Michael Schupbach

The most salient memory I have of Lyova was visiting his studio, I think it was when we visited for several months in St. Petersburg.  I was around 10 years old and my sister was 5.

We toured his studio and he showed me some of his toy sculptures. Of the many prototypes, I recall there was a yellow plastic monkey. He showed me how it moved and where the joints were. It wasn’t long after that I saw that same design out in the city.  We still have one or two at my parent’s house in America as I recall.

I also remember, the pushmi-pulliu shown on this site and my father noting another toy of his, of a character with a propeller on his back who lived on I believe, a roof?  I remember vividly Richard describing how it worked; I believe he pressed a button on his chest to activate the propellor(?).

That visit to Lyova’s studio was my first exposure to the concept that a person, a real live person, makes the things that people enjoy. Up until then, toys were things that were just «made» and available to kids like me. I hadn’t put together the concept that an artist makes takes an idea, refines it, makes a sculpture, and commits to all the choices he thinks are right and then that thing can be enjoyed by others.

Also, Lyova was very much to me at that age, an «adult» His composure and camaraderie with my father made that clear. So the notion that making kid’s toys was suitable work for an adult seemed even more of a misnomer to me. Why would my father know the rules of how this boy flies and where he lives? This is all silly kid stuff.

I know now after years of work that the work of making «kids stuff» is anything but easy. It is very rewarding but it can be grueling, and at times unforgiving. You have to be hard on yourself to get better and even when you think you have gotten it «right» people will be critical or dismissive of the work you put in.

Even more so, if you are doing it right, you make it look easy. More often than not when I am knee-deep in a project for, essentially children, someone will ask «how hard can it be?» or «it must be fun all the time to make these things». And the fact is it is hard, and no it is not fun all the time.

But you do get to see (from time to time) someone enjoys what you made, not as a thing that came from you, but as a «toy» that was just «made» for them to enjoy. I can only assume that Lyova saw someone enjoying his work with no idea that he was the one who sculpted it and that he felt the same.

That trip was especially eye-opening as I got to see some of his more realistic sculptures. His range as an artist was truly striking. I still struggle with the human form and representing it realistically, much less with the grace and emotion that your father did.

I experienced a similar moment recently but from a different view. I was showing my nephew Daniel how to make a puppet, and his Grandfather Cal pointed out mid-process how important it is to show children how to make things; that they don’t just come from a box or a store. He believes that seeing the process of creating and executing an idea is enlightening and an important thing to expose children to. It wasn’t until I wrote this that «the penny dropped» as we say and I realized that Lyova was the one who pulled back that veil for me way back then.

When I saw Lyova last, even though he was incapacitated I left some of my drawings and asked that you thank him for the inspiration. I pass on the same sentiment to you, and say thank you for the video and the website and the walk down memory lane.

As a footnote, in writing this I remember that Lyova has his war injury and was able to do so much despite it. Not to mention the details of him growing up under such harsh conditions (as detailed in that video). I mention it now, only because it is an afterthought. He was so prolific and so talented and what happened in his past never entered into the discussion of what he was capable or my impressions of him.

What a man and what a legacy.