacted Barbara Frum's daughter, Linda, to ask if she would like to have these photos of her late mother.  After all, she and her brother had been with their mother that day at Stratford, and Alan Bates had spent part of the afternoon helping to fish them out of the Avon River.  Linda responded immediately with warm enthusiasm.  I dropped them off for her this morning....and this afternoon I received this magnificent gift from her, along with her handwritten note, which I will treasure.

I keep looking over at it, wondering if it's possible that a squirrel or two is lurking in Birnam Wood.  It's that big.  Thank you, Linda.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


(c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky
One of my early posts was entitled Connie And Her Daughters, about a memorable colleague of mine and her two daughters, both of whom wear this ring in silver.  Recently, I received a commission for the same ring, this time in gold. In silver, it's a heavy piece of work  - and gold is a lot heavier than silver. Hope the new owner doesn't do much swimming. Seeing how fabulous it looks in yellow gold makes me suspect that Ivaan originally made it in gold. Of course, back in 1980, gold was less expensive than silver is today.

Today I am planning to set a few emeralds in the top of the ring.  Sort of gilding the lily. If it looks any good, I'll post a photo of it.

If not, I'm leaving town.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Several hours later.....

.....the lily is gilded.     Can't decide whether to leave town or stay.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013



Sometimes I'll be sorting through Ivaan's treasures and pick up something that I've never paid close enough attention to.   I guess because the  Nugget Ring is for a small finger (size 4.5) and very minutely detailled, I've tended to overlook it.  This afternoon I was photographing it for the website with my close-up camera and I was shocked to see how beautiful it looks in the photographs.

Ivaan always described it as a masterpiece and I am really sorry I never took the time to examine it closely with him.  If I had done so, I would have echoed his endorsement completely.  Since I am no longer able to say this to him in person, I'll say it to the universe instead:

Ivaan, your Gold Nugget Ring is a total masterpiece.

Thank you for listening.

Saturday, March 9, 2013


In the late 1980s, around Hallowe'en, I often wore black plastic spiders in my hair.   Ivaan pretended he didn't like them, but I know he secretly did.  One day in 1989 he offered to make me a gold spider if I'd stop wearing plastic ones.  It was an offer I couldn't refuse.  "Speyadera", as he called it, was yellow gold with an emerald in its back, and ruby eyes.

Over the years, my spider has come in very useful.  I've worn it as a brooch, as a hat ornament, and I've simply kept it around so I could admire it.  I've had someone refuse to get into an elevator with me, claiming to suffer from arachnophobia.  Many people admire it, but I suspect few would wear it because it's a flamboyant, rather gothic piece.  A few months ago, a friend who is also a fan of Ivaan's work asked if I'd be willing to make another.                                                                    
He named it "spEYAdera", after me.
How would you like to have a spider named after you?
Anatomy of a spider: inside the mould
In 1989, Ivaan had made a mould of my spider, so in theory it was possible to make another. But, compared to Ivaan's 40 years of experience and native genius, my few years of reproduction work counts for little.  I decided to attempt a perfect wax model of the spider.

Different coloured waxes have different properties, so selecting the best wax for the spider was a matter of trial and error.   Exhibit A, the "Lance Armstrong", looked like a winner, but he was rather thin in the tail section. Probably the result of performance enhancing drugs. 
A little too thin in the caboose!

 I love the deeper blue waxes - they capture fine detail beautifully, but they're very unforgiving.  Just see Exhibit B.  I named him "Oscar Pistorius".
The Paralympian.  He's lost his left foot

Raw gold.

Exhibit C was perfect.  Best of all, I had a fabulous emerald that seemed tailor made for the hole in his back.  I gathered up my courage and headed for the caster.  Newly cast metal doesn't look like anything you'd want to wear.  It's not shiny, it has metal sprues protruding from  unlikely places,  but it's so full of promise and potential, it's hard not to rush home and start finishing it right away.  After all the finishing is done, you get to visit the stone setter, then have a gold clasp installed on the reverse side and eventually you give it a final, terrifying buff: terrifying because in those final minutes, many things can go wrong, and you might have to scrap your project entirely and start all over again.  However, when the fates smile on you, and all your stars can absolutely feel Ivaan in the room with you.

