National Heritage Fellow and Armenian-American repoussé metal artist Norik Astvatsaturov passed away on December 30 in Wahpeton, North Dakota. He was 76.
The National Endowment for the Arts, who in 2017 named Astvatsaturov a National Heritage Fellow, released a statement on Tuesday mourning his loss.
“It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the passing of Norik Astvatsaturov, recipient of a 2017 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts,” read the NEA statement.
Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in his early life Astvatsaturov apprenticed Gago, an Armenian repoussé metal artist who taught him traditional techniques. He supported his family in Baku for more than a decade by working in metal repoussé.
Astvatsaturov created elaborate works of art—intricate jewelry boxes, crosses, and Bible covers—using only a hammer and nail punches. He worked with various stones, including amethyst, turquoise, and topaz.
Although Astvatsaturov’s artwork often reflected his Armenian heritage, he worked carefully to avoid detection for fear of government persecution.
Astvatsaturov fled Baku in 1992 and found refuge with his family in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where he worked as a machinist. He continued to create traditional works of art for diasporan Armenians with the hammer and nail punches he had managed to save when he fled from his home in Azerbaijan.
“In the United States, Astvatsaturov shared his traditional art and its message regionally and nationally through teaching, workshops, folk festivals, and exhibitions,” added the NEA statement.