Linda Bruck said she still remembers the amazement she felt this past January when she and her husband, Larry, first entered the home of Adolf and Saida Yevdoksyuk. The Newtown couple had come to the Yevdoksyuk's Northeast Philadelphia home to deliver a package of food sent by the Jewish Relief Agency. The couple was so grateful, they invited the Brucks in.
Bruck recalled her feelings of wonder at what she saw when she stepped inside. Covering the walls of the living room were dozens of woodcarvings depicting various people and places — many well-known — and on the bookcase to her left sat several wooden sculptures.
That's when Bruck and her husband were informed that these pieces of art were carved by Adolf, 72, as a hobby he picked up nine years ago, only a year-and-a-half after he and his wife moved to the United States from Ukraine. He taught himself how to use woodcarving tools and now spends his days chipping away in a cramped, converted bedroom closet that has become his workshop.
"We were blown away," recalled Bruck of her initial reaction, as she recently sat in the home of her new friends. "This man is so talented. The detail is incredible. He does beautiful work."
Adolf had no previous experience at woodcarving, relayed Saida Yevdoksyuk, 67, who translated for her husband since he's picked up only a smattering of English since arriving here. Back in Ukraine, she said, he had been a military officer, working as a radio communications operator.
On one wall of the living room are images of famous people of the 20th century: Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa, Princess Diana, Albert Einstein and Pope John Paul II. The carver said that he simply saw their pictures in magazines and decided to capture their likenesses in wood. Each piece has a quote or comment about the particular person carved into the back of it.
He excitedly held out an article from Chip Chats, a magazine associated with the National Wood Carvers Association, which mentioned that the Mother Teresa piece had won a purple ribbon in a local Abington contest, intermediate-level, several years ago.
Yevdoksyuk has also carved several reliefs and sculptures of his family — his wife, children and grandchildren, even their pet cat.
But the pieces he said are the most special are those that attempt to capture emotions: sadness, sorrow, pain, suffering, tears, but also happiness. They are depictions of scenes from World War II and the Holocaust, ranging from concentration-camp horrors to the joy of liberation.
Little information about Judaism and the Holocaust were available to the couple back in Ukraine. But after moving to Philadelphia, the Jewish carver read about religious life and history from Russian newspapers and books. Saida said it triggered a desire in him to capture personal experiences of the devastation from that era.
In one particular relief, Yevdoksyuk has carved the image of children in a ghetto. Nazi soldiers are visible in the background, as is a barbed-wire fence. The children have "Jewish faces," as Saida described them, and are dressed in the style of the time, with a girl's hair in braids.
The setting for another piece, Damnation, is the account of the Jewish town of Mozyr, in Belarus, where hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Jews were drowned in the Pripyat River by the Nazis. Saida explained that Adolf learned about that tragedy from accounts he had read and from discussions with others from Eastern Europe.
In another work, Yevdoksyuk has captured a woman writing a letter to her son from behind the ghetto walls; it is her last letter to him, she writes in Russian on the relief, before she is to die.
Night Escape depicts a man and his family breaking out of a ghetto. Still another relief was done to honor the memory of those who go off to war and don't come back, explained Saida.
As for obtaining the wood, Saida said Adolf gets it from lumber yards and places like Home Depot. A modest piece of maple, mahogany or birch costs less than $10; bigger ones are priced a bit more.
She noted that, although her husband has received recognition for his art — and not just for the Mother Teresa piece, but for more than a dozen items in local woodcarving shows over the past few years — his dream is to have his Holocaust-themed reliefs placed in a museum, so that "people don't forget the Holocaust."
Until that time, the living room will have to suffice. "It's like a museum of art in their house," asserted Bruck. "His work should be seen."