Tsivchinskiy, Nikolai Vladimirovich
Nikolai Vladimirovich Tsivchinskiy was born December 13, 1905 in St. Petersburg. He graduated in 1927 from the Mezhigor Art and Ceramics Institute in Ukraine (Ukraine Technical Institute of Ceramics and Glass), and would soon after marry a circus worker named Olga Leonidovna Barova. From 1936-1937, he led the production of tapestries at the Kiev Experimental Studio, and in 1937, because of difficulties related to Stalin’s repressions, he moved to Almaty, where he soon had a son Aleksandr and set up the country’s first tapestry studio at the Kovroschitsa Artel, later renamed the Alma-Ata Carpet Factory (Almaty Kilem today). It was some time in these first years in Almaty that Tsivchinskiy created his first known monumental work, the large bas-relief frieze atop the Abai Theater of Opera and Ballet.
On March 13, 1942 Tsivchinskiy was sent to the front, ending up in Stalingrad as a mortar operator. On September 18 of that year he seriously injured his leg, and while being treated in the Russian city of Nizhny-Novgorod, he painted the auditorium of the House of Officers and worked as a caraciturist for a military newspaper. In April of 1945 he returned to Alma-Ata.
Some time around 1957, Tsivchinskiy returned to monumental art, creating what might be Kazakhstan’s earliest mosaic at the Palace of Metallurgists in Oskemen. In these early years, he also completed mosaics at the Builders’ Palace of Culture in Balkash, the Drama Theater (1961) and Dzhasy-bai Cafe (1962) in Pavlodar.
His earliest mosaics in Almaty, created for a series of dining establishments, have since been lost: a mosaic in a cafe variously cited as Tulpan or Sholpan (1961), mosaics titled “Kokpar” and “Koblandy” at the Alma-Ata Restaurant (1960-63) and at the cafe Ainabulak (1964). The artist’s earliest surviving work is the prominent mosaic “Yenglik-Kebek” at the Hotel Almaty, made in collaboration with Moldakhmet Kenbaev (the pair made a mosaic and a sgraffito at the hotel that have since been lost). Given that six of the eight works Tsivchinskiy made from 1961-66 were made in cafes or restaurants, it seems possible that the artist may have established a working relationship with officials at the state food ministry.
After first working with the younger artist Kenbaev at the cafe Ainabulak, the two would be frequent collaborators. Many have speculated that because of the racial politics of the time, it was easier for Tsivchinskiy to get work while paired with an ethnic Kazakh, and Kenbaev, an oil painter by training, benefited by developing his ideas with a trained monumentalist. Tsivchinskiy and Kenbaev would go on to work together on mosaics at ZhenPI, Cafe Karlygash, the Wedding Palace and the store Kazakhstan. This last mosaic is now one of the artists’ most prominent, having been saved from destruction at its original location and reinstalled at the popular tourist viewpoint on Kök-Töbe.
One more milestone is worth mentioning. Tsivchinskiy was a pioneer not just in tapestries and mosaics, but also in stained glass. His 1966 work at the former “House of Models,” though not a proper stained glass because of its use of painted glass, is the earliest known figurative stained glass in Kazakhstan.
Tsivchinskiy would be active throughout the early 70s, but completed fewer works as a younger cohort of monumental artists from institutes in Leningrad and Moscow gained prominence. He died February 24, 1985.