Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

September 14-20, 2006

Arts : Artspicks

Carving a Niche


Photo By: Michael T. Regan

"Everyone appreciates learning from the best, especially from the beginning," says Leonid Zakurdayev. "That way, the future is without a boundary." A master woodcarver and furniture restorer, he's allowed to say stuff like that. In fact, he's so good, his visa cites a rare allowance for "extraordinary ability" in craft. His wife, Svetlana, who does all his finishing, has an M.A. in cultural studies from the Institute of Culture in Perm, as well as a certificate in interior design from the Moscow School of Design. These days the Zakurdayevs host carving classes at their Northeast Philly studio. "Enthusiasm carries us through a three-day class," Leonid says. "There's an atmosphere of mutual enjoyment as we discover the depth of our craft together with our students. It's such a pleasurable pursuit, everyone is reluctant to leave."

Working together since 1986, the Zakurdayevs have restored and reproduced ornately carved, uniquely styled, government-commissioned architectural pieces like fireplace mantles and altars for their native country. They've also worked for personnel from foreign embassies in Moscow. "As artists, the main objective of the original design is to bring to life the abstract ideas and concepts of the client," Leonid says. "Really, we've always used their creative imaginations and expertise."

After achieving widespread acclaim in Russia, they came to the United States in 1999. Within months, the Zakurdayevs placed first at the 33rd annual International Wood Carvers Congress Exhibition in Iowa. Later that year, they won the annual Northern Woods Exhibition of Fine Woodworking in Minneapolis, Minn. Today their stylistic range spans Gothic and baroque to rococo and art nouveau. They carve frames for mirrors and clocks, make furniture and specialize in bas-relief carvings. And for each, Leonid carves, Svetlana finishes. "Leon and I [have personalities that] merge together like one of our fine carvings," she says.

Intermediate class, Fri.-Sun., Sept. 15-17, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; advanced class, Sept. 29-Oct. 1, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., beginner's class, Dec. 8-10, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., $425, Zakurdayev School of Fine Woodcarving, 8410 Bustleton Ave., 215-673-6773,

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