Saturday, December 26, 2015


Inspired by a book on the 1979 Treasures of Tutankhamun exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, I had an overpowering urge to recreate the colours of that exhibit in Atelier Ivaan.  You have no idea how hard it is to find exactly the right blue.  Luckily, there's Helder, who works at the hardware store across the street. Helder did a little computer artistry and came up with an exact paint match for me.

I intended to do the painting a little at a time, but a burst of energy overtook me today and I decided to have a painting marathon.  Well, maybe it was looking at my social calendar for the next week and realizing that if it didn't get done today, that back wall wasn't going to paint itself while I slept.

It reminds me of a smart remark of Ivaan's:  "They said it couldn't be done. So I didn't do it."

The photograph on the wall is, in itself, a total treasure.  It's a 2006 limited edition called Miracle of Order, by our good friend John Bladen Bentley.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

THE CHALICE CHALLENGE: Never Be Caught Holding A Broom

So I finished the chalice last night.  Here's how it looks now.

It was a lot of work, but I think it was worth it, and I'm pretty sure Ivaan would be pleased with the result and proud that I had completed it on his behalf.

However, as I quickly discovered, there's more where that came from, and I wonder how old I'll be before I finish restoring all the other items Ivaan's favourite priest had hidden away in  the dark corners of the Cathedral.  I often think it's ironic that the least creative mortal on earth has ended up carrying on Ivaan's legacy, so it's almost unfathomable that I could be restoring liturgical vessels in my spare time.

As Ivaan said, "Never be caught holding a broom."

Sunday, December 6, 2015


Today it's been seven years since Ivaan's death, and before I head to the cemetery to cover his grave with evergreen boughs and tuck him in for the winter, I thought I'd share a photo of him lounging on the pool deck at a hotel in Havana, shortly after a hurricane.  The wind hadn't completely died down, but he was determined to enjoy every ray of sun available to him.

This was the last time I let Ivaan choose a vacation destination. That's all I have to say on the subject.

Miss you lots, Ivaan. And I bet you miss me too.

Sunday, November 29, 2015


I've been working up the nerve to start on the chalice restoration project. It was hard to know where to begin, but once I'd disassembled it, I knew there was no turning back.  Five different elements made up the chalice: the cup, the stem, the base, the underside and the connector, and it was clear that only one of those five parts - the stem - was incapable of ruining my life, because it would be hidden inside the base. The other four?  There were infinite things that could go wrong as I restored them, and most of them would be visible from a mile away.

I've often found that starting a complex project at the beginning is not a great idea, because it's too easy from that vantage point to make excuses not to continue.  In situations like this,  the best place to start is in the middle.  Then, as you view the boatload of work you have ahead of you, there is one island of peace and tranquillity in the distance: the part you've already done.

Now, Ivaan would not agree with me on this approach.  Being an artist, Ivaan actually loved the first steps of a new project.  All he saw was potential.  I am not an artist; all I see is the potential for disaster.

I started in the middle.  At the connecting point between the cup and the base was a wooden section that looked as though it might originally have been part of a lamp.  I'm embarrassed to admit when I first saw that wooden connecting piece, I was less than gracious about it. In fact, it was quite an inventive solution to the problem of how to connect the base to the cup portion, especially since Ivaan made the base of the chalice in 1973, when he was 29, new to metal arts, and broke.  (He used to describe his status as self-unemployed).  Here it is:
And clearly it stood the test of time, because 42 years later, it's still there and it still works.  So mea culpa for my sarcasm, Ivaan.  And since I am neither 29, new to metal arts, nor broke, I decided that I would replace the wooden connector with something more sumptuous.  I settled on a two-inch ball of lapis lazuli, a semi-precious stone.

Today I took the chalice to a shop owned by Claude, a man who cuts and polishes stones.  Claude persuaded me that an egg-shaped piece of lapis would work best, and that seemed to make good sense, because it would weigh less than a round ball, and because eggs are an important theme in Ivaan's work and in the Ukrainian Orthodox religion.

With some trepidation, I left the entire chalice with Claude for the afternoon, forced myself to go shopping while he worked on it, and when I returned three hours later - voilà. Claude had drilled out the centre of the lapis egg just wide enough that the stem slid through it, and flattened the top and bottom of the egg so it fit perfectly against both the cup and the base.
Thank you, Claude.  This was a really satisfying day. And Ivaan, I bet you're proud of me.

Thursday, November 26, 2015


Recently, Ivaan's favourite priest from St. Volodymyr Cathedral brought me some liturgical vessels that had been used in church services for many years and were in need of maintenance.  Except for the chalices, I did not even know the names of the various pieces or precisely what the items were used for.  Father S. asked me if I could get an estimate on the cost of having them re-goldplated and, in some cases, repaired.  One of them, he told me, was actually an Ivaan creation.

I actually did not even recognize that it was made by Ivaan, because it was incredibly ornate.
The cup part was dented and I was pretty sure I could remove the dent if I could figure out how to separate the cup from the base.  That's when I realized that the base was an original creation by Ivaan in 1973, and he had built the very heavy base over an existing chalice, connecting the base to the cup by a wooden piece that had likely been part of a lamp.

