George H.W. Bush
41st President of the USA
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The Aga Khan
Duke & Duchess
of Westminister


Russia – Surprises and …

Lyle Sopel -

Dear Collector Friend,

As we walked through the wing of the Hermitage Museum where Catherine the Great once had resided, I was fascinated to see how contemporary the architecture appeared. This leader who was apparently voted by the people not the Court – as Catherine the Great – was obviously very in tune with her aesthetic values. Through history there has been much controversy about her political views. But for the sake of this blog – I am staying focused on the Art aspect of her reign. While building the Winter Palace – which now houses the Hermitage, she had commissioned artisans from the Ukraine, France and Italy to design her buildings. The grandness and the superior craftsmanship of everything from the four feet vases made from semi precious stones to the floor to the furniture is painstakingly perfect. The portraits of the Russian Imperial Family appear to capture nuances in the facial expression: so effectively that when as I gazed at these grand paintings I felt a moment of intimate connection with various members of the royal court. The historical facts about the Imperial Family are full of quite endless intrigue. While attending the¬†Faberg√© Symposium I met historians who have dedicated their whole lives to the study of the Russian Empire. As one delightful young woman phrased her career in this field : “so lovely to meet other Russian Empire nerds “.

The Hermitage building itself is palatial in every aspect. As with most northern climates you dawn your outer garments through a coat checking process. You can’t imagine the throngs of people weaving through this system quite remarkably effective considering the 2 meagre staff that wait on the hoards of crowds through out the day. the whole scene seems a bit third world – a strange dichotomy considering one is standing in the most famous museum in the world. Yet, this is a taste of what my experience with Russia was – a cornucopia of paradoxes. If France was simply one delight after another. Russia was a surprise around every corner. Just when I thought I could easily navigate through the city’s attractions and observe the life style something would catch me off guard. There were everyday inconveniences while touring St. Petersburg that reminded me of something you might come across in a third world country. Yet, the level of sophistication and appreciation for art and the aesthetics of beauty is extraordinary I have never experienced this passion for the arts in any other city in the world.


Through social media I have been friends for a while with some of the very accomplished professional Sculptors who live in St. Petersburg. The opportunity to meet some of these colleagues was truly wonderful. I was invited into their Studio spaces. We walked from our Hotel – Astoria – where a cadre of very famous people have stayed. Including heads of state, American Presidents, huge number of Rock Stars, Musicians, famous Opera Singers, and many film stars. Obviously this city has held an attraction to the rest of the world for centuries right up into the 21st. At a fast clip we ventured through neighborhoods that were very simple and nothing extravagant about the environment. Except for the luxury cars sprinkled randomly about, the areas looked a bit dated from our North American standards. Once we reached the entrance way into the Studio compound we were greeted ( very assertively ) to the security desk to check in with our purpose for the visit. One of the tenant artists friends who graciously offered to be our guide was there to explain the situation. Once approved we ventured on to the Studio’s. I am not going to go into further detail about the surroundings but it is suffice to say the whole complex – would not be structurally approved by North American building code. Once inside Colette and I were treated to a tour of all of the Artisan’s workshop spaces and projects. Very fascinating to see and actually feel the kind of themed carving projects that were popular in Russia. Many themes included, pheasant or military or very imaginative. I could hardly believe the exquisite detailing work that some of these artisans were capable of creating. Often the human figure forms would take many painstaking months to complete. As each part of the anatomy had to be carved using different materials and coloured stones. I felt very privileged being invited in to this mecca of creativity. As I knew many of these Artisans especially the seasoned masters had once worked in the restoration department at the Hermitage, were highly educated and frequently had their work on display at the Hermitage. It was another amazing experience to spend time with other Master Artisans and entrepreneurs that were thriving and loving the opportunity to express their own unique art form through the medium of gemstones.

These are extraordinary individuals who value the realm of creativity above all other professions. They are visionaries who imagine a world with more freedom. The kind of freedom that we in the west think comes naturally with the oxygen we breathe. Not so for our Friends who live near the black sea.

Til Morrow,

Art , Nature, Beauty always.

Lyle Sopel.






Art, Nature, and Beauty Always,


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