Sophie Sonnenfeld, Contributing Photographer

In the winter, Anton Sovetov wore black clothing like it was a uniform. But in the summer, his wardrobe came alive, splashed with color. 

Sam Gold embraced that splash of color, donning Sovetov’s bright yellow Yale School of Art graduation scarf to speak at his best friend’s memorial service. Sovetov’s former classmates, colleagues and friends gathered at the Yale School of Art’s Edgewood Gallery in late June, swapping sentimental Sovetov stories while admiring his artwork displayed along the walls inside. Following a mysterious, months-long disappearance case that left Yale Police Department investigators with few leads, Sovetov’s body was found washed up across the Long Island Sound on May 1. The investigation into his death remains open as Sovetov’s friends and loved ones grieve his loss

“Anton was a collection of contradictions,” said outgoing Vice President for Communications Nate Nickerson, who got to know Sovetov through his design work for the Yale Office of Public Affairs and Communications, or OPAC. “He was thoroughly modern but terribly old-fashioned, a little bit wild but quite fastidious, he was blunt but soft.”

In his five years with OPAC, Sovetov took the reins on projects designing posters and graphics for the Office of Sustainability, the Carbon Charge Initiative and the School of Public Health. “Anton reflected the very best of Yale,” said Nickerson. 

As Nickerson delivered his speech, Sovetov’s work was projected in a rotating slideshow on a hanging screen above the room. Nickerson said he felt “admiration, awe and sadness” watching Sovetov’s sketches of woodland creatures, photo collages and University posters flash by on the screen. 

Before studying graphic design at the Yale School of Art, Sovetov attended the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. It was during his time there 12 years ago that Sovetov met Marvin de Jong, ART ’15. The two became close friends and ended up studying at the Yale School of Art together a few years later. 

De Jong said he and Sovetov used to playfully tease each other and talk about movies and anything that was on their minds. He added that they often talked through problems they were facing. “We just always had each other,” de Jong said. 

Despite de Jong moving away from New Haven after graduation, the two stayed in touch. De  Jong spoke about how rare it is for friends to be able to pick up right where they left off. 

“You’re lucky if you have four or five people who you can truly talk with,” he said. “Anton was one of those people for us.” 

During Sovetov’s first year working at Yale, he met Gold. Through traveling, going to concerts and visiting museums together, Gold said Sovetov’s excitement was “genuine and infectious.” 

Roland Coffey, who met Sovetov through Gold, described Sovetov as “a lovely human being.” Coffey and Sovetov used to share a similar route to work at Yale and would run into each other in the mornings. 

Another of Sovetov’s friends, Joseph DiMaggio, noted how passionate Sovetov was about his work and how eagerly he wanted to secure his visa to continue working in the U.S. 

Ann Kuhlman and Mihwa Lee, who both work for the Yale Office of International Students and Scholars, or OISS, said that they had worked closely with Sovetov on his student visa and immigration papers. Sovetov was coming to the office so often, they said, that he proactively worked to redesign OISS’ annual report. 

Outside the office, Sovetov assembled a “ragtag collection” of New Haven friends and Yale colleagues, including DiMaggio, to regularly play Magic: The Gathering, a popular trading card game. DiMaggio and Sovetov also celebrated birthdays, toured art galleries and visited New York together. Sovetov especially admired architecture in New York and even dreamed of moving to the city. 

DiMaggio also accompanied Sovetov on multiple hiking trips, describing him as “such an amazing outdoorsman.” The pair had hiked three of the 46 Adirondack Mountain peaks and had hoped to someday hike all of them together. 

“He was a hard person to get to know, personally he was very guarded but in those moments we had a lot of great conversations,” DiMaggio said. 

He inherited his connection with nature from his mother, Victoria Sovetova. She joined the memorial service remotely by Zoom, recalling how, at dusk, she used to bring Sovetov outside their home in Saint Petersburg to watch the sun dip below the horizon and gaze up at the stars. And at dawn, they often rose early to listen to the birds singing outside. 

Sovetov grew up as an only child, raised solely by his mother. “Anton and I had one life for two for a long time,” she wrote. 

Surrounded by fairy tales, music, artwork and nature, Sovetova said her son grew up as a “quick-witted, lively child.” As a child, he enjoyed studying music, singing in a choir and learning English. When he was not studying, Sovetov was reading classical literature, dancing or playing the flute and the harmonica. Together, Sovetova and Sovetov attended concerts, art exhibitions and lectures. These visits inspired lengthy discussions between the two where they talked about life and values. 

He soon found joy in drawing as a way to blend his bend towards clarity, accuracy, creativity and play. “I watched with interest how he drew drawings with ease and concision, with a thin pen, ornaments on paper, or a napkin,” Sovetova recalled. 

University Printer John Gambell ART ’81, who was Sovetov’s boss, said Sovetov talked about his mother often. Gambell said it was clear how close they were.

In the five-person office, Sovetov grew close with his colleagues and with Gambell, whom he exclusively referred to as “Boss.” Talented in his illustration abilities and original use of color, Sovetov was the “most effective graphic designer working at Yale,” Gambell said. 

For the last 100 years with few exceptions, Yale’s communication designs have been characterized by what Gambell called “solid, book-based” photography. It was when Sovetov joined the office in 2017 that he “literally changed what Yale looked like.” 

Yale began to look less like a coffee table book, according to Gambell. When meeting with clients to brainstorm project designs, Sovetov whipped out a notebook and would begin sketching designs while the clients were talking.

Gambell said Sovetov’s early effort often gave him pause. Gambell expressed his concerns to Sovetov that the clients would not find his work “pretty enough,” and that they would not feel it represented Yale. Sovetov would turn to Gambell and say, “hold on, let’s just see how it goes.” 

“I was completely off base,” Gambell admitted. “Our clients loved his work. They hadn’t seen work like it coming out of Yale and rather than feel uneasy about it, they saw in it a chance to up their game and distinguish themselves.”

After the ceremony, guests mingled and moved to pick up umbrellas that were dripping in a pile by the door, but not before turning back to catch one more glimpse of Sovetov’s art. 

Since Sovetov’s body was found in May, no cause of death nor official reports have been released by police or the Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s Office. The investigation remains open. 

Sophie Sonnenfeld is Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. She previously served as City Editor and covered cops and courts as a beat reporter. She is a junior in Branford College double majoring in political science and anthropology.