Once I realized that this was an early Ivaan piece, I knew it could never be sent out to someone who repairs and replates liturgical vessels. I would have to do it myself.  I might add that in the Ukrainian Orthodox religion, women are not permitted to handle these items.  I think it is safe to assume that Father S. decommissioned them before handing them over to me.

It will be a multi-step process but a total labour of love to restore the Ivaan chalice to its former byzantine glory, including re-goldplating the cup, replacing all of the stones on the base with new ones, and perhaps replacing the wooden connecting piece with something more eyepopping.  My goal is to finish it in time for the seventh anniversary of Ivaan's death, December 6th, which happens to fall on a Sunday, in the hope that it can be used in the Cathedral for that church service.

That is my mission (should I choose to accept it).  Mission accepted.  Stand by for the big reveal.

Friday, November 20, 2015


Sometimes I wonder why people trust me to make their wedding rings.  

Today I was working on a fabulous engagement ring, and I opened a little package that I believed contained a fair-sized solitaire diamond I wanted to fit into the ring.  Nope.  It actually contained six small diamonds....until I opened the package, that is.  Three of the diamonds instantly went flying.  You have no idea how far and wide diamonds can travel.  I spent the afternoon looking for them.  One actually landed behind my motorcycle.

Here's my motorcycle, just so you get the picture.  (My friend Kai is practising leaning into a turn).

I was so exhausted from searching for the three diamonds, I took a break, checked my email and there was a message from my friends Bernie and Mimi in NYC.  In replying to their message, I decided to send them a photo of my new ride (see above).  Now, rewind to before I foolishly opened the package of diamonds. I'd just been on Twitter,  blathering on about the tiny and delightful Wolf convection oven I'd bought this morning, and so I sent Bernie and Mimi this photo instead:

Well, Bernie couldn't resist.  "How many miles per litre does your Wolf toaster oven get?" he asked.  And that's when it clicked, that I may not have sent him the correct photograph.  Grrrr.

So right now the engagement ring is 75 per cent finished, the new Wolf oven arrives on Monday, Bernie has probably picked himself up off the floor from laughing, all the diamonds have been located, and I'd consider going out for a motorcycle ride to celebrate, but with my track record today, I'm pretty sure something would go wrong.

You know how they say husbands and wives start to look more alike the longer they're married?  I'm beginning to think that in our case, I'm becoming more like Ivaan.  As in, more chaotic.

And seriously, who'd trust him to make their wedding rings?

Sunday, November 8, 2015



Today I received an email from a guy named Bob, who had lived in Ivaan's Yonge and Wellesley neighbourhood in the 1970s.  He sent me this snapshot of Ivaan, taken in 1974.  It's fortuitous that the photo arrived just at this moment, because I'm editing the text for my upcoming book, 30 Pieces of Silver. One of the chapters is about Ivaan's sculpture of his nose.  I couldn't confirm what year the sculpture was made, because I didn't know what year Ivaan renounced his moustache.  The moustache played a painful part in the story of the sculpture.  If you want to read about it, you can scroll back through the blog entries to the post about the  nose sculpture.  It's Part 26 in the  30 Pieces of Silver series.  It's also interesting because Ivaan is wearing the exact same outfit he wore in the photograph heading the Contact page of our website,, so  it's possible the two photos were taken on the same day.

So now I know the answer to my question: the nose sculpture dates from 1974. Another piece of the puzzle has fallen into place.  Thanks, Bob!

Monday, October 19, 2015


In 2000, I decided to sell my beloved red Kawasaki motorcycle.  It wasn't a hard decision.  Ivaan had his first stroke early that year.  There's a saying among Toronto motorcycle riders:  "If your front tire gets on a streetcar track, there's only one place you're going:  the Humber Loop".  For non-residents of Toronto, the Humber Loop is the western junction of several streetcar lines, and the expression means it's not easy to get your tire off a streetcar track, so you should only intersect with one at a right angle.

Strokes are a bit like streetcar tracks.  If you've had one, you can pretty well stop worrying about dying of anything else.  I knew Ivaan would need me to look after him in the years to come, which I wouldn't be able to do if I injured myself on my bike, so I sold my motorcycle and tried not to look back with regret.  But every spring, when the sun was out and the roads were dry and I heard the distinctive rumbling of someone else's motorcycle, I felt a pang of loss.

Five years and two more strokes later, when I left my career to take care of Ivaan full-time, one of my staff members who has a dark sense of humour wrote me a note: "The day after the funeral, you'll be the woman in the red dress at the motorcycle dealership".

In fact, six years after Ivaan's death, I had begun to wonder if my courage was failing me. Maybe I was just too old for a motorcycle.  But I did spend a bit of time online, researching what bike I'd buy if I were going to buy one.  And one day, I Googled the name and model of the bike I'd have liked, and up popped this perfect specimen.   Everything about it was right: the size, the colour, the price, the accessories.  Just to prove to myself that I wasn't impulsive, I waited a full 24 hours before I headed for the dealership - just to look at it, you understand.

I didn't even take it out for a spin. I did the math:  I already have a motorcycle licence plate.   I still have my helmet, and Ivaan's too.  I have a leather jacket and motorcycle boots.  In short, it would be a crime against economics not to buy it.  Or so I reasoned.

