Some 20 years ago, Russia-born Veronika Braslavsky was driven by her pursuit of freedom to leave St. Petersburg and start a new life in the United States where she could spread her wings as an artist.
While a student at Russia’s Muhina State College of Industrial Arts, from which she graduated in the late ’70s, Braslavsky designed a bottle and its packaging as a requirement for her undergraduate work. Her designs were purchased by one of Russia’s major perfume manufacturing companies, Northern Lights, and used for a perfume sold in Italy.
Braslavsky was later hired by the company as a graphic designer , creating promotional materials — books, brochures, posters and magazine covers. More graphic designing jobs would follow before she decided to leave Russia and settle in Oak Park.
“I came here because of a lot of reasons, including political reasons. I was looking for freedom,” says Braslavsky. “I’m an artist, and I would want to be free like an artist and not do what other people tell me to do. I never went back. All my family is here.”
Today she works as a fiber artist, specializing in designing garments made of felt. Braslavsky’s collection includes unstructured, free-flowing pieces that are lightweight, washable and wrinkle-free, making them perfect for travel. Prices range from $200 for a scarf to $750 for a long dress.
Her work can be found at art shows locally and across the country. In May , Braslavsky won first place at this year’s Art Birmingham, competing with nearly 200 local and out-of-state artists.
“I think her creativity as far as composition of colors and the way she uses the material is very unique,” says Annie VanGelderen, president and CEO of the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, which sponsored the annual juried art fair. “She really understands a woman’s body and knows how to flatter it by playing with the fabric.”
Five years after settling in Metro Detroit, Braslavsky started a sweater designing business, Nika Design, in her home studio. Things were fine until about two years ago when the economy took a turn for the worse.
“I was a wholesaler. I had a representative show my designs at small boutiques and stores in Michigan, but when the economy went down, most of my clients were forced to close because they didn’t have enough clients,” says the 63-year-old Bloomfield Township resident. “I was upset because so many garments were being made in China. I couldn’t compete with their labor.”
Needing to find work, Braslavsky discovered something that would change her outlook.
“Companies want young people, and I was over-qualified, so I started looking for a job online and saw products made in felt,” she says. “I started learning online how to do this (wet-felting) technique.”
(Wet-felting is a process by which felt is made with layers of wool rovings that are blended by hand with friction and soapy water.)
Once again, the textile artist found herself immersed in garment-making, despite the competition in off-shore labor.
Only this time, she created wearables using wool fabric by hand with the wet-felting technique she’d learned watching online videos.
“I sometimes infuse silk into the wool (nuno-felting),” she says.
These days, she finds herself faced with a new dilemma: controlling the amount of time she devotes to wet-felting.
“What I like about this particular technique is that I’m freeto do whatever I want to do,” she says. “When I go to bed, I want to wake up as soon as possible. I can’t stop! It’s like a sickness or madness. It gives you so many possiblities.”
Each of her designs is a one-of-a-kind, mostly worn by “people who love art.”
“My customers say I put art on their shoulders,” Braslavsky says, “and some hang them in their homes to decorate.”
Barbara Lubinski, who works as a volunteer at the Cleveland Museum of Art, met Braslavsky last April at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., where she purchased one of her nuno-felted jackets.
“I just really thought her work was exquisite,” say Lubinski of Silver Lake, Ohio. “Everybody looked good in her things, which is a sign of a true artist.”
Eleni Currie of Birmingham, the owner of three of Braslavsky’s unique pieces, met her several years ago at the Birmingham Fine Art Festival (now Art Birmingham).
“I’m a return customer,” she says. “I’ve purchased all tunics or dresses. I’ve worn them to weddings and just out in the day. I dress them up, and I dress them down. This year, I introduced her to a girlfriend of mine who lives in Detroit and purchased a piece.
“I love wearable art and that’s what she has. I really think all ages and sizes can wear her things. I’m 61 and my friend is 70.”
About the artist
Veronika Braslavsky’s designs are sold exclusively at art shows. Her schedule for the remainder of the year includes shows in Evanston, Ill. (Aug. 23-26), and Philadelphia (Nov. 8-11).