You are here

The Lighthouse of My Life

Even now I can hardly explain why I paid so much attention to that article in an old newspaper in my mother’s house. It was in 1985, when the Soviet Union still existed. A strange and unexpected disease had suddenly come upon me and was slowly taking my sight. I was in an out of the hospital every month and I had to quit my job as an architect. It seemed to me like the end of my life. I was 29 and felt emptiness inside. My soul was seeking an exit or, maybe, a new entrance at that moment.


That article was titled “The Magic World of Ex libris” and was accompanied by a few nice bookplates. I read it through twice, getting more and more excited. It’s not the way the article was written that excited me, but rather my anticipation of something great is behind the story. It was more like a powerful biological energy that speared my mind. At that time, I didn’t know much about ex libris. I knew it referred to books, and that was all. I wrote a letter to the author of the article, and a long time passed. I started to forget the simple, naïve questions I’d asked in the letter when one day, out of the blue, I got a letter in the mail from Irkutsk, Siberia. My heart pounded when I opened the envelope. A few excellent bookplates fell out, as did a nice business card and a very friendly, brief letter from the Russian artist who invited me into the great world of small miniatures. The letter was signed Oleg Besedin. I was so grateful to the journalist at the newspaper who had sent my letter on to Besedin, who lived in remote Siberia. In the letter, Besedin didn’t have much to say about how to engrave bookplates. But at that point, I didn’t need the instruction, because he’d done something much more important for me. He lit a light in the darkness that surrounded me in those years.

My first engraved bookplates were far from excellent. I was lucky to find a set of engraving tools that no one in my city knew how to use. I engraved on plain Plexiglas — good enough for me at the time. And I always sent my bookplates to Oleg ask his opinion. The answer was always: “Great, Serik! Keep going!” And each time he sent me perfect miniatures that he had made, and they inspired me so much.

In those years, I was in the hospital about once a month for treatment of my eye disease. It was a hard time for me. But I was quite calm and happy that I had something at home waiting for me: an unfinished bookplate, and letters from many new ex libris collectors and designers who became my good friends over the years.

Again, that was thanks to Besedin, who often gave my name and address to his ex libris friends from many countries. So that was the beginning. Not bad one, I might say. The first year I started making ex libris I even had some worldly success – second place prizes in competitions in Poland and England.

Engraving bookplates became something that excited my soul. The art of ex libris gave me real, warm communication with many interesting people from all over the world. Mostly they were collectors and owners of large private libraries. They were a peculiar sort of generous, intelligent, and often very energetic individuals. A small piece of paper with an engraved image on it contained incredible energy and transmitted that energy through its power of beauty to bookplate lovers.

We exchanged bookplates amongst each other, looking for real masterpieces by some unique engravers like Albin Brunowsky from the Czech Republic, Lembit Lohmus from Estonia, and Michael Werholantsev from Russia.

Between1985 and 1993, when I had to stop engraving altogether because my eyesight was so weak, I was able to produce about 250 bookplates, some of which were published in books and art magazines. In Astana, Kazakhstan, where I lived before immigrating to the United States, I often made shows of ex libris from my own collection. I could see how the audience was impressed, struck by seeing original works full of the warmth of the artist’s hearts and the energy of their incredible minds. I am really proud that I was able to give many people the opportunity to contemplate and enjoy the big world of tiny miniatures.

Those years I devoted to the art of ex libris were my own school of small graphic art — they were, you might say, my Harvard and my Yale. I’ve been more than lucky to find myself in the USA, where nearly everyone has the opportunity to develop his or her skill and talent. After being operated at Mayo Clinic in October 2000, I feel that I am at last able to begin engraving new bookplates. My eyes are, at least, not worse than they were before, and thanks to some powerful visual aids supplied to me by the State Services for the Blind, —. I hope to be back to making ex libris very soon.


Ex Libris Chronicle
Director: James P. Keenan