Yesterday I went down to the dealership with my original licence plate and my helmet, and left them there with the bike.  And today, there it was, outfitted with my plate,  just begging me to ride it. I was completely freaked out.  After all, I hadn't ridden once in 15 years.  I assumed it would all come back to me, but as I sat on it, I was reciting the checklist to myself:  Fuel. Ignition. Neutral. Electric. Choke. Clutch.

Suddenly, I heard a voice calling me. It was Doug, one of the owners of the dealership. He said, "You haven't ridden for 15 years.  You need to practise in the laneway before you head out on a main street."  It was like the voice of God bringing me to my senses. Doug wheeled the  bike round to the laneway behind the dealership and said, "Ride up and down the laneway a few times. Don't get out of first gear till you're comfortable with it."  I did what he said, but half way up the laneway, boom, I felt so comfortable, I shifted smoothly into second gear and just kept right on going.

Maybe tomorrow I'll bike down to the dealership again and thank Doug.  All things considered, he probably saved my life.

Thursday, October 8, 2015


The lofty goal I had set for myself was to have completed the first draft of 30 Pieces of Silver by Ivaan's birthday, which is tomorrow.  I'm pleased to report that not only have I completed the first draft, I have also finished the book design.  Just a little preview, Ivaan, in case you have been paying attention.

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Ivaan considered this his preeminent piece.  It's large, it's heavy, it's gold, and it's set with 30 rubies, making it very appropriate as the final selection for 30 Pieces of Silver.

I think Ivaan made this heart in about 1999.  I wear it from time to time because one day some rich person will come along and buy it, and then I won't have a chance to.  Till then, it's mine.

There's a great story associated with this piece.  If you've read the whole series, you may remember the story of Ivaan's corkscrews, which he managed to convince himself I had thrown out.  Those flights of fancy were so characteristic of Ivaan that just writing about them I can feel my blood pressure rising.

In 2005, when his studio was in a warehouse building two doors away from our house, Ivaan reported to me that he'd left this heart lying on his mahogany work table, and that some workmen who had come in to install an HVAC system had stolen it.  Initially I believed him, because it's such a spectacular piece, and I could imagine how someone would be tempted. What I couldn't imagine was why he would have left it on his work table. After all, it was a finished piece.

I suggested calling the HVAC company.  I suggested calling the police.  I ought to have been suspicious when Ivaan insisted that this would do no good, that the piece was gone forever and he'd never recover from the loss.

A year later, I was in Ivaan's dressing room, sorting and cleaning out his dressing table.  In the very back of the top left hand drawer, where Ivaan kept his handkerchiefs, his cufflinks, his formalwear accessories and his yarmulke, there was the gold and ruby heart.  The devil got the better of me.  Hiding it in my hand, I went to Ivaan and asked, "Remember that gold and ruby heart that the workmen stole?"  Ivaan groaned.  "Don't remind me", he replied.  "It's funny", I began, but Ivaan interrupted me angrily.  "What's so funny about it?", he asked. 'I'll take the memory of it to my grave."

I paused for dramatic effect. "What's funny is that after they stole it, they broke in here and hid it in your dresser drawer", I answered, and opened my hand to reveal the heart.

"Oh", said Ivaan.  Just that one word.  "Oh".


This is Ivaan's fifth piece.  Comparing it to his first piece, Ivaan's learning trajectory must have been almost vertical.  There are a few other items that he made in the same time frame that are quite similar to this in style, but they tend to be functional pieces, as opposed to just simply beautiful.

What is so impressive is that, this early in his jewellery-making career, he has already adopted his lifelong practice of making sure his pieces were beautiful from every angle.  In this ring, one flower faces up and a smaller one faces sideways, enabling a larger and a smaller gemstone to be set in the mouths of the flowers.  Or not.  Either way, it's a masterpiece.


Perhaps the purest example of Ivaan's focus on making beautiful things solely for the joy of creation is this bronze piece.  I know it's from 1979, because I found a dated photograph of the original wax Ivaan carved.  What I don't know is for what, if anything, Ivaan intended this. Clearly it was intended to hang on a wall or around someone's neck, because those frills that appear at seven o'clock and nine o'clock contain holes for a chain or cord.  It's bowl-shaped and just the right size to fill the palm of my hand.

There are many marine influences on the piece, as well as a ginkgo biloba leaf. I can only assume that Ivaan was influenced by the ginkgo trees he might have seen in the cemetery where he is buried, as he used to play there as a child.

This is not a piece that can be duplicated, although one day when 3-D printing has evolved, perhaps it will.  I'm often tempted to wear it around my neck, maybe as an anchor on a windy day.  I used to see this piece kicking around among Ivaan's effects for years, and I deeply regret not asking him about it.

I marvel at it every time I see it, perhaps all the more because the little I do know about it is so insignificant compared to what I don't  know.

Thursday, October 1, 2015


In early 2011, I was sorting through a bag of gemstones belonging to Ivaan. Among the stones there was a large, very unusual specimen.  The sides and underside were smooth; the top surface was craggy and unpolished.  It was multicoloured and very striking.  The shape caught my attention, because one side of it was quite straight, while the other three sides were curved, giving it a unique assymetrical appearance.

I must have been in a sorting mood, because within a day or two I was sorting a tray of bronze ring masters, and among them was a ring of the same size and odd configuration. I began to wonder if Ivaan had made a ring to fit the stone.  So I retrieved the stone, slipped it in the bronze ring, and it fit perfectly. This was quite an exciting discovery, and I wondered why the ring had never been completed.

