Dream Team:

A Collaborative Effort Brings an Acclaimed Muralist to Omaha 

Ivo Koytchev works on the Scottish Rite Masonic Center mural
project with Sandra Lassley's assistance
. Reprinted with permission from The Omaha World-Herald
as granted to Sandra Lassley.

By Diane Capuano Franklin

Collaboration. What a powerful word. And it’s certainly one of the strengths of the decorative arts industry. Collaborative efforts bring together two or more artists, allowing them to combine their strengths and their talents to produce some truly amazing results in time frames that would be next-to-impossible if a single artist tackled the project alone. 

Take this perfect example of collaboration involving Omaha, Neb., faux artist Sandra Lassley, known fondly to many in the industry as Sass, and Washington, D.C.-based muralist Ivo Koytchev. Sass and Ivo, who have known each other for about six or seven years, first teamed up in October 2014 to paint a gold-leaf ceiling for the Scottish Rite Masonic Center in Omaha. Ivo only had a week in his schedule to complete the project. “It took seven days working from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.,” Ivo reports.

The seed for another collaborative effort was planted during that original project. “We did the gold-leaf ceiling, and we noticed a ‘dead spot’ on the exterior of the building,” recalls Sass. Sass and her contact with the Scottish Rite agreed that it would be the perfect place for an outdoor mural. “It took about a year of convincing, but the Scottish Rite Board of Directors approved the project.”

The completed mural with landscaping by S&N Landscape Design Inc. Path
lighting will go where the flags are positioned.

Calling on Ivo

Sass, who owns Fe Fi Faux Studios, immediately thought: Who better to paint the mural than her good friend Ivo? The Bulgarian-born muralist is a true and amazing talent. He studied and earned his MFA at the National Academy of Arts in the Bulgarian capital city of Sofia. He came to the United States in 1997 and eventually opened Ivo Koytchev Studios Inc. in Falls Church, Va., just outside of Washington, D.C. “The main reason I came to the U.S. was there was more opportunity here to do what I love,” Ivo says. 

What Ivo loves to do specifically are big-scale outdoor murals. The opportunities for those types of projects abound in our nation’s capital. One of Ivo’s most high-profile projects is an outdoor mural of Liz Taylor, which he and fellow D.C. muralist G. Byron Peck painted at the Dacha Beer Garden at 7th and Q Street NW. This three-story mural extended 40 feet high by 28 feet wide (See this and other projects at Ivo's artist portfolio page by clicking this link).  

Who says you can't paint in heels?

In addition to work in the D.C. area, Ivo also has done prominent projects in Philadelphia, throughout the state of Virginia and elsewhere. While indoor and outdoor murals are his specialties, he also does trompe l’oeil, faux finishes and portraiture. He does both residential and commercial work, but he has become quite in demand for large commercial mural projects.

What’s a Little Rain?

Thus, it was quite a coup to have such a talent travel to Omaha to create a garden-themed mural for the Scottish Rite. The space being painted was 12 feet high by 20 feet wide. The composition would include a garden with classical embellishments such as a statue and ionic columns. Again, the time frame for the job would be tight, which was complicated by the fact that the project started under a literal cloud.

“We completed the job in 16 days,” Ivo reports, “but the first week, it was rain, rain, rain all day long.”

Thanks to the ingenuity of Sass’ husband, Jeff, work was able to proceed despite the rain. “Jeff worked up a tarp system, which we screwed into the cement, so that we could keep going despite the rain,” Sass reports.

Ivo and Sass previously worked together on this gold-leaf
at the Scottish Rite building in Omaha. 

With a muralist as extraordinary as Ivo on the job, Sass was happy to take on an ancillary role. “I assisted. I ran errands. There is so much auxiliary stuff going on in addition to the painting. I also ended up upselling a couple ceilings inside the building while Ivo was working outside.”

Also during Ivo’s time in Omaha, Sass spent some time working on a frame restoration project. Inside the frame was a painting dating back to the 1880s. It was truly a challenge, and Sass was lucky to have Ivo in town to help her with the restoration. “I wouldn’t have done it if Ivo wasn’t there to guide me,” she says. 

Devotion to His Work

Sass admires Ivo’s work ethic and his dedication to completing the work on schedule. “One night, he actually spend the night in the building, sleeping on a couch, because he didn’t want to waste time traveling back and forth to the job site.”

Ivo would have continued spending the nights there, except for the fact that there was a clock inside the building that chimed every 15 minutes—not exactly conducive to a good night’s sleep! 

Ivo working on the mural.

For the rest of the project, Ivo stayed with Sass. “He was so wonderful. We have a chalkboard painted on a wall in our home, and every morning, Ivo would draw a mini-mural in chalk for us. It was a great way to start the day.”

The garden-theme mural was embellished with an authentic garden and a stone pathway immediately in front of the space. A ribbon-cutting occurred on Oct. 24 to dedicate the mural to the citizens of Omaha.

“What I love about Ivo is he’s so passionate about his work,” Sass says. “He puts a lot of thought into perspective. That’s why he has a step in the foreground of this mural. Perspective-wise, it made for a more balanced composition.”

Sass is astounded by Ivo’s ability to do large-scale murals to the point that being atop a three-story scaffolding is almost like a second home— the Liz Taylor and similar projects being prime examples. “Ivo is amazing,” Sass says. ““He’s not afraid of anything.” 


Up in The Clouds


Ivo and Sass' work at the Scottish Rite building in Omaha also included interior ceilings. Before Ivo departed from Omaha, he and Sass took a ride amidst the clouds in a hot air balloon to study the clouds from above the smog line. Sass recalls, "It was a magnificent ending to a successful project and a wonderful way for Ivo to show me everything we'd been painting on the sunset ceilings we'd just painted inside."


Left and above: Views from Ivo and Sass' hot-air balloon ride. 


Above and Right: Sass and Ivo working on ceilings at the Scottish Rite building. Below: Another ceiling with clouds as inspiration.