Friday, December 5, 2014


Today is the sixth anniversary of the start of Ivaan's journey, leaving the planet behind, along with all the earthly things he loved. I miss him acutely, and yet I'm so reminded of him, especially here in Atelier Ivaan, that he doesn't actually seem far away.  Today a very close friend of ours sent me an email about him.  Here is what she wrote:

          miss his jokes, his hilarious way of describing things with such 
          exactness. I miss the way he laughed with his shoulders and without
          making a sound in hopes of being able to laugh longer without
          coughing. I miss his particularity with food both in presentation and
          taste. I miss his big heavy winter jacket that made him look like the
          Hulk. (I never told him that, but I think he would have liked the
          comparison). I miss the way he teased you endlessly, especially in
          public, in his own way of complimenting you. I miss the way he looked
          so sharp in black and grew more handsome as he aged. I miss his
          admiration of old cameras that, if I recall correctly, were somewhat
          useless.  I miss the way his eyes sparkled when he was feeling
          particularly mischievous. I miss his eternal creativity and beauty he
          brought to the world. I miss the way he lived in the present to the
          absolute fullest and by his presence he enabled others to do the
          same.  When I see him again, I will ask him if he wouldn't mind making me a
          sandwich with "two kinds of cheese!"

I couldn't have summed it up better.  I remember exactly what she meant, especially about his shoulders shaking as he tried not to laugh out loud, so as not to trigger a painful choking episode.  I remember his constant teasing, and his eternal hope that the next camera he bought on eBay was going to be in perfect condition, and his inevitable disappointment when it wasn't.  "They said it was 'as is', he would grumble. "They should have said, 'as isn't'."

In memory of Ivaan, I thought I'd post a few snapshots of him over the years. Most of them are somewhere on the blog already, but it's nice to see them all at once: a trip down memory lane.
Ivaan and his sister in 1945.

Ivaan as a beatnik, centre right, at Harbord C.I.,  age 17
Ivaan, age 17, at Harbord C.I.

Ivaan at home circa 1963

Ivaan, 1986
Ivaan, circa 1972
Ivaan's first trip to Ukraine, 1979
Ivaan and me, 1986
Ivaan and me, 1986
Ivaan and me, 1993
our wedding reception, 1995
Ivaan, age 16

Ivaan christening Mariana, 2000
Ivaan in Cuba, 2001
Ivaan in Cuba, 2001

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


One of the most beloved pieces of art Ivaan ever made was a tryzub, or trident, which we've always called the Kyrylo.  It's named after a young man named Kyrylo Rewa, for whom Ivaan made one many years ago.  It's very distinctive, because it has the most graceful lines, it's neither tiny nor huge, and it's not flat.  In fact, it looks rather like bread dough beginning to rise.   It works well for both men and women, and the people who choose it for themselves are invariably confident, artistic and very particular about their choice of adornment.

What's also a source of wonder (at least, to me) is the route people take to acquiring a Kyrylo pendant of their own.   Apart from the Kyrylo for whom it is named, there is the "Slawko Sekunda" connection, the "Lesia Chyczij" connection and the "Adriana Buyniak" connection.  Every time these three people wear their tryzubs in public (and they seem to go out  a LOT), our telephone rings and the person on the other end says, "I want a tryzub just like Slawko/Lesia/Ada has".  Who needs to advertise when you have social butterflies wearing your art?

This week I made a couple of Kyrylo pendants in sterling silver, and as I'd recently discovered that coral comes in blue, I decided to have a Kyrylo tryzub strung on a blue coral necklace, and fastened with a toggle clasp.  I liked it so much, I then made a bracelet to match.  I'm pretty thrilled with the result. Ivaan would love it. Now I'll sit back and wonder underneath whose Christmas tree it will wind up.
Kyrylo Tryzub on Blue Coral © Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Our friend Emily Crown-Robinson is a wonderful artist who specializes in quill-and-ink drawings of the natural world.  They're whimsical without being cute, very detailed without being like a photograph, unique and interesting. Emily does a million things well, but she's always kind of kept her art for herself and her family.

Recently, she's been opening up a bit more to the outside world, and I asked her if we could have an exhibition of her work, Inkmaid Art, ( here at Atelier Ivaan.  So that's what we're doing on Friday, November 28th, from 7 till 10 p.m. - having the opening reception for her first exhibition.

Here's the poster for the exhibition:

If you're out and about in Toronto, stop by and enjoy the reception.  You can browse, shop, snack, chat, enjoy the event, and meet Emily, too.  If you're in a gift-buying mood, either for yourself or someone else,  her prices are very reasonable.  She'll have her drawings on stationery, throw pillows and suitable for wall mounting.

We're excited to be hosting our first exhibition by an artist whose work we love (apart from Ivaan's, I mean.)  And the snacks will be pretty good, too. Because Ivaan will be watching us.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Here's the little film of my story of loss that appeared on the TTC video monitors in subway stations during the month of October, part of a video installation by LabSpace Studio, entitled The Things We Lose.  Due to the brevity of the film clip, the accompanying text makes it seem as though Ivaan had died just three days after reconnecting with the young woman in the photo.  In fact, he lived for six more years, during which time he suffered three additional strokes.  Yet he still managed to remind me regularly of the importance of finding the young woman playing the flute.
We live in hope.