I decided to make a mould of the bronze master and to duplicate the ring in sterling silver.  This wasn't easy, because a certain amount of shrinkage can occur when making a mould, but eventually I was  able to fit the stone perfectly into the silver ring.  I showed it to  Ivaan's former partner, Tamas, who is extremely knowledgeable about gemstones and was astonished to learn that the stone was an opal.  I usually see opals as highly polished pale gemstones with a milky, almost translucent appearance, whereas the colours in this stone are quite vibrant.

Here is the finished product.  I had a very strong sense that this ring was destined for the finger of our longtime friend Vladyana, who is a great fan of Ivaan's work.  So I went out to lunch with Vladyana and Jack, showed her the ring, and she tried it on.  Just like my experience of trying the gemstone in the bronze master, the ring slipped onto her finger like it was meant to be there. And that's when I knew it had found its home.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Now that we've moved into the Bronze Age, Ivaan's sculpture of his nose is one of his most important works.  Although it is not dated, I know it is relatively early, because at the time he cast the sculpture, he had a moustache. That moustache became part of the story.  I initially thought Ivaan used dental moulding compound to make an impression of the fine detail of his handsome nose.  However, I now think he must  have immersed his face in liquid plaster of Paris; otherwise, how could he have captured the detail of the insides of his nostrils?

However he did it, I remember he told me that when his face and the mould parted company, some of his moustache remained in the mould.  Besides making me shudder, this information helps me to carbon date the sculpture, which is unsigned and undated, because it can only have been made before he shaved off the moustache for good.  And who knows?  Perhaps this experience was the inspiration for the clean-shaven look he sported for the rest of his life.

One day I'll have to look through all his photographic slides.  I know he photographed this sculpture, and perhaps I'll find a photographic slide that is dated.  Right now I'm estimating it was made in the late 1970s.

Friday, September 11, 2015


And here's where we branch out.  After struggling with whether or not to include pieces that are not made of silver, I've decided that to include only silver means to exclude some of Ivaan's most memorable pieces.  So, sure, I could make this corkscrew in silver if only to prove a point, but I can tell you what would happen:  the second bottle of wine that was opened would wind up with the business end of a corkscrew broken off in the cork.  Silver's like that.  Like butter, I mean.

So let's stick with bronze.  I love working on bronze.  It holds detail beautifully, is the most stalwart of metals, and it develops its own patina if you leave it alone.  Ivaan did not leave this one alone, and he had a patina added to it at the foundry.


Ivaan cast his own thumb to make this corkscrew.  He called it the Thumbscrew, and it's definitely a functional corkscrew.  He was never very enthused about mechanical corkscrews that sucked all the joy out of opening a bottle of wine, even as they sucked the cork out of the bottle. Never much of a drinker, Ivaan nonetheless felt that if you were opening a bottle of wine, you might as well make it an occasion, and put some effort into it.

There's a story behind Ivaan's collection of corkscrews.  He made several of them, mostly functional, occasionally just decorative.  Once, a couple of years before his death, he lent his collection of corkscrews to the editor of a magazine called Metalcraft, who was publishing a story about making corkscrews.  I have a feeling I may have written that story.  Certain turns of phrase come back to haunt me. But I digress.

Anyway, Ivaan lent the guy his corkscrews and promptly forgot all about them.   In the months just before he died, Ivaan started worrying about what he'd done with his corkscrews.  He asked me if I knew where they were.  I didn't.  In fact, I didn't even know he had lent them to the editor.  Ivaan was capable of the most fantastical leaps of logic, even when reason suggested otherwise.  If you've never read the story about the ruby heart, stay tuned. There is not one small chance I'll forget to post that story in this series.  So, Ivaan decided that since I didn't know where his corkscrews were, that I must have thrown them out.

Now, I'll admit I have a powerful predilection for cleanliness and order, but preserving Ivaan's art is what I do. So I would never even contemplate throwing out something he made. And besides, how would I open a bottle of wine for our guests?  Ivaan almost drove me mad, cross-examining me about what I'd done with his corkscrews.

Months after his death, I was at the foundry, picking up Ivaan's bronze grave marker.  The owner of the foundry (who happened to be the publisher of Metalcraft Magazine) came by and said, "I have something of Ivaan's here", and handed me a cardboard box filled with his corkscrews.  I bet you think I was relieved.  Wrong.  My blood boiled.

I got in the car, drove straight to the cemetery, and in the earth around his grave, I carved the words I TOLD YOU SO, IVAAN, with the business end of this corkscrew.

Now you know.


It's sometimes known as the Traffic Stopper.

This ring is one of my favourites but, try as I might, I've never been able to make one that fits me comfortably.  I'm not sure what era it's from, but I think it's from the early 1990s, when Ivaan was experimenting with rings and bracelets that were folded over at the base, and were therefore next to impossible to duplicate.

Despairing that I would ever have one of these to wear, I once made a mock-up of it in heavy brown paper, took it to my milliner, and she made it into a hat for me.  It's an excellent hat, and I wear it often.  That scorpion tail flourish on the right side of the photo is a peacock feather on the hat.



