Like many of his countrymen, Andrei came to the Unites States from Russia seeking a new life after the fall of the communist regime. Perestroika, you see, was a double-edged sword. While the citizens of the United States saw it as a step forward for democracy, the citizens of the former Soviet Union were thrust into a life where everything known to them had collapsed. Imagine seeing your job and job prospects disappear, public services not functioning, little food available, and no government assistance to bridge the gap. It could certainly leave one with a sense of hopelessness. If there is anything that the United States stands for, it is hope, and when an opportunity arose to come here, Andrei took it. He arrived in this country in January of 1993, with his wife and son following ten months later.
Andrei’s four years of formal training in woodworking and art began after he had completed the 8th grade in Leningrad. At that point, each student had to select a career path and either enter a professional school, which in effect would begin his apprenticeship, or go on to high school. After finishing his mandatory military service, he worked in his trade making high-quality, built-in interior furniture, conference tables, libraries; wood paneled walls, etc. When he arrived in this country, he found work restoring antiques, then moved on to high-end custom interior shops. Although he found the work rewarding, he was disappointed on several occasions by the inability of the business owners to properly manage their businesses.
Andrei’s ultimate desire had always been to start his own business, which is exactly what he did. After living in the New York/ New Jersey metropolitan area for a number of years, he and his wife Natalia and sons Stefan and Alexander moved to Palm Coast, Florida, where he opened Avrora Inc. it is a custom shop that can provide anything from a table to custom-made components for the high-end interior trade. His objective is to be able to do everything himself so that he does not have to train new employees and deal with payroll and benefits. He keeps this in mind when making his machinery purchases and when designing his shop layout.
As interesting as Andrei’s shop is, it wasn’t a shop tour that prompted us to visit him, but rather his talent with marquetry. His knowledge of marquetry was not learning in school. Instead, he learned it the hard way, through lots of study and practice. As much as he loves it, he does not incorporate it into his commercial work because it simply does not pay for him to do so.
This was Andrei’s first marquetry project which he began while attending school. The 25” x 35” piece was indeed a challenge and especially for a beginning project. Titled “Three Bogatyrs” or three knights, it depicts three heroes of many Russian legends, Ilya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich, and Aliosha Papovich. These men are known as the “Three Heroes,” and each has his own legends. They defended their land and the poor, and they fought the enemies of Russia.
Andre designed the pattern based on this copy of a photograph (shown shown left bottom) taken from the original painting by Victor Vasnetsov in 19898, which depicted the three men together, guarding the Russian Borders. Andrei was unhappy with his first version of the project, so he destroyed it and started over.
Andrei’s deep appreciation for art and nature forms the basis for most of his inspiration. He spends countless hours researching, whether it is at home with his collection of books, at the local library, or on the internet, to develop his ideas before even starting to make a pattern. That way, he has thorough knowledge of the subject and how it should look. Once his inspiration is directed, he creates the pattern. It is not until that point that Andrei takes up the knife.
You may question why Andrei’s designs are so complex. In response, he says it is because he will only work on “challenges.” As he says, “Why waste time on work of lesser quality?” When you consider that he may spend two months on one shell in a design, you can understand why he will never sell his marquetry commercially, but his skills are essential in restoration work.
This is a 43″. Dia tabletop that took two years to complete and was inspired by 18th-century Florentine stone mosaic.
Photographs in John Cody’s book, Wing of Paradise, inspired the patterns for these moths. Each took about three months to complete. Pictured on the left and center is a Malaysian Moon Moth, which measures 19″ x 20″. Pictured on the right is an African Emperor Moth, which measures 18″ x 20-3/4″.
Andrei made this jewelry box for his wife. It measures 9″ x 15″ x 3-3/4″.
Andrei’s tools are basic. Although he owns a scroll saw, he prefers to use a knife for a cutting. He ground this one from a blank that he ordered from a catalog years ago and then made the handle. He cuts on a self-healing mat instead of plywood because the plywood will cause the blade to follow the grain, not the line.
One key element to successful marquetry is, of course, having a good selection of wood on hand. There is no end to the species, grain patterns, and colors needed. Luckily, veneer is much cheaper than large boards.
The goal when cutting pieces for marquetry is to follow a fine line through a lot of twists and turns while keeping a very sharp edge.
You don’t want to cut the piece out completely on the first pass. Rather, score the mark with the knife, then remove the pattern and finish cutting the piece out. It may take a number of passes before you cut all the way through the veneer. If you hurry and press too hard, you will split the piece and probably veneer around it.
Once the piece is cut free, place it in position using the smooth end of the knife handle.
Andrei also uses the fine point to pick up very tiny pieces without splitting them.
To assemble the marquetry, use strong, thin tape to hold the pieces together, and use glue designed for marquetry, not regular carpenters glue. He prefers using a hot press but understands that the average woodworker will not have one. He believes very good results can be achieved with a vacuum press. But he warns that there are many pitfalls to using one that can lead to sloppy work, and the salesman does not know or even understand some of the potential problems.
There are other tools available that make working with veneer easier. Andrei made this veneer cutter from two straight razor blades and uses it to cut thin strips of veneer that are used as borders and accents or glued up into patterns using contrasting wood.
His veneer saw is smooth on the face side and leaves no marks for trimming.
This is a commercially-available veneer trimmer that he does not recommend because there are many times that the grain runs back into the work, and the trimmer causes it to split in the wrong direction.
His final words of advice are that budding artists should learn as much as possible about the basics of marquetry before starting a project. Do not attempt it after just reading a book or an article about it. Learn the basics, and gain a good understanding of wood and its limitations for the intended use.