By John Lamb
FARGO, N.D. (Inforum) — When Norik Astvatsaturov arrived in the United States two decades ago, the Armenian refugee brought with him very little from his former life, other than his wife, daughter and son.
But what he carried in his pockets, including a hammer and a few nail punches, were enough to carve out a new life for him and make his mark in a new country.
“To come with just that hammer and a few nail punches and $200 to start a new life with a family of four in a country where they knew nobody and didn’t know the language was truly remarkable,” says Troyd Geist, state folklorist with the North Dakota Council on the Arts.
“A good repoussé artist can carry all the tools he needs in his pocket,” Astvatsaturov told Dawn Morgan, executive director of Fargo’s Spirit Room Gallery. An exhibit of the artist’s repoussé (a metalworking technique in which both the front and back sides are struck to create depth and volume) goes on display at the Spirit Room this weekend and runs through April 7.
“His work is almost sculptural in its appearance and very ornate and very detailed,” says Geist, who brought Astvatsaturov’s art to Morgan’s attention. With a $10,000 matching grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Morgan and Geist hope to share Astvatsaturov’s art and story with a broader audience.
Prairie Public Television has already produced a short documentary on the artist, and photographer Robb Siverson and designer Allen Sheets are working on a book of Astvatsaturov’s work. Morgan has a series of lectures on Armenian culture and the region’s art scheduled for early next year.