This is the first ring Ivaan ever made.  He hammered it out of a silver 25 cent coin in 1969.  Although it's not beautiful in the way that most of his pieces are, I decided that I should include it, because it's such an important part of his journey as an artist.


This Chinese proverb, attributed to Laozi  (Lao Tzu) in chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching, literally means The journey of a thousand [units of measurement] starts beneath one's feet.  Ivaan was 25 when his journey in metal arts began.  His pieces are all over the world.  In many senses, his journey has not ended.

I wish I could ask Ivaan what inspired the design of the ring.  It has several elements from nature, such as the leaves on the sides and the sun, perhaps, on top.  There are so many things I wish I could ask Ivaan.  But I consider myself fortunate to be the custodian of his legacy - something I could never have predicted for myself.  Perhaps one day I will know more.

Friday, August 28, 2015



Every so often, I look over all of Ivaan's rings and wonder if I should make one for myself, as a reward for - well, I don't know what, exactly - and although I can find plenty rings that would make a nice reward, they don't often fit.  This is the exception.  It fits well, it's a wide enough band that it doesn't look skimpy on my finger and, best of all, it has a distinct, nautical style that I really love.  Perhaps there is a mould of it somewhere, but in the event I never find it, I am slowly making tiny adjustments to this one, so it's absolutely perfect.  Just in case I ever do decide that I deserve a deluxe reward.

Here's the another side of the ring.  If I show you any more, you'll want one, too. It's got calla lilies, a love knot and thick strands, making it a substantial ring.  I think it's quite a masterpiece.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Ivaan made a number of crosses, mostly Eastern Orthodox ones, and although I have some favourites among those, the one I love the most is this sterling silver non-denominational cross:
It's large - three and a half inches in length - heavy, and quite nautical in flavour.  As with most of Ivaan's pieces, it's "good both sides", so it's a matter of personal choice which way it's worn.  The row of holes down the centre make it look like a musical instrument.  The holes can have stones set in them, but my distinct preference is for them to be left open.
And here's a quick snapshot of the other side.  Sorry about the focus, but you get the general idea.  It would be excellent to wear when one is going sailing. Looks like it could ward off quite a few pirates.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


So, while we're on the subject of symbolic art, this is perhaps Ivaan's most famous tryzub.  The tryzub, or trident, is the national symbol of Ukraine.  The three points represent the Holy Trinity, so I guess it's more accurate to say the tryzub is the national symbol of Christian Ukraine.

I don't actually know if Ivaan made this for anyone before he made it for a young man named Kyrylo, but Kyrylo is the one with whom this tryzub has always been associated, and it is in honour of that Kyrylo that this tryzub is named.  Like most Stars of David, as mentioned  in my previous post,  most tryzubs look as though they had been stamped out of sheet metal.  That's because they generally had.  Again, a tryzub can look quite beautiful when rendered on paper or on textile but in metal it calls out to be made three dimensional.

The Kyrylo tryzub looks like bread dough rising, a very apt detail, because Ukrainians take their bread seriously.  It is also highly stylized, so many people, even Ukrainians, have to look at it more than once to realize what it is. I have heard - and I don't know whether it's true - that the word воля (Volya) can be seen in the tryzub.  It means liberty.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


The Mogen David, or Star of David, is a six-sided star consisting of one triangle superimposed on another.  It is an important symbol worn by many Jews.  Ivaan was interested in it on many levels, not the least of which was its shape.  From an engineering perspective, the triangle is the most stable of structures, and it is a shape that occurs in many of Ivaan's pieces.

Most Stars of David, however, are flat, as though they were stamped out of sheet metal.  Even the ones that  look as though they are composed of two intertwined triangles still have that flat appearance.  So the Star of David was pretty much calling for Ivaan to rescue it from mediocrity.  It is often beautifully rendered on paper or on textile, but it's something that needs to be three dimensional when made in metal.

So Ivaan modelled his Star of David on the shape of a chicken wishbone.  Not duplicated slavishly,  but capturing that sinuous shape.

This is the Star of David he made for me in 1998. As you can see, it is actually intertwined, not just an optical illusion.  He made it in silver first of all, to ensure I loved it, saying he would make me a gold one, but I totally preferred it in silver right from the start, and that's how it has come to be part of  this collection.  This one is an inch in diameter.  Ivaan also made a larger version, as well as a larger version with his signature beading, but I have always preferred the smaller size.  I particularly love it when someone wants to order one, not because they have any connection to Judaism, but because they just love it as a piece of art.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Ivaan made several silver walking cane handles, all of them different, but each in an elaborate Art Nouveau style.  This is the one he kept for himself.
I've been wanting to post this as part of 30 Pieces of Silver, but I knew it was going to be a horrible amount of work to polish it without removing the wooden cane.  And I didn't want to over-polish it, in which case I would not be able to take a photograph that captured the detail.   As it turned out, I need not have feared over-polishing it.  It was so hard to polish it even this much, I probably should have worn full body armour.

Contrary to popular belief, polishing does not involve sitting there with a little cloth and rubbing it a bit.  Jewellery polishing takes place on a wheel attached to a big industrial motor that spins around at considerable speed.  I felt like I was whitewater rafting, desperately trying not to lose control of my paddle.  Or motorcycling with Ivaan on the back of my bike, constantly shifting his weight. Grrrr.

