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September 28, 2021

The Creativity and Character of Artist Alex Šepkus

A
fter artist and long-time COUTURE designer, Alex Šepkus, passed away suddenly on September 5, 2021, the outpouring of mourning throughout the industry and among collectors was immediate. Alex’s work was singular. He was universally admired for his unprecedented creativity, his technical acumen and his unique ability to maintain an almost dogged adherence to his refined aesthetic.

Alex’s work was an inspiration to designers at all stages of their creative development.

In an interview with National Jeweler following Alex’s passing, Julie Von Bargen Thom, co-owner of Von Bargen’s Jewelry said, “What amazes me about him as an artist, I think it’s really difficult to be out-of-the-box and creative in a way that’s timeless. And that’s what he’s done.” In that same National Jeweler article, Jim Rosenheim of Tiny Jewel Box in Washington, D.C., stated that he’s been looking for the second coming of Alex Šepkus or, as he put it, “the next genius,” for the last 20 years. “And I don’t use that word easily,” he clarified. “I’ve been looking, looking, looking…there has not been a next Alex Šepkus. We just lost a brilliant talent.”

Alex’s work was an inspiration to designers at all stages of their creative development. Mention the name “Alex Šepkus” to a designer who is just starting out and her eyes will get wide with adulation; mention his name to a designer who is prominent in her field and she’ll sigh and bow her head in respect. For Alex to have discovered his artistic voice so organically, and to have persevered in his authenticity over the course of 40 years, all while evolving and expanding his collection and growing his business exponentially, elicits a sense of reverence.

What’s an even more notable feat is that even with all of the praise and accolades, and all of the success, Alex’s character and disposition remained steadfast. Alex Šepkus’ Managing Director, Jeff Feero, has been business partners and close friends with Alex for over 30 years. He has regaled me with stories over the years, many of which you can hear on an episode of the COUTURE podcast we recorded in the summer of 2020. Jeff was actually the first to “discover” Alex, who in 1990 was known as the “new Lithuanian guy who can fix anything,” in New York City’s diamond district. Jeff brought him in for a very tricky repair for the high-end brand, Julius Cohen, where he’d been working for over a decade, and a few days later, the piece was impeccably repaired. Alex’s nonchalance at having successfully completed the task was astonishing. He just said to Jeff, “That was fun, what’s next?”

Eventually Alex showed Jeff his personal work. Jeff was dumbfounded. He knew immediately that he needed to quit his job and join forces with this incredible artist. He gave Alex whatever precious materials he had, and the entirety of his bank account, and told him to make what he could. While the work was immediately well-received, getting a design business off the ground, as any budding designer can attest, was a herculean task. There came a time when Jeff was so broke that the utility company removed his electric meter. He went over to Alex’s home ready to throw in the towel, but Alex just responded, “Oh, you are an honorary immigrant now!” After a night of talking and drinking tequila, Jeff woke up with renewed vigor and ambition to move forward with the business.

Alex was an extremely private person, yet his intellect, curiosity and humility were widely-known and highly-regarded. Alex spoke 7 languages and could have profound discussions on a variety of topics, whether it be art, architecture, science, politics or religion. He had a dark sense of humor and an uncanny wit, both of which were celebrated at the luncheon following his funeral on September 13 in Westchester, New York. Unable to attend due to travel restrictions, one of Alex’s closest friends for many years, Stephen Webster, sent in his thoughts which Jeff read out loud to those in attendance to honor Alex’s life, “The wonderful thing about jewelry is longevity; Alex’s jewelry legacy will be around forever. Then there was the humor. There must have been a fair amount of space in that large head dedicated to humor. He was one of the funniest people I knew. In England, we refer to Alex’s humor as ‘dry,’ I prefer to refer to it as just bloody funny…Today we all share a huge vacuum left by the passing of Alex and everything that came with Alex; it was a lot.”

In eulogizing Alex, Jeff talked about how inseparable Alex and his wife, Dange were, stating, “There was no Alex without Dange. She is the counter weight to Alex’s intellectual being. She is empathetic, psychic, and intuitive, which often saved Alex from himself.” Dange acted as the litmus test for any new hire at the company. She would talk to a potential employee for a while, and then call the office and say yes or no. Guided by her intuition, the company now has a staff of 20, many of whom have been with the company for years. Alex always claimed that the 15 expertly trained jewelers in the shop could fabricate his jewelry even better than he himself could; he would reveal a piece’s formula, and they would perfect the techniques. This absence of ego is remarkable and was further testament to Alex’s uncompromising character.

With a large archive of designs, those 15 jewelers and the passionate staff who run the business are committed to carrying on Alex’s legacy. Jeff has often relayed to me that Alex had a profound belief that he could conjure up the things he needed in life, “So if I didn’t show up, somebody else would have showed up because he’s a force of nature that would attract someone else. I’m sure of it,” Jeff once told me. May we all be comforted by the belief that Alex is continuing to conjure the things he needs, which undoubtedly includes the ongoing passion, love and dedication that his family, friends, collectors and his amazing team embody. As Jeff continues to profess, “The best way we can honor Alex is to carry on.”

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