Friday, October 17, 2014


Last March I blogged about my sad experience of dining at one of my favourite restaurants, Grasslands, with friends, and realizing with horror part way through the meal that one of my beloved gold earrings was missing.  We did a really thorough search of the restaurant, the coat rack area, everywhere, but were unable to find it. I was really heartbroken.  I'd worn those earrings every day for nearly 30 years, since Ivaan had made them for me. They are as integral to me as my signature.

The following week, my friend Esmaeil made me a replacement for my lost earring.  I was thrilled to have it, but because it was new, it was less worn looking than its mate, and the clasp gripped my earlobe more tightly, meaning I needed to rotate my earrings several times a day.

Five months later, my nephew Angus and his beloved, Sara, were visiting, and we were mulling over options for dinner.  Sara mentioned that she was curious about Grasslands, as Angus, Ivor and I had dined there on New Year's Eve.  It was a brilliant suggestion.  I was telling them the tragic story of my lost earring as we drove over, and it felt creepy going in there, as I hadn't been back since that day in February.

I recognized the young woman who was maitre d' that evening, and she recognized me. She'd been our server back in February. She said, "I have something of yours."  I nearly fainted on the spot.  They'd found my earring during a thorough cleaning a few days after I'd lost it, she'd put it aside for me, but one by one, all the staff had moved on to other jobs or cities, and she was the last of the original staff, and the only one who knew me by sight. She was terrified I might come in while she was on vacation or off duty, and no one would know where my earring was stashed.

Let's just say there was a larger than usual tip left that night.  It's good to have a spare, but nothing feels as glorious as both my original earrings. I have always said I plan to be buried in Ivaan's old dressing gown, the most comfortable item of clothing on earth, but I'm inclined to think I'll sleep better if I have my earrings on as well.

Here they are. And, incidentally, Sara loved Grasslands as much as we thought she would.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


On September 13, 2010 I wrote a blog post about the first time Ivaan heard the Cecilia String Quartet perform.  The Quartet was in its infancy when we first heard them in early 2005.   We'd just experienced an unimaginable tragedy and felt so broken in spirit that I'm amazed we even came up with the idea of attending a series of informal concerts  at different locations around the University of Toronto campus.

We attended the concert, Ivaan was enraptured by the performance, and when he came home he knew he wanted to present the members of the Cecilia String Quartet with pieces of his jewellery.  He chose dragonfly brooches and asked me to deliver them to the Faculty of Music along with a note from him.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the first performance of the Cecilia String Quartet.  Over the years they have become world renowned, have won impressive awards and released recordings.  For reasons I'd love to know, however, they haven't aged in the slightest.  To mark their 10th birthday, they sent an email saying they were having an informal concert in the lobby of the Edward Johnson Building (Faculty of Music) at U of T at noon today. There was absolutely zero chance I would have missed this occasion.  The timing was perfect.

The Cecilias are quite well known for their approachable manner of engaging the audience.  They often explain interesting things about the pieces they are going to play, and it's more like having friendly banter with a good friend than being educated on the finer points of the piece of music you're about to hear. They are also very funny.

After the first couple of pieces on their program, violinist Sarah Nematallah stepped up to the microphone and told a little story about the very concert at the Faculty of Law which we'd attended in early 2005.  I was seated on a bench against a wall, with people standing in front of me, when I suddenly realized that she was speaking about our concert.  She said she'd thought it wasn't a successful concert and was surprised, a few days later, to receive a package from Scott St. John, who was the Quartet's earliest mentor, containing four of Ivaan's dragonflies and his note saying how much the concert meant to us.  As she spoke, I suddenly realized all four members of the Quartet were wearing their Ivaan dragonflies.

I was so touched, my eyes filled with tears and I had to swivel round and face the wall while I composed myself.  The concert was beautiful. I know Ivaan would have been delighted by Sarah's shout-out to him.  Today, October 15th, is the 10th anniversary of the Cecilia String Quartet's first performance.  A month from today is the 10th anniversary of the death of our beloved boy, the reason we had gone to hear them play in the beginning, and I just felt we had come full circle.

I didn't stay to thank Sarah, Min, Caitlin and Rachel in person, but I'm doing that now.  And Caitlin, your joke about the want ad in the classifieds - you had me laughing!

Friday, October 10, 2014


Here are three photographs taken of my 30-second video on the TTC.  At least now I know what time I can go onto a subway platform and see myself on the silver screen.

Did you notice that not one person on the platform is looking at the screen? Fame is fleeting. Ten days on the subway, and already I'm a has-been.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Today is Ivaan's birthday. It's the start of a new decade for him.  I'll be celebrating the occasion with a dinner party in the store for a bunch of his favourite women.  I've been cooking like a fiend.  My only regret is that Ivor, our Vice President and right-hand man, will not be on hand to join in the festivities, but we'll take some photos of the fragrant Persian food I've been making, and the guests, and will send them along to him.