Friday, March 8, 2013



In 1987 Ivaan started to make some pieces in silver, bronze and gold commemorating the upcoming 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Ukraine. Being a history enthusiast, Ivaan delighted in telling how,  shortly before 988 A.D., Volodymyr (also known as Vladimir) decided he wanted to become King, so he killed off a few members of his family who stood between him and ascendancy to the throne, became King Volodymyr, and then forcibly converted his fellow countrymen to Christianity.  Somewhere along the line, he repented his murderous deeds, so they made him a saint and named the Cathedral at 400 Bathurst Street in Toronto after him.   Well, that's Ivaan's "executive summary" of the events. I'm sure it was a little more complicated than that and the timeline was a little longer.

Anyway, 1988 was the 1000th anniversary of Christianity, Volodymyr-style, in Ukraine.  And at the Cathedral on Bathurst Street,  plans were under way to commemorate the event.  They put a big banner out in front of the Cathedral saying 988-1988 and underneath it said "1000th Anniversary of Christianity".

Among other things, Ivaan made three large bronze plaques with his depiction of Volodymyr, the year 988, and text around the circumference which read "1000 YEARS: CHRISTIANITY IN RUS'-UKRAINE".  He wanted to donate two of them to the Cathedral, to be mounted on the front doors.  For reasons which I never fully understood, but were likely heavily rooted in bureaucracy, his donation never occurred, and I knew Ivaan was hurt.  Knowing Ivaan as well as I do, I speculate that he showed the Cathedral officials the plaques in their raw state, not realizing that it would be hard for them to imagine the finished product.  As a conductor can look at an orchestral score and hear how it sounds, Ivaan could look at a newly-cast piece of jewellery and envisage the finished product.  He could never fathom that others did not share his vision.

So the bronze plaques languished among his rough pieces for the next quarter of a century.  Recently I was looking at them and thinking it was time to reopen the issue with the Cathedral.  After all, it's now 2013 -  the 25th anniversary of the 1000 year celebrations in 1988.  And next year it will be the 25th anniversary of the death of Ivaan's mother.  Suddenly, I remembered a conversation Ivaan and I had had a few months before his death.  He said that he had intended to donate two of the plaques in honour of his favourite priest, Father Bohdan Sencio, and Dobrodika Katerina Sencio, his wife, a truly wonderful lady of whom Ivaan had always been very fond.  So I arranged for the plaques to be finished and coated with a protective patina, and reopened the idea of the donation with the Cathedral officials.  This time, the wheels of bureaucracy turned smoothly (maybe St. Volodymyr should take lessons from me!) and the three bronze plaques are en route to the Cathedral, one engraved in honour of Father Sencio, one engraved in honour of Mrs. Sencio, and the third in memory of Ivaan's parents.  I can't wait to see them displayed in the Cathedral - but here's how they look.  Ivaan is definitely beaming down on me.

But because this is a story about Ivaan, naturally there is a funny side.  In 1988 we were walking up Bathurst Street, across the street from the Cathedral.  Directly opposite the Cathedral is a streetcar stop.  At the stop were two older Ukrainian ladies.  One pointed to the banner in front of the Cathedral, and said "So I phoned 988-1988 but nobody answered."

Sunday, March 3, 2013


People often ask me to show them the final piece Ivaan made before he died, and while I think that the last gold pieces may have been the engagement and wedding rings for Gareth and Meghan, his truly last pieces were actually made of fresh bread.  In childhood, Ivaan would rip a small piece off any loaf of bread he could find, and roll it between his thumb and forefinger. Initially, he'd roll it into a ball, which he'd throw for his cat to retrieve.  These were called rollies, and every one of Ivaan's cats had lightning reflexes, honed from chasing rollies, usually down a flight of stairs. If the bread was fresh enough (and Ivaan could never tolerate bread that wasn't extremely fresh), Ivaan soon found that he could make beautiful little rosebuds. If his mother caught him rolling bread between his fingers, she would whack his hands, so most of his rolling activities were conducted in secret.

About three years before our marriage, I was looking at some of his rollie rosebuds and jokingly suggested that he make my wedding ring out of bread roses.  It's a mystery why Ivaan had never thought to cast his rosebuds before, as he'd certainly cast plenty of other unorthodox materials, but he got to work rather quickly and this is the result:

He actually gave it to me as an engagement ring, after I balked at having to wear the ring with which he'd proposed.

Ivaan had a joke about the rings he made.  He'd tell customers, "I only make two sizes:  too big and too small".  So this ring was literally too big (the top part) and too small (the band).  I still have it, and love to look at it, but wear it?  Not so much.

