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