As usual, Ivaan's portrait will be on the wall, gazing down at us (and the food).  I know he's proud that he's left such an important legacy and that he and his art are still as much appreciated as ever, nearly six years after he departed the planet.

So, here's to you, beloved husband.  Many happy returns of the day. This photo, taken by our friend Slava in August 2008, captures Ivaan  to perfection. Happy Birthday, Ivaan.
Ivaan Kotulsky © 2008 Slava Lukashenkov

Monday, September 29, 2014



A few years ago, I wrote a story entitled Flat Broke: Just Hitched From Vancouver.  It was about the black and white photograph Ivaan took in 1993 of a young woman playing the flute in a downtown doorway.  Her cardboard sign read: "Just hitched from Vancouver. Flat broke."

Ten years after he took the photo, he ran into the same young woman, now married with children.  She inquired about the photo, and he said he'd saved her an enlargement.  He invited her to come by his studio on Queen Street and pick it up.  Three days later, Ivaan suffered a massive stroke.  While he was in the hospital, the building in which his studio was located was sold, and we had to pack up the contents and move to a new location. Ivaan's partner Tamas was packing up when the young woman came by to collect her photo.  Tamas knew nothing about it, and the young woman went away, very disappointed, not leaving her contact information.

Before he died, Ivaan asked me not to give up on finding the young woman and giving her the enlargement he'd been saving for her.

Last month, I learned that LabSpace Studio was preparing a video installation, entitled The Things We Lose, to be displayed on 292 video
monitors on TTC subway platforms throughout the month of October.  They were soliciting stories about things people lose and never regain - not just physical items, but experiences and life events.  I decided to apply to participate, as I felt Ivaan and I had lost the opportunity to give this photo to the young woman.  Happily, my submission was accepted.

A few days later, Laura Mendes and John Loerchner, the owners of LabSpace Studio, came over and filmed me telling my story.

If you are in a TTC subway station during the month of October, look up at one of the video screens.  Who knows?  Maybe you'll see my video.  And - who knows? - maybe someone who knows this young woman (she'd be about 40 now) will see it and tell her I've got the photo for her.

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Last year I posted a story about three identical bronze plaques Ivaan made to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Ukraine.  He'd hoped to present them to St. Volodymyr Cathedral, partly because they depicted St. Volodymyr, and partly because he wanted to honour his parents, his favourite Priest, and his favourite Priest's wife.

The plaques are beautiful, and last year I was proud to present them to the Cathedral on Ivaan's behalf.  It took some time for the Cathedral Board to decide where to mount the bronzes, but the other day I learned that the first of them had been mounted in the vestibule,  on a column just to the left of the centre doors leading into the Cathedral.  So this morning I put on my Sunday best and packed my camera, eager to take a photograph of one of the bronze plaques in situ.

I arrived just at the right time.  Father Sencio, Ivaan's favourite Priest, to whom one of the plaques is dedicated, was conducting the Sunday service, there was a full house, and the Cathedral smelled wonderful.  One of Ivaan's favourite aftershaves, Angel, by Thierry Mugler, smells exactly like church incense, so I felt like I'd come home.

And there, on a column to the left of the centre doors, was Ivaan's St. Volodymyr.  I started to laugh when I looked at the photograph below, because I suddenly realized that Ivaan had given his own uncommonly handsome nose to the very Ukrainian-looking St. Volodymyr.  It lends him an air of distinction.

As we approach your milestone birthday, Ivaan, beloved husband of mine, I'm thrilled to have been able to fulfill another of my promises to you.

Saturday, September 27, 2014


I've been contemplating our upcoming "milestone" wedding anniversary (April 1, 2015, in case you care) and what advice, if asked, I'd give to any couple contemplating marriage. After some consideration, I realize I'd give the same advice to any couple contemplating divorce.

First, I'd tell them a little story about Ivaan and me:

The morning of our wedding day, Ivaan announced he was going to work. That seemed a little over-zealous, since he was self employed, but he assured me he'd be back in plenty of time.  So off he went, and I busied myself getting my hair and make-up done.  He arrived home in plenty of time. I expected he'd go upstairs and put on a suit, but he said, no, he was planning on being married in the clothes he was wearing: black trousers and shirt, his black leather jacket and a black and white scarf.  A number of thoughts raced through my mind, the most prominent among them being, "If you don't put on a suit, we're not getting married".  Then I looked at his face.  He looked terrified.

So instead, I asked myself, "Look, do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?"

I chose happy, and I said, with as much equanimity as I could muster, "All right, then, let's go".  And we did.  An hour later, we were husband and wife.
Our wedding reception was scheduled for the following day.  My new husband got up, put on his tuxedo and looked gorgeous as always. Best of all, he looked radiant. I dressed up a little, too, in my first haute couture dress, but neither of us could hold a candle to our Princess Bridesmaid, the lovely Nicole Madeleine Duke, age five, resplendent in a Jessica McClintock gown and a golden tiara.  She outshone the bride and groom, by about a mile.
Nearly 20 years later, I reflect on the advice I gave myself on my wedding day. It was the best advice I've ever given anybody. If you are contemplating marriage, or divorce, and you want some good advice, just ask me. I'll tell you the secret to a long and happy marriage:
"Never Choose Right.  Always Choose Happy."

