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?