As Ivaan became more paralyzed, he required more and more help to do his work.  At first it was merely holding something, while reading my book. Then it was taking things to the caster for him.  Once he realized that I'd acquired enough passive knowledge of jewellery polishing to be useful as well as decorative, my fate was sealed.   I only wish I had a photograph of my first serious polishing project.   It wasn't a piece by Ivaan at all.  It was a gold-plated chalice from Ivaan's church.  The plating had worn badly and his priest wanted it replated. That meant removing every vestige of gold from its exterior and starting again. Ivaan definitely did not want to tackle this project.  He totally loved his priest and didn't want to disappoint him, but he looked at this project, saw immense possibility for risk and hours of excruciating tedium, and put it aside.  When I volunteered to tackle the chalice, Ivaan was horrified.  He told me he'd decided it couldn't be done.  I insisted we either do it or return it to the church, because I didn't want it on my conscience. One day when I was alone in Ivaan's studio, I decided to try a section of it myself.  The next time we were together in the studio, I showed Ivaan my efforts.  He gave a grudging nod of approval. His priest seemed very happy with the finished product, but I still wonder whether he was simply relieved to see the chalice again or impressed with what Ivaan had been able to accomplish, with only his left hand.

In the last year of Ivaan's life, we lived in a condo on St. Joseph Street.  Every day, we'd shop for the freshest bread and Ivaan would hone his rollie rosebud skills.  When jewellery polishing was required, I'd set up the polisher in the kitchen and use the window for ventilation.  That's where Gareth's and Meghan's rings got completed.

Four years later, I still have jars full of rollie rosebuds.  I've moved three times since Ivaan's death, and I know it's time to part with them. They are, after all, petrified bread.  And Ivaan abhorred stale bread. But I've taken a photo of my wedding ring, nestled amongst its descendants,  to show you.  I wanted you to see the last work he did on earth.

Permitte Divis Cetera.  The rest, leave unto the Gods.

Thursday, February 28, 2013


Ivaan's wristwatch
For my birthday in 1990, I bought myself a wristwatch.  It was a men's watch, and I'd been coveting it for quite a while.  It looked a lot like this watch. Recently, I found myself remembering the very odd story of that watch.  I'd always worn watches with a winding knob, and would have preferred to have bought a winder, but as luck would have it, the watch I wanted was battery operated.  So I bought it for myself.  I recently found a birthday card Ivaan had made for me that year, on which he had written, "Happy Birthday (an affectionate name) On This Very Tough Year".  That's why I remember what a challenging year it was.

Keeping track of time was never one of Ivaan's strengths.  Although I tried not to make a big deal out of it, I felt that it was likely this would be the dealbreaker in our relationship. Ivaan hated wearing a watch.  Thirty years earlier, he'd been given a watch as a 16th birthday present by his father. It had an expandable metal band which caught the hairs on the back of his wrist and he had a real grudge against that watch.   As a result, he never wore a watch.

Soon after he saw my new wristwatch, he asked if he could try it on.  He simply liked the look of it.  It had a black leather strap, had Roman numerals, and it was easy to read.  Ivaan tried it on, admired it, and then gave it back.  A year later, on my birthday, I took it back to the store and asked them to check the battery.  It was still fully charged.  They suggested I return the following year.  In 1992 I returned on my birthday.  Again the watchmaker said the battery was still perfectly good.  He told me to come back next year.  It seemed I was destined to spend part of each birthday at the watchmaker's. That night, Ivaan asked if he could borrow my watch to wear the next day, and I agreed.

Ivaan wore the watch the next day, but by the end of the day he complained that the battery had died.  This was odd, because the watchmaker had said the battery was fully charged.  So I took the watch in, replaced the  battery, and Ivaan asked if he could wear the watch for another day.  I agreed. Within a couple of days, the new battery had died too.  We changed it again, but every time Ivaan wore the watch, the battery would die almost immediately. But a miracle had happened: Ivaan had stopped being late.  As a matter of fact, if anything, he had become obsessively punctual. The worst was when we were going to the airport.  He wanted to be there three hours before the plane was scheduled to depart. No matter where we were going - Europe, the Caribbean or even Sault Ste. Marie - Ivaan would rather sit in the departure lounge for three hours than risk being late.

I bought two almost identical watches for Ivaan a few years before he died.  His "everyday" watch had numbers, and his "formal" one (the one in the photo above) had Roman numerals.  He loved those watches. I don't think it was wearing a watch that made Ivaan start paying attention to time.  I think it was something he wanted to change in himself, but it helped to have a good-looking watch to use as an excuse.