Friday, September 5, 2014


Every so often, I'll get a commission from a client who has inherited or collected jewellery from family members which, though of sentimental value, are really not wearable "as is".    Often, the pieces of jewellery have been sitting around in a jewellery box for many years, unseen, unworn, but not unloved.

I think it takes some courage to be able to say, "I would like to wear all this; can you remake it into something I'll absolutely love?"

And sometimes, that client will be looking through sample rings by Ivaan and just fixate on one particular item.  I'll pull out more and more options, but they always come back to their first crush.

I just love it when the ring they are attracted to happens to be a signature Ivaan piece, and it also happens to look perfect on their hand.  That's what happened recently:  our good friend D brought her good friend M in to see what we could do with her collection of family jewellery, M fell in love with Ivaan's "Lana" ribbon ring, and I got to work on a ring that incorporated all her gold and all her diamonds.

Here, then, is M's new ring.  I hope she screams when she sees it.  On days like this, when I've just finished a ring that practically made itself and came out perfectly, I feel I'm basking in Ivaan's reflected glory and I am pretty sure he's rather proud of me.
White Gold & Diamond "Lana" Ribbon Ring © ATELIER IVAAN

Friday, July 18, 2014


Decades before the "selfie" (a snapshot taken by ourselves and of ourselves) became an actual noun, Ivaan had invented and mastered the technique.  I never thought about it until a few days ago, when I was contemplating the unforeseen effects of digital photography.  Ivaan disapproved of digital photography and only ever bought one digital camera.  He predicted, accurately, that digital photography would bring about the end of skill in taking a photograph, because it was so easy to "destroy the evidence" of a bad photograph.

In film photography, the good, the bad and the ugly were all there on your negatives, so there was a good reason to ensure you were taking a worthwhile shot in the first place.  In digital photography, skill was replaced with chance: just delete the images you don't want anybody to see, and no one will ever know they existed.

So, taking a "selfie" with a film camera was an act of bravery, as well as a test of skill.  Here are a couple of selfies of us, taken by Ivaan back in the late 1980s.  Not sure why my hair looked so black in this first photo, because it wasn't, but my blue mascara was pretty impressive. The second one has a kind of Dr. Zhivago vibe to it.

Ivaan, you were truly the selfie pioneer and the undisputed master of the art form.

Friday, July 4, 2014


This afternoon, I was in the slave shop, trying to preserve my manicure while polishing a ring, when the store door opened.  In came a woman who was delivering an incredible floral arrangement.  Architecturally, it's a marvel, so tall that it nearly touches the ceiling, and when she set it down, we both had to stand  back and catch our breath because it looked so breathtaking against our green wall.   It's so Ivaan-like in its riot of colour and form, just like his most extravagant work.  I only wish he were here to show me how to photograph it well.  In order to fit the whole arrangement into the camera frame, I thought I would have to go outside (it's a small store and there is nothing small about these flowers).

Walking around it, the arrangement is quite different from every angle, and it reminds me strongly of Ivaan's aesthetic sense: every side is its best side.  Every single person who came into the store since then has been pretty much stunned into silence.  One guy forgot what he came here for. It dwarfs the enormous paintings on the wall behind it. I gave up polishing jewellery for the day, because I just wanted to hang around here and bask in the glow, and it would have felt all wrong not to have perfect fingernails at a time like this.

If you are out and about in Toronto tomorrow, you might want to drop by Atelier Ivaan.  But I guarantee you won't be looking at any jewellery.
To my friend and benefactor, thank you for your flowers and your note.  You really touched me. I'm not often short of words, but I was today.


The first time I ever saw a Ginkgo Biloba leaf was on a piece of small sculpture made by Ivaan.  I honestly thought it was one of his fantastical creations, not an actual leaf that existed in nature.  This is his ginkgo leaf, running up and down the left side of the sculpture:
©1979 Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

The second time I saw a Ginkgo Biloba leaf was on an actual tree, at the entrance to the cemetery where Ivaan is buried.  I knew he'd played there as a child, and perhaps that's where he had first seen this magnificent tree.  I didn't even know what it was called.  As soon as I found out, I ordered a Ginkgo and planted it in the back yard.  It seemed to thrive, and it was a bit tough, leaving it behind when I sold the house.

There's a concrete planter on the sidewalk in front of Atelier Ivaan, and ever since I've been here, a diseased Ash tree has occupied it.  I decided to ask the City if, when they removed the Ash, I could buy a Ginkgo and plant it there.  I was thrilled that they offered to supply a Ginkgo.  Today, the men from Urban Forestry arrived with two Ginkgo Biloba trees and they let me have my pick. It's a fabulous one.