And here's a close-up to show you what the inside of the cane handle looks like.  Like Ivaan's sterling silver thimbles, it's not a hundred percent practical to use, but who cares, when it's this beautiful?  When I'm old and grey (now for example) maybe I'll start using it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015



This is a sterling silver ring that Ivaan made for himself in 2001.  It's a very substantial ring, but it suited his hand perfectly and he often wore it on his right hand.  It attracted a lot of attention and people often asked for one just like his. Like so many of his rings, it has no discernible beginning or end.  It's just a thick vine wrapping around itself, and around his finger. And because it's so thick, there's plenty of scope for re-sizing.

The timing is interesting.  He made it between his first and second strokes. That would normally be a time when someone might not be thinking of making a ring for themselves, but just trying to keep up to date on the orders he had promised to clients.  But Ivaan never did the predictable. And I guess that's why he made himself a ring that was both simple and complicated at the same time.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


It was only a matter of time before I added one of Ivaan's spoons to the 30 Pieces of Silver series.  It was a bit of a struggle to choose which one, but I realized I don't have to commit to only one spoon.  They are so varied.  This is an early one, 1979 to be exact, and it's got a fish-like quality to it.
I believe it's part of his AGO Egyptian collection, and I can carbon-date it because his name appears in capital letters on the reverse side.  Well, maybe I should post a picture of the reverse side.   There you go. You can see IVAAN engraved on the fishtail.
I likely don't have to tell you that Ivaan applied all those tiny beads on the handle and underside one at a time.  He had incredible focus and patience. Not a day goes by that I don't feel in awe of his talent and enriched by his presence in my life.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


Mary is a natural-born storyteller.  She's a civil servant, but she'd have been a successful comedian.  I love her stories.  Even better, they are delivered in her classic New York accent.  That always makes them seem even funnier.

Anyway, on with the story.  Mary and her first husband were divorcing. Toward the end of their marriage, Mary had bought her soon-to-be-former husband a heavy gold ID bracelet as a gift.  That was before she found out some of his faults.  After they had separated, they had to meet at the lawyer's office to complete some paperwork.  Though she was feeling very anxious, Mary went there looking her very best. She was wearing a beautiful new piece of jewellery, a ring by Ivaan, and she had that great feeling you have when you are feeling at the top of your game.

During the meeting, Mary's former husband asked her, "By the way, do you know whatever happened to my gold ID bracelet?"  Languidly, Mary lifted her right hand to her mouth to stifle a yawn.  "Haven't a clue", she replied, then, extending her arm outwards, she rested  her hand casually on her knee.

And on one finger of that hand was her spectacular new gold "magic" ring by Ivaan - made out of the recently melted and refined ID bracelet she'd once given him.

Here it is in pink wax.  ©1995 Ivaan Kotulsky

And here's the other side.

Now, this is a series about silver, so for your viewing pleasure I have made up the ring in pink wax, because I don't have a photo of Mary's gold ring, but every time I see her wearing it,  I have an attack of one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Invidia.  If you don't know what it means, go and look it up.

There's a happy ending to the story, because Mary subsequently met John and they have lived happily ever after.  As I so often say, living well is the best revenge.

Monday, August 10, 2015



Ivaan made this belt buckle for himself, originally, in bronze.  I've always loved it, and when I was thinking of a gift for our friend Joseph, who was about to officiate at our wedding, I asked Ivaan how he felt about making it in sterling silver and that I'd choose a special belt for it.  Ivaan agreed.  I was pretty sure Joseph would like it, but he has very particular tastes, so I decided that I'd nonchalantly show it to him, tell him it was a project Ivaan was working on, and gauge his reaction.  It was a relief when Joseph appeared to really admire it. Then there was the delicate little matter of figuring out what belt size Joseph wears.  It's not a question you can just blurt out to someone. So I found an excellent carved leather belt and bought two of them.  I figured I'd put the smaller one on Joseph's buckle and if it was too small, I'd have a back-up. As it happened, it was the right fit, so Ivaan got to put the larger size belt on his buckle.  Sometimes we'd all go out in the evening and Ivaan and Joseph would be wearing their matching belts.

I can't remember what the occasion was, but I think February 2005 was the tenth anniversary of my taking piano lessons with my poor beleaguered piano teacher, Andrew.  It felt like a milestone occasion, so I made Andrew the same belt buckle, also in sterling.  I put a black leather belt on it too.  Any time you are out and about and you see a man wearing a belt buckle like this, you will know that is someone who has played an enormous part in my life.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


Ivaan originally made the Shipwreck bracelet in gold, in about 2000,  for someone who wanted to have her life's collection of gold and diamonds made into one jawdropping cuff bracelet.  It's a spectacularly hard bracelet to make in wax, because there is unlimited opportunity for disaster to occur, due to the complexity of the design.  But even making a wax is easier than trying to photograph this bracelet.  One day I'll try and take a better photo, and replace this one.  It really does look like some barnacle-encrusted piece of metal that was found on the ocean floor.  Here it is in silver, and I'll also post a photo of the gold and diamond version.  Eat your heart out.

