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 align.....you 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.