I likely won't win any awards for my photography, but here it is.  The Ginkgo Biloba is an ancient and very slow-growing tree that is believed to have originated in what is now China.  It is able to thrive in less than ideal conditions and is known for cleaning pollutants from the air. I promise to water it faithfully every evening this summer and to admire it and be reminded of Ivaan every time I pass it.  So much beauty would have escaped my eyes, had it not been for my good fortune in learning to see the natural world through Ivaan's eyes.

And in case you, like me, have been living in ignorance of the beauty of the Ginkgo Biloba, I've plucked a couple of leaves and photographed them for you.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


I've been making a ring as a gift for someone who has been such an important part of Ivaan's and my life.  I've learned a lot from her.  When someone you love is dying, it's hard not to fixate on the impending death, trying to protect them from pain and fear, trying to distract them from what is inevitable, trying to soothe them and make them comfortable - and, in doing so, insulating them and making their life become smaller and smaller.

It's really only in retrospect that I've come to realize that the braver, kinder way is to help them have a bigger and bigger life.  I don't mean the "bucket list" sort of life, where you're helping them tick off items on a list of external achievements: hiking to Machu Picchu, swimming with dolphins, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. I mean a life that is not defined by physical, medical or mental limitations, where one's biggest fear does not involve being too cold, or hungry, or tired, or having one's prescription run out.  I mean a life where there is hope, an opportunity and a reason to dream.

I'm making this ring for someone who for eight years inspired Ivaan to recover from each stroke, to live large, to plan the impossible by envisioning a recovery that was his if only he would reach for it - by telling him with the full authority of medical expertise that the impossible was indeed possible, and that it lay within his grasp.

I'm proud to have been able to keep Ivaan feeling safe, comfortable, loved, protected and fed, but I'm even prouder to know that someone else was inspiring him to live the fullest, most satisfying, bravest life, to face hardships, to surmount obstacles, and to continue to contribute to the lives of the people he loved, mine especially, until his last day on earth.

Cheryl, I hope this ring reminds you of Ivaan, because it reminds me of the two of you.
(c) 2008 Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Back in 2006, Ivaan made an 18 karat yellow gold ring for a young man who had first seen Ivaan's jewellery in 1999 when he moved to Toronto from St. Petersburg, Russia.   In the intervening years, he had married and the first of his two daughters was born, so it had been a busy few years for him, but he always remembered the impact this one particular ring had made on him.  So he did some detective work, managed to locate Ivaan's former partner, Tamas, and that's how this young man, whom we'll call S, came to reconnect with Ivaan and to have the beautiful Ivaan ring he'd dreamed of.

Sadly, a couple of years later, his beloved ring disappeared down a storm sewer grate and he felt its absence keenly.  There wasn't much we could do, as Ivaan was gravely ill and very close to the end of his life, but I told S that if I ever found the mould, I'd make him a replacement in silver. I did look several times among the moulds for 1999 and prior, and was unable to find the mould.  For a while, I'd make piles of moulds (à la Ivaan) with notes on them saying "S's ring?" but when I injected them with wax, they were invariably the wrong mould.  I felt quite discouraged.

Meanwhile, S moved back to Russia.

Last week, as I was injecting the moulds from 2006, I discovered a misfiled mould whose wax was almost certainly S's ring.  With shaking hands, I took a photograph and emailed it to him.  Next day, S confirmed that it was indeed his ring.  Here's the wax:
(c) 1999 Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

A few days ago, I cast it in sterling silver.  I think it came out pretty excellently.

(c) 1999 Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

And now, my mission (should I choose to accept it) is to figure out how to get the ring safely from Toronto to St. Petersburg, Russia.


Recently, I've started honing my wax injection skills out of stark necessity.  I'd decided to make a complete inventory of waxes from Ivaan's rubber moulds, dating back to 1976, of which there are now about two thousand.  Waxes come in different colours, each with its own properties.  Probably the least forgiving is dark blue.  It captures detail beautifully but it is harder and more brittle than most of the other colours.  But I prefer it, because I'm able to see the fine details more clearly than if I'd used a lighter coloured wax.

It used to baffle Ivaan that I organized his moulds according to year. His standard procedure was to have them organized according to nothing. He figured if he put a mould in a particular place, he would remember where it was.  This worked about 1 per cent of the time.  Ivaan never really used his moulds once he made them; they were simply a record of the pieces he'd made. He might search for one if a client lost a ring and he had to duplicate it, but basically they just sat there in stacks.

I found the "filed by year" system to be useful, because it tracked how prolific he had been in a particular year, and I eventually realized that a large number of moulds in any one year meant he was likely to have a health crisis.  Both heart attacks and all five strokes were preceded by a significantly larger number of moulds.  If he'd been a squirrel, he would have been storing nuts for winter. And like a squirrel, a lot of random digging was required when he suddenly had to find a particular one.

I started with the year 2002, because there were over 100 moulds from that year (and his massive stroke was in December 2002).  He had done some brilliant work that year.  At first, it was taking me about ten tries to produce a reasonably good wax, but I guess wax injecting shares some characteristics with film photography:  after a while you start analyzing what you did wrong, and trying to improve the result by better technique:  more or less pressure, higher or lower wax temperature, longer or shorter cooling time.