Saturday, August 8, 2015



I've often told the story of Connie, a remarkable woman with whom I worked for several years.  Connie was what used to be called "well bred" and although that's a laughably quaint expression these days, it was definitely a factor in many of her life choices.  Connie was very well spoken, with a rich vocabulary and considerable erudition.  Had she not been from a certain stratum of society, in a particular era, it's possible Connie might have gone into the theatre. She had a flair for the dramatic, and easily commanded a room with her strong, handsome features and rich laugh. Connie had two daughters, Vanessa and Tanya, who inherited her good looks and huge personality.

Connie had always planned to buy bracelets by Ivaan for her daughters, and she often told a very funny story of the day she went to Ivaan's studio and found the door locked.  Ivaan's working hours were always extremely erratic, and Connie never did get to buy any bracelets, but she had a memorable afternoon in any event. After her death, Ivaan wanted very much to contact her daughters and give them each a piece of his jewellery, thus closing the loop on the bracelet story.

Shortly after Ivaan's death, I was able to contact Tanya, the younger daughter. She came to see an exhibition of Ivaan's work, saw his website and loved this ring. She directed her sister Vanessa to the website and, incredibly, Vanessa chose the exact same ring.  It's been known as the Connie Ring ever since.  It really reminds me of Connie: it's a highly unusual, feminine piece of architecture, very strong because the band connects with the top in multiple places.  I know Connie would consider her mission accomplished.  One day I'd like to have a photo of the hands of all the women who wear this ring.  Maybe I'll arrange it one day.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


I'm starting to appreciate the monumental significance of Ivaan's body of work for the Art Gallery of Ontario's 1979 Treasures of Tutankhamun collection.  1979 was the 10th anniversary of the beginning of Ivaan's career in metal arts, and the Egyptian collection certainly involved by far the most historical research.   Recently, I found a book of excellent photographs of the actual pieces that formed the basis of the AGO exhibition.  You might  have expected a book like this to have been in Ivaan's library.  In fact, I doubt he had ever seen it.  I found it on the lawn of a neighbour's house, among a boxful of books they were giving away.

This piece is a sommelier spoon, used by wine tasters.  What I love about it is that it's not slavishly Egyptian, though there are many features characteristic of the age of Tutankhamun.  The bunches of grapes and vines on the underside are characteristically Ivaan's.  So is the shape: it looks a bit like a flounder. Yet there are the striations on the front handle that represent bullrushes, and that part is very much an Egyptian influence.

I can easily imagine Ivaan poring over this book of Egyptian photographs, and asking me to read him the text.  We were so well matched in many ways, primarily the ways in which we were opposites.  One of the most predominant was that he loved to be read to, and I love reading aloud.  Who would have thought that I'd be the one silently carrying on his legacy?  One of my big regrets is in not having taken the opportunity, while I had it, to learn more from him about this collection, which has become so important to me, and was instrumental in developing the artist he eventually became.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015


In the same vein as the sterling silver egg that looks like crumpled satin (see 30 Pieces of Silver, Part Eight) this ring also has the appearance of fabric.  It's a very large ring, and I always feel very tormented when someone expresses an interest in buying it, because I love wearing it now and again.  Fortunately, it's also very heavy, making it expensive, and that's generally a good deterrent to potential suitors.

It is possible that Ivaan actually made this ring for himself, because it would have fit him, but I wouldn't be surprised if he found that it got in his way too much.  A whack with a ring like this could inflict a lot of damage on one of his beloved vintage cameras. His loss, my gain. Here's a view of the other side.  I tried photographing it head on, but it totally doesn't look like a ring unless I include a bit of the band. I'm not sure when he made this ring. As far as I know, there is no mould of it, but I think it was much later than the egg.  I'm guessing around 1999 or 2000.

Monday, July 27, 2015


It's relatively easy to select pieces to include in 30 Pieces of Silver, at least in the early stages of the project.  I'm sure it will become quite difficult when I'm selecting the last few pieces, because there will be so many more that were not selected, and deserved to be.  Nonetheless, here am I, posting one that I struggled with.

This is the ring with which Ivaan proposed to me.  I was on my way out the door to work, briefcase in hand, wearing my leather jacket, my motorcycle helmet and boots.  I had a busy day ahead of me and I was running late.  The last thing I was expecting at that moment was a marriage proposal.  Seeing Ivaan down on one knee on the living room floor, I assumed he was having another heart attack and I inexplicably burst into tears.

It goes without saying (I guess) that I didn't end up wearing it as an engagement ring for long; it was too big and too small at the same time.
The band was too tight for my ring finger, and the top part didn't fit inside my motorcycle glove.  I didn't select this ring for its sentimental value, and I don't even think I chose it for the workmanship.

I chose it because it's an excellent example of Ivaan's ability to see beauty where most people don't even bother to look.  The emerald in this ring is a "beach emerald" - a piece of broken Seven Up bottle he found on the street. He clearly applied the wax directly onto  the piece of glass, and cast the whole thing in silver, praying that the glass would not melt or shatter during the the casting process.

At least I don't have trouble figuring out when this ring was made.  It was before I said yes, in late 1994. At least I think I said yes. Here's the other side of the ring, in case you're curious.

