Gerta Ries Wiener
Design of Jewish-American Hall of Fame Medals, Contributed to the Smithsonian
Institution’s Archives of American Art
All Rights Reserved By
Founding Director of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame
The hand-written letters sent by Gerta Ries Wiener to the
Director of the Jewish-American Hall of Fame, Mel Wacks – from the development
of her first medal honoring Louis Brandeis (12/9/70) to her 11th medal commemorating Ernestine Rose (1/3/94) – give a remarkable glimpse into the creative process. This free-exchange of ideas resulted in exceptional works
of art and a lifelong friendship.
In addition, there is a letter describing an aborted medal
for Jascha Heifetz (4/13/80), and a series of letters (3/23/94 – 4/4/95) about Wiener’s unfinished 12th medal – for Gertrude Stein.
Gerta Ries Wiener
and Mel Wacks at the Magnes Museum’s Jewish-American Hall of Fame exhibit,
November, 1981, photo by Andrew Partos
Mel Wacks saved all of the letters he received from Ms.
Wiener, and has donated them to the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian
Institution, 750 9th St. NW, Victor Building, Suite 2200, Washington, DC 20001, where they are available by appointment to researchers. Since 1954, the Archives
has collected roughly 16 million letters, photographs, diaries, sketches,
scrapbooks, business records, and other documentation that supports the study
of the history of the visual arts in America.
material is described on the Archives’ web site as:
sketches, mostly photocopies, of medals; photographs; a DVD and medals
concerning Wacks' involvement in the work of medalist Gerta Ries Wiener for the
Jewish American Hall of Fame, a project and institution created by the Judah L.
Magnes Museum in Berkeley, Calif. Circa 100 letters from Wiener to Wacks
concerning commemorative medals created by Wiener and commissioned by Wacks for
the Judah L. Magnes Museum, from Emma Lazarus, Adolph Ochs, Benjamin N.
Cardozo, Béla Schick, Ernestine L. Rose, Gertrude Stein, Louis D. Brandeis,
Gershom Mendes Seixas, Henrietta Szold, Golda Meir, and Jascha Heifetz (medal
not made). Photographs are of medals and subjects used for medals. Also
included is a DVD interview of Wiener conducted by Wacks, December 30, 1994, and five commemorative medals by Wiener of Schick, Ochs, Brandeis, Rose, and
All the more remarkable, aside from Gerta Ries