And soon, I'd noticed my average was about one in six.  I was making progress.  I was particularly good at the bigger pieces, such as pendant pieces, and I once did about forty perfect waxes in a row on the first try.  I felt extremely proud of myself when I took some of my waxes to the caster, to have them cast in metal.  He looked at the dark blue waxes curiously and asked, "Who did these?"  I summoned up all my nonchalance to reply casually that I'd made them myself, but it was hard to wipe the smile off my face when he said admiringly, "These are g-o-o-o-d."

So I've now finished 2002, 2006, 2008, and I've started on the "Current" bin - the moulds I've made since Ivaan's death.  It's been a very fruitful endeavour, as I've found incredible things I'd never seen before.  When I am working on injecting waxes, I have the strongest sense of Ivaan's presence in the room. Ivaan must be as impressed with his brilliance as I am.  The wax injector now sits in the store.  I love it when people come in to watch and are gobsmacked by the beauty of some of his newly-dug-up artefacts.

Here's a photo of the pendant pieces of 2002:  can't you just imagine wearing one of these around your neck?

Thursday, May 29, 2014


When I'm giving someone directions to Atelier Ivaan, I often say "We're on the south side of Dupont, between the Universal Grill and Vinny's Panini."  But every time I provide these valuable navigation tools, I have the uneasy feeling that I'm not doing justice to Ivaan's journey, which resulted in the existence of Atelier Ivaan.

So when I had an opportunity to create a custom streetcar-style sign, I immediately thought of honouring each of the streets on which Ivaan lived in Toronto.  Each time I see the sign, I'm reminded of the stories Ivaan has told me of living in each of these places.

Degrassi, Wyatt and Augusta were the streets of Ivaan's childhood.  Euclid was home during his high school years.  When he first moved out of his parents' home, he moved into a tiny apartment at 2 St. Joseph Street, and that's where he lived when I first met him.  He lived at two addresses on Yonge Street.  Atlas was a brief pied-a-terre,  and Wellington and Portland Streets were the scene of our engagement and marriage. In fact, Portland was by far the longest residence of both our lives.  We lived there for over 15 years.

We moved back to St. Joseph Street in the last year of Ivaan's life, when his paralysis made it essential to live on one level; it was a challenging transition for both of us.  On the one hand, it meant selling the house we loved and where we'd had so much fun.  On the other hand, once we moved to St. Joseph Street, I was right on the university campus, and we were very close to the hospitals we relied on.

Winchester Street is the location of Toronto Necropolis Cemetery, where Ivaan chose to be buried, and Dupont is, I guess, the scene of his resurrection as Atelier Ivaan.

For a while, I hung the sign in the front window, alternating it with the portrait of Ivaan by Daniel P. Izzard, but I've learned that people prefer to see Ivaan's handsome portrait in the window, so the sign now hangs on the wall of the store.  I really feel it honours Ivaan's journey through Toronto and his ongoing legacy in the form of Atelier Ivaan.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Last week I did an inventory. There are  23 light bulbs in use at Atelier Ivaan. Changing burnt-out bulbs had become my part time job, and I was beginning to feel like a criminal for using so much electricity.  It's a small store, and in some small places darkness can be construed as "ambience", but in my experience, people generally like to see the jewellery they are trying on.

So I took a long hard look (glare, actually) around the room and came to the conclusion that my red south wall was the culprit.  Red seems to absorb light. By contrast,  our window display, which is painted apple green, is always bright and cheerful.  What did I have to lose, except for a couple of evenings, a bucket of paint, and 23 lightbulbs?

I'm unveiling our new look today. There is nothing understated about it. Nothing could have prepared me for walking into the store this morning. Here's how many light bulbs I switched on:  none.  I'm going to keep a scorecard to gauge the reactions of visitors.  Feel free to weigh in with your opinion.  And, if you're planning to drop by, bring your sunglasses.

Friday, April 11, 2014


About five o'clock on the morning of January 18th, 2002, I was startled awake from such a vivid dream that I knew I needed to write something down immediately before it evanesced.  I awoke so suddenly that I inadvertently woke Ivaan. I muttered "pencil".  He actually kept a pencil and paper beside the bed because he dreaded forgetting his dreams, so he handed them to me.

Even after writing down what  I needed to, I felt far too unsettled to fall asleep again.  I felt I'd had a presentiment of his death.

Ivaan had suffered his first stroke in 2000, and two heart attacks in the early 1990s, so I was hyper-vigilant about his wellbeing. The dream from which I'd awoken that night offered no particular clues, but I still remember it with astonishing clarity.  I dreamed we were at the Davenport Road home of our friends Danny and Madeleine, and there were quite a number of other guests there as well.  In my dream, there was a glass transom above the archway between their living room and dining room, and beside the archway was a ladder.  I climbed the ladder and wrote on the glass with my finger:

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

This is when I was startled awake, and knew I had to write it down. I also noted the date and time, and the title You-Logy came to me, although I hadn't written a title on the transom in my dream.

When we eventually woke up, I told Ivaan about the dream and read him what I had written.  We were both so unnerved that he asked me to rewrite it in a special book I kept for important notes.

Rereading it now, I still feel there was something prophetic about it. Ivaan's second stroke occurred later that year, in the early hours of the morning. Again, I was startled awake, in that same room, in that same bed, by the realization that Ivaan was in distress, and things were never the same again.


Through decembers blustery cold
and sleet and dead of night
when blasts and torrents scratch
and bite and tear
The vision of a viking in navy suede
and black riders boots
is bearded and smokes hard
upon his pipe
Perchance to ward off the evil gusts.

By the light and warm
and hum of an electric fire
The mighty Norseman sheds his animal skins
and puffs away in wrinkled red and blue
A placid smile upon his Russian countenance

Who has seen the suns
possessive rays upon the  bearded one?
Their friendly fingers wrestling at his hair
What of the summers Russian?
Does he shed his denim
and sleep in a black t-shirt in the sun
Oblivious to the outstretched arms of Helios
Till it, too, creeps away unseen?

And does he don his winters leather
and draw in his eyebrows
To meet the onslaught
of decembers blustery cold -
A viking in his prime?

- I wrote this about Ivaan when I was 17.  I only wrote one copy, in fountain pen on a sheet of airmail paper, and then I forgot all about it. 
Forty years later, a couple of years after his death,  I was leafing through one of his journals, and a thin white sheet of folded airmail paper fell out. I've always been surprised, reading his early journals, to find references to myself and my family.  Incidents that I'd long forgotten are mentioned, including a reference to Ivaan's first meeting with my father, in 1969. I suppose I must have given Ivaan my only copy of this poem, and I am impressed and touched that he kept it safe for the rest of his life.

Friday, March 7, 2014


Nearly 30 years ago, Ivaan made me a pair of gold earrings.  I'd expressed a wish to have gold earrings about the size of a quarter, but not flat.  I wanted them to have an indentation in the centre, as if someone had pressed their thumb into them.  I've never had pierced ears, so they would have to be clip-on earrings.  Ivaan made the discs in wax, pronounced them "too boring" so he added his signature squiggle on one side of the discs before casting them. Once he had cast them in gold, he still felt they needed something extra, so he took a tiny ball-peen hammer and hammered them all over.  It was a brilliant decision, because the hammer finish meant they caught the light from every angle.  He put an omega clip at the back, which acts like a snowshoe, so they didn't put any pressure on my earlobes.

Those became my signature earrings, and I wore them every day since.  Until last week.  I'd gone out for dinner with friends, and during the evening I reached up to touch my earlobe and one earring was gone.  We searched the restaurant in vain.  I felt bereft.  Next day, I went to see my friend Esmaeil, showed him my orphan earring and the mould,  and told him my tale of woe.  I then stayed home for a whole week.  Going outside without my earrings felt like it must feel to go out without teeth.  Today I went to Esmaeil again....and once again I have two earrings.

The funniest part is that 30 years of wearing the same earrings has dulled the hammer finish on my original earring.  The hammer finish on the new one is still crisp and bright.  So if you see me rubbing one earlobe, it won't be for luck.  I've got nearly 30 years of erosion to catch up on.

My Gold Earrings (c) Estate of Ivaan Kotulsky

Thursday, March 6, 2014


I'd heard about Jimson Bowler's ring years before I ever saw it.   It's an Ivaan piece made probably in the mid 1970s, and it is so complex, it's impossible to figure out how he made it.  It has at least two, perhaps three, colours of gold in it, and I think it has a core of silver underneath.  It's one of those pieces that probably ought to be in a museum, but I'm glad it's out there in the world, being seen and being appreciated every day.

Jimson wasn't the original owner of the Enigma Ring.  He's a native artist from the Peterborough area, and he recalls that about 20 years ago, he traded a piece of his own art for this ring, which was for sale in a shop in Peterborough.  He saw Ivaan's name inside the ring, tracked Ivaan down to his store on Queen Street West, and asked him how he made it.  Predictably, Ivaan replied that 40 years of practice had gone into the making of the ring, and that's all he would say about it.

But it was clearly made as a commission for someone, and whoever that was, they eventually lost track of it and that's how Jimson eventually came to own it.

Jimson and a friend came to visit last week.  I asked him if I could give the ring a quick cleaning and take a few close-up photos of it.  So here's Jimson's Enigma ring.  When Ivaan used to say that the cost of being an artist was that the amount of money an artist receives for a piece of their work can never repay the time and effort they invested in it, he may have had this ring in mind.  Because the one thing I know for certain is that this was a lot of work.

Monday, March 3, 2014


Two things distinguish Ivaan's metal art from all the other jewellery in the world.  The first is how difficult Ivaan's work is to photograph. No jewellery is easy to photograph; it's shiny and it's rarely two-dimensional. Ivaan's jewellery is notoriously hard to photograph.  It's very three-dimensional, never symmetrical. Its detail is often quite layered: fine beading juxtaposed against tangled vines, shiny surfaces highlighting matte or dark-toned interstices. Focusing on one feature means ignoring another.

The second thing that separates Ivaan's work from others' is the amount of effort involved in making it. Now and again, I'll be asked to make a standard piece of jewellery for someone.  I'm always surprised how quickly I'm able to finish it.  Ivaan's work, by comparison, takes ten times as long to complete. There are so many surfaces to consider, and each one of those surfaces has the potential for disaster.  Whenever I'm working on an Ivaan piece and I spot a flaw, I let my impulsive side take over and I immediately cut the piece apart, so I won't be tempted to try and correct the flaw.  Time and experience have taught me that I could spend hours trying to repair a piece but it will never be up to Ivaan's standard.  So I scrap it and start over.

Making a simple piece of jewellery can be very pleasant, but I am keenly aware that it's only engaging the lazy side of my brain.  If I want to flex my jewellery-making muscles, making a vintage piece by Ivaan is a surefire way to challenge myself.  A few weeks ago, a wonderful couple stopped by.  They had admired Ivaan's work previously, wanted to have a special ring made, and had been looking as far away as Australia for a design that they both loved.  

In perusing samples of Ivaan's work, I noticed they were particularly attracted to the 1979-80 era.  This was the time frame in which Ivaan made a collection of Egyptian-themed jewellery for the Art Gallery of Ontario's first King Tutankhamun exhibition.  It happens to be a body of work of which I am incredibly fond, but the pieces in that collection are very complex, despite seeming simple at first glance.

They decided on a ring that I call the slant-top, and wanted to incorporate a collection of gems that had special significance to them. I just finished their Egyptian slant-top ring this afternoon.  It's yellow gold, with an emerald and nine diamonds.  It makes me think of a comet streaking across the sky, over a lush green island.

I call it Queen of the Nile.  Cleopatra would be so jealous.

Queen of the Nile (c) 1979 Atelier Ivaan

Monday, February 17, 2014


I didn't know I was going to be writing my 100th post today, but a funny thing just happened.  It's like one of those telescoping dreams I sometimes have, where one scene leads to another and they always make perfect sense at the time.  I had actually planned to write a post about a vivid dream I had, which I remembered in minute detail.  But now I'm going to write this Sheherezade-like series of events, and hey, it just turns out it's my 100th post.  In honour of Ivaan, who could not bear a story that wasn't succinct, I will try to keep it short and snappy.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

It all started with my friend Mary Ann, who owns a house that is magnificent. The first time I was ever at her place, I never actually saw the kitchen because the whole house was filled with people, but on a subsequent visit I did, and although I am rarely short of words, I was pretty well struck dumb.  First, it was about the size of my entire place.  Second, it was a simple lapis lazuli blue and white colour scheme.  It just had a feeling of calm permanence about it.  It was perfect. And indeed, when I asked, she told me it was just like this when she and David had bought the house over 10 years previously.

At the time, I didn't even have a kitchen here, though there was a room designated for that purpose.  And I was managing just fine without one, largely by virtue of accepting every invitation to dine that came my way, and extending quite a few of my own invitations to dine out.  One of my nephews calculated that on a recent visit, we had 14 consecutive meals in restaurants.

So, in short, it's because of Mary Ann and David that I became obsessed with having my own lapis lazuli and white kitchen.  It was either that or volunteer to be a scullery maid over there.  I ordered a kitchen, it was installed last week, and everything was good till I realized I still had some sanding, sweeping, priming and painting to do in there.  But I couldn't find my sanding sponges, or my dustpans, or my brooms, or any of my power tools.    They had vanished, so no work got done today, but a lot of searching occurred instead.  And while I was searching, I came across some interesting archival photos from the 1950s that Ivaan had put away for someone.  Setting those aside, I sat down to look at the remainder of the photos in the envelope.  It is very unlike me to misplace anything, but I have been looking for two particular 8 by 10 photographs since April of last year. It seemed almost unbelievable that I should be searching for my power tools and find two photographic enlargements instead.  I'd promised to give them to Barbara Frum's daughter, Linda, who had been a toddler at the time her mother interviewed the heartthrob English actor Alan Bates at Stratford in 1967.  (This would be like Linda Frum going for an afternoon picnic with Hugh Grant, or me with Gabriel Byrne, or Mary Ann having an assignation with Paul McCartney, and of the three scenarios, I think Mary Ann's is the most likely to occur.  She just has that kind of life.)

Alan Bates and Barbara Frum, Stratford, 1967, by Ivaan Kotulsky
(c) Linda Frum
Alan Bates and Barbara Frum, Stratford, 1967, by Ivaan Kotulsky
(c) Linda Frum

So, to wrap this story up, I have found the photos Ivaan took of Barbara Frum and Alan Bates in 1967 and will pass them on to Linda Frum with immense satisfaction and relief, but I still can't find my power tools.  Maybe Paul McCartney has them.  Grrrr.