Sunday, July 26, 2015



There's a very good reason this sterling silver egg has not appeared in the 30 Pieces of Silver series till now.  That reason is sloth. In order to write about the egg,  I'd first have to photograph it.  While Ivaan took some excellent photos of the egg, they are all on photographic slides.  So I decided I'd have to photograph it myself.  Photographing it in my hand is a good way of illustrating the size of the piece.  It's also a good background, as it eliminates all kinds of shadows.  Sadly, it also means you get to look at my polishing-machine battered left hand, because in order to photograph the egg, I first needed to polish it.  It's wedding ring season at Atelier Ivaan, so I've been spending an inordinate number of hours at the polishing machine, and my hands are beginning to resemble Ivaan's.  You could probably grow potatoes under my fingernails.  Huh - maybe I should have photographed it balanced on my foot. At least my feet are looking their best.

Ivaan started experimenting with making hollow sculptures out of jewellers' wax in 1987.  It's likely this was modelled on an actual egg.  He really liked making things in metal that looked like crumpled satin, and certainly this has that effect.   I am posting a couple of smaller photos showing the other sides of the egg. It's truly a masterpiece.

Thursday, July 23, 2015


When Ivaan started making a series of pendant pieces that were acorn-shaped and hollow, I was quite intrigued because I realized the only way to duplicate them would ruin the originals (I'll spare you the details).  Clearly, that was never going to happen. Some of them were thicker, some were more delicate, and most were gold, because if you were going to all that trouble to make a one-off, it might as well be hard-wearing gold.

Ivaan gave me a white gold one as a gift, and I love it.  But I always coveted this silver one, with its long tail that anchors the piece, which I can twirl between my thumb and forefinger. The chain on which I often wear it was also handmade by Ivaan, link by painstaking link. But the real masterpiece is the pendant piece.  I'm surprised I got to number seven on the 30 Pieces of Silver project without already having included it.

Since there isn't a mould, carbon dating it will be hard.  But I am fairly sure it's circa 2000.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


This is one of my favourite  pieces by Ivaan, but it is perhaps the one that causes me the most anguish.  Here's why: I no longer have it.

Ivaan made it in 1979 as part of his King Tutankhamun collection.  As far as I know, there has never been a mould of it, but I used to see it lying around among his pieces for years.  After we moved out of his studio a couple of doors away from our house on Portland Street, the goblet was stored in our basement.  I actually have a vivid memory of seeing it sitting on a brick ledge behind the furnace, while I was bricklaying over what had been the wooden door to a coal chute.

I had thought it was included in a fabulous exhibition of Ivaan's abandoned pieces entitled Sweepings: Treasures From The Atelier Floor, at KUMF Gallery in September 2008, curated by the utterly remarkable dynamo, Luda Pawliw, but even close inspection of the film footage of this exhibit doesn't show this piece on display, so I must reluctantly conclude that my own negligence led to its disappearance.

It's sterling silver, and this photograph is approximately life size.   I am sure it says IVAAN in block capitals underneath the base. If you ever see it anywhere (perhaps behind the furnace in our old house on Portland Street) I'm offering a substantial reward for its return. Grrrr.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


In 1979, Ivaan was commissioned by the Art Gallery of Ontario to make a series of Egyptian themed jewellery for their first King Tutankhamun exhibition.  The scarab beetle was very important in ancient Egyptian culture, and Ivaan wanted to make one that looked real, not like a cartoon.  His first scarab ring had the beetle sitting sideways on the finger.  A lot of work went into it, but frankly it looked creepy, so I'm certain it never achieved much success.

However, his second scarab ring was a huge success and became perhaps the most popular piece of jewellery Ivaan ever made.  It's no exaggeration to say that hundreds of people wear an Ivaan scarab ring, either in gold, bronze or sterling silver, and some people have come back for seconds, either because they wore theirs out or because they wanted them in different metals.

It was our friend Vladyana Krykorka Johnson who single-handedly raised the scarab ring to iconic status.  She worked with Ivaan at Maclean Hunter Publishing in the 1970s, and when she first saw the scarab ring he made, she knew it was destined for her finger. Vladyana is an artist and illustrator; she has a million friends in the art world and in the Czech community at large, and when her friends saw what she called her "bug ring", they got in line behind her and got scarab rings of their own.  Now these people's children have their own  bug rings.
If you see someone wearing one of Ivaan's scarab rings, you can safely ask them: "Are you Czech?  Are you an artist?  Or are you an architect?" Guaranteed you will be right on one or more of these counts.  

One of the interesting factors about this ring is the price. It's a hundred and fifty dollars. It will always be a hundred and fifty dollars. Ivaan told me that we can't charge more for it because the people who love it are generally artists, and artists are historically not rich, so it is essential for them to have something beautiful that's within their financial reach.

Except if it's gold, in which case it's $150 plus the cost of the gold.  But the scarab is a symbol of reincarnation, so it will last a lifetime - and maybe more.

Friday, July 17, 2015


It took me no time at all to select this belt buckle as one of Ivaan's most inspired pieces.  I've told the story of it before.  Ivaan made it for my birthday, three months after our wedding, and served it to me for breakfast, hidden inside a bowl of sliced mangoes.  It's a very large, heavy  buckle, and I had a fabulous belt custom made for it, black on one side and green on the other, by the brilliant leather artist, Negash, who used to made belts for Ivaan.
Ivaan hand engraved a loving inscription on the inside  - so if I ever want to be reminded what a romantic sweetheart he was, I just have to flip it over and read the message.  In real life, it's bigger than this photo.  I totally love its tropical excess.  The man was an inspired genius.