Konovalenko: Stories in Stone

A Soviet gem sculptor and American immigrant creates inspired works of art that are a celebration of the richness of Russian and Ukrainian culture and a testament to the ingenuity and resilience of the human spirit. 

The first feature-length documentary about the life and art of Vasily Konovalenko (1929-1989), this film will expose audiences to multiple facets of Russian, Ukrainian and Soviet history, literature, fine art, folk art and popular culture, providing insights into Russia past and present. 

Konovalenko: Stories in Stone is a fiscally sponsored project of the International Documentary Association (IDA), 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization. Contributions in support of Konovalenko: Stories in Stone are payable to IDA and are tax deductible as allowed by law.

Vasily Konovalenko . Photo courtesy of Anna Konovalenko.

Vasily Konovalenko. Photo courtesy of Anna Konovalenko.


Vasily Konovalenko (1929-1989) created movement out of some of the earth’s hardest substances, just as he carved out a creative life under challenging conditions. His is a story of ingenuity, bravery, resourcefulness, and unfaltering dedication to his art. It is at once culturally specific and universally compelling. Through his story, the film will reflect on Soviet and Cold War history, the experience of the Soviet emigre to the United States, and the role of the artist in society.

Konovalenko helped revive and refashion Russia’s centuries-old gem sculpting tradition, disrupted by the Russian Revolution of 1917. His  sculptures reference the writings of Alexander Pushkin, Sergey Mikhalkov, Pavel Bazhov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, etc. The film will delve into the characters (Bogatyrs, Cossacks, Old Believers, Imperial secret police, Gypsies, Peasants, Boyars, etc.) and customs (courtship and hospitality rituals, banya massages, ice fishing, mushroom picking, tea drinking, wool spinning, etc.) he depicted. 

For over a decade, Vasily Konovalenko served as a stage and costume designer at the Kirov (Mariinsky) Theater in Leningrad, working on such productions as; Swan Lake, Aida, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, and La Traviata. It was the 1957 production of Prokofiev's final ballet, 'The Stone Flower', about a young stone cutter named Danila, that would start Konovalenko on a new path that would become a life-long obsession. Like Danila, Konovalenko was smitten by the proverbial ‘Mistress of Copper Mountain' and devoted himself to stone sculpting thereafter. 

Konovalenko: Stories in Stone is the first feature-length documentary about the life, art and times of Ukrainian-Russian gem sculptor, Vasily Konovalenko. Tracing Russian/Soviet/Cold-War history through one man’s story, the film will provide viewers with a better understanding of the fabric of the Russian national identity and worldview. It will provide a service to Konovalenko’s artistic legacy, enhancing audience’s understanding of the artist’s life as well as providing background and subtext to references in his sculptures. It will greatly expand the awareness of, interest in and accessibility to his work. The film will give Russian and Ukrainian viewers a sense of pride in having these lesser known aspects of their culture recognized and appreciated by foreign audiences. 

In the Sultry Afternoon II  by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver Museum of Nature & Science

In the Sultry Afternoon II by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver Museum of Nature & Science

The film will explore:

  • The life experiences, cultural and literary grounding and artistic influences that shaped Vasily Konovalenko’s aesthetic sensibility and informed his subject matter.

  • The artistic tradition and historical context in which Konovalenko fits.

  • How Soviet society both informed and restricted his creative production.

  • Konovalenko’s experience of exile, encounter with capitalism and feelings of nostalgia, as an immigrant to the United States.

  • The efforts of those who champion his work to secure his legacy.

Hunter on the Mark  by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Hunter on the Mark by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Film Components

  • Interviews with American and Russian experts (art historians, professors of literature and folklore, museum directors and curators, geologists) and relevant family and associates

  • Footage of gem-carving process

  • Footage of various sculptures, original documents and sketches by Vasily Konovalenko

  • Soviet archival material (documentary footage, cartoons, ballets, photo, audio)

  • Excerpts and musical themes from Prokofiev's The Stone Flower ballet as well as music from Russian folk revivalist groups

  • Narration by Corey Flintoff, Voice-over re-enactments

  • Original music compositions based on Russian and Ukrainian folk songs

  • Original animation

Ice Fisherman  by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver Museum of Nature & Science

Ice Fisherman by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver Museum of Nature & Science


Film Style

Stylistically, the film will reflect the colorful, lyrical, detailed, and nuanced quality of Konovalenko’s work. To explore the references in his work, the documentary will include:


Meet the Team


Director: Erika Volchan O'Conor

Volchan O’Conor is an award-winning documentary filmmaker based in Boulder, Colorado. Her documentary, 'Pioneers', about early Colorado women artists and activists recently won 'Best Colorado Documentary' at Denver's DocuWest Film Festival. Three films she previously edited are distributed by the Museum of Modern Art, New York's Circulating Film Library.

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Associate Producer: Stephen Nash

Dr. Nash is the leading American expert on the work of Vasily Konovalenko. His 2016 book, Stories in Stone: The Enchanted Gem Carvings of Vasily Konovalenko is the most comprehensive English-language publication on the artist’s life and work. Nash serves as Department Chair & Curator of Archaeology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The DMNS exhibits the only public display of Konovalenko's work in the US.


Narrator: Corey Flintoff

Recently retired, Flintoff was a radio journalist for nearly 40 years. He covered the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, the earthquake in Haiti, the revolution in Egypt and the revolution and civil war in Libya. He most recently served as NPR’s correspondent in Moscow for four years, reporting on the growing authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.


Composer: John McDonald

Boston-based, McDonald has earned international acclaim as a composer and pianist. His compositions have been performed on four continents, and his work is frequently featured in the U.S.A. by such ensembles as Alea III, Arden Quartet, Boston Composers String Quartet, Hartt Contemporary Players, Marimolin, Rivers Trio, A Far Cry, and Duo 101. His recordings appear on the Albany, Archetype, Boston, Bridge, Neuma, New Ariel, Arsis, and New World labels. 


Cinematographer: Dawn Suhyun Shim

Shim works as a cinematographer on narrative films, documentaries and commercials in Los Angeles. She graduated from the American Film Institute with a Master’s degree in cinematography in 2014. Her commercial clients include; The Nature Conservancy, Buzzfeed, Red Bull, Gillette, Purina, Hot Pockets, Verizon Go90, Unilever, and Time Warner Cable, among others. 


Behind the Scenes

Danila  by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver. Museum of Nature & Science

Danila by Vasily Konovalenko. Photo © Denver. Museum of Nature & Science


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