Mothers Day Gift

A Story for Mother’s Day

Back Story

My mother was born in the Soviet Union during the early years of World War II. She was the first child in a family of four children. Yuri, the eldest boy, soon followed. Then, tragedy hit, with the next two boys dying several days after birth. It was later determined that their deaths were actually murders, perpetrated by two nurses, that were Nazi sympathizers. They poisoned many baby boys, in order to stop any future soldiers from being born. Several years after that turbulent time,  a set of children was born, Valenteen and Natalie.

Later, during the early ’90s, we were able to immigrate to the USA, to start a new life. During the days leading up to our departure, my mother was very depressed. The idea of leaving her entire family and culture behind, to move to a foreign land, was very traumatic.  She knew this was forever, and so, taking as many memories of her life and family was very important. The technology was limited during those years, the Internet was in its infancy, so photographs were the only things that people could count on. We packed as many photographs of our family as we could, but unfortunately, most of them were lost in the move, as the transport of personal items from the former USSR to the USA was notoriously unreliable. In the end, the only photograph that survived were the ones we carried with us.

Years passed, and my mother got used to life in America.  She was thankful that there were opportunities for our family.  She wasn’t one to look for handouts; our whole family went to work several weeks after entering the country.  She was also very grateful that she could help her family in Ukraine, which by this time, were living in very difficult economic times. The USSR no longer existed and the previous Republics now had their own governments, their own currencies, and their own economic problems.

My mother cherished and loved her siblings, with all her heart. All her brothers, sadly, died in their earlier sixties, even though they were much younger than she was.  This was a terrible blow to her and would affect her for many years to come.

Several years ago, my mother got back to her apartment and found her front door broken, the apartment robbed. All of the jewelry that I have made for her was gone, but the part that was the most devastating was the fact that her wallet, which contained a valuable photo of her and her brother, when they were small children, was gone. She treasured this photo for 70 years. It was one of her most prized possessions.

An Idea

My mother’s most prized possession is now gone, what next? ……. I had an idea. 

I had a feeling that my husband had a digital copy of the stolen photograph from a previous project we worked on. So we started searching for the photo and only after several years of browsing online archives and disks, we found the photograph. I decided not to tell my mother, but instead create something special for her birthday. I planned on surprising her with a number of special gifts certain to make her cry tears of joy.  

As you can imagine, the original photo was in bad shape. After 70 years of exposure, it was ripped and faded, at least 20% of it was gone. So I started searching for professional help.  For months, I searched until I stumbled upon a woman living in Russia.  I happened to see her work on a website I followed and was very impressed.  I contacted her and was able to have her restore the photo to a remarkably clear state.  Also, there were some other sources of photographs I could now use. With the advanced state of the Internet and photo digitization, photo sharing was much easier. Suddenly, images that were still in Ukraine, with my aunt and cousins, were in reach. I asked my cousin to scan a photo album that my uncle created as a gift for my grandparents, to celebrate their 50th year anniversary in 1989. This album had the whole family tree, a true find.  I had my cousin scan the album and had the woman from Russia restore it.  Now I had a family album and a restored copy of an old photograph, but I wanted to make my gifts very special, something that would really last and remind my mother of her family.    

Restored Memories

As part of my jewelry collections, I work with Russian artists in the world-famous village of Fedoskino, where the art of hand-painted items is world-renowned.  My first thought was to make a hand-painted brooch from my restored photo, but I quickly realized that there was no way of knowing how it would turn out.  My second thought was to explore a hand-painted lacquer box. There are many Russian masters that make these exquisite art pieces, but this proved to be too complex, and after some thought, I decided on creating a cameo.  Having contacts and experience in designing and creating jewelry, I felt that this was a great option.  I have access to masters in a small town at the base of Naples, Tore Delgreco, which is renowned for Italian Cameos.  For those that aren’t aware, cameos are engravings and carvings on seashells. After months of searching through my supplier lists, social media, and various internet sources, I found the perfect artist by the name of Antonio Guarracino. At that point, we had little time. It was close to the end of the year, and I needed time to get the cameo, inspect it, and get it to my jeweler, to place it in a setting I was designing.  The Italian artist finished the Cameo and sent it to me in several weeks. 

Now it was time to finalize the design. We went through many different ideas for how the setting would look.  I also sought input from my childhood friend Yelena Shmolovsky.  She’s a wonderful artist and had a lot of great ideas.  More importantly, she was able to sketch some of our ideas very quickly.  I wanted the setting to be ornate and spectacular, without taking attention away from the actual cameo it adorned. 

Finding the right combination of gemstones based on color, shape, and texture, was a complex process, but thanks to some conversations with another cameo artist I worked with,  we were able to find the right combination of style and sophistication.  I met a man on one of my trips to Hong Kong, during one of the jewelry shows. He’s a very experienced jeweler who specializes in cameos. His advice, in order to keep the attention on the cameo, the stones, and the setting would need to blend in with the gold framing. I chose yellow sapphires, due to their gold tones and luster.  This created a subtle transition while adding sparkle to the piece. This was the final step in finishing this expression of my love for my mother.  All I needed to do now, was bring it all together and make a necklace for the cameo.


A Wonderful Memory

I received the cameo by mail, just a day before my mother's birthday. Talk about deadlines! I took all day and most of the night, to finish the necklace for the cameo, but I finished it in time to present it to her, on that memorable day.  My first gift was a wooden photo plaque, with the restored image of her and her brother, at a very young age.  She was shocked.  In her mind, this image was lost, when she was robbed, a few years earlier.  She began to cry, overwhelmed by emotion. After taking a while to calm down, we presented her with the new album, we restored.  We recreated the album as a hardcover photo book.  This brought on another wave of tearful emotions.  She couldn’t believe all the images we were able to bring together.  As a final gift, I presented the cameo.  I placed it in a nice jewelry box for her and she kept staring at it.  At this point, she was no longer crying because she was mesmerized by how intricate, detailed, and beautiful the cameo had turned out.

My mom suffered many tragedies throughout her life. By this time, she was the only sibling that remained.  Both her parents and her brothers passed. And, very recently, her younger sister, Natalie, had suffered from Alzheimer's and passed as well. Through it all, my mother learned to live life to its fullest and to cherish family.

Mother's Day is a time to reflect upon the importance mothers play in our lives. They give us a sense of self and help us be the best we can. The gifts I gave her meant a lot to both of us. For me, it was a piece of history that was lost but later found and preserved in such a beautiful form. For my mother, it was a thoughtful gesture from her daughter and proved that all her effort wasn’t in vain.  I can’t begin to describe how satisfied I felt, for helping her hold on to her family memories.

Happy Mothers Day Mom. Thank you for helping me through thick and thin and guiding me to be who I am today.