All That Glitters
A visit to the fairy-tale workspace of master gilder Carol Leskanic
Artfully arranged objects on a central worktable are glittering invitations to admire.
Photos by Adam Lerner
Imagine stepping into the pages of an illuminated manuscript co-authored by William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement and Bauhaus modernists, simple forms in precious metal softly glowing. This clean white space is a Minimalist’s dream, yet it is flecked with gold, like the opulent dome of a Renaissance cathedral. Filled with blinding white sunlight, and bathed in the sounds of the burbling Bantam River, this art studio is, in Carol Leskanic’s words, a “magic space.”
Visitors enter into the center of a common area surrounded by smaller work spaces. In the center sits a large, single table adorned with small objects. Like a child on her first visit to an art museum, I resist an overwhelming urge to touch everything. I see bowls, tiny blocks of wood, bird skulls, antlers, eggs, and textured canvases all glowing with differently burnished surfaces, some silvery white gold, some warm yellow gold, others the pure white of smooth gesso primer.
Leafing and wet gilding are among the techniques Leskanic will use to transform objects found, created, or sent to her by private clients. She works mostly by commission and to the trade, and is represented by the New York based design firm Aero Studios. Her work occasionally appears at local retailers and galleries. In addition to objects d’art and housewares, she creates panel paintings and jewelry. The jewelry is a collection of gilded wooden pendants. At once delicate and bold, these surprisingly light, geometrically shaped blocks look like solid gold hanging on impossibly delicate cotton thread.
Her path to becoming a gilder is as unique as the work itself. She began with studies in fashion at FIT, working as a model after school, while studying art history and restoration at NYU. She then finished an apprenticeship as head gilder with a framing and restoration studio in Tribeca while also making art in her DUMBO studio. She had begun a Master’s in Asian art and aesthetics at Columbia when she became pregnant with her first daughter. Academic pursuits were tabled in favor of simplifying, and she found herself starting to use her gilding materials in her artwork. Following the path from working in restoration, to working with artists and designers, and also for herself, now she says, “The work’s a big mix. Whatever I do, I find a way to keep it very modern and contemporary.”
Paradoxically, after over 12 years of practice, Leskanic has managed to eschew the usual technological trappings—she does not have a website and only recently opened an account on instagram (@carolleskanic). Setting aside technology leaves room for a technique from bygone eras: powerfully elemental, even spiritual, and quite literally transformative.
When I ask if she would ever choose to work in other materials, she says, “The answer is Yes! I became a gilder because I became a gilder—before gold, I worked with fabric. I just make things.” Yet as I look around, these golden things she creates could be made of nothing else; like the set of six eggs she has recently gilded for a client who asked her to create a golden egg for each member of the client’s family. These things have come straight from fairy tales. They are both understated and unreal, rare like the precious metal upon their surface. The artist’s deft hand and keen eye, and mastery of her craft would make William Morris proud, yet the work is more art than craft, about beauty and very little to do with utility. In this dreamlike studio, the gulf is closing between contemporary craft and contemporary art, one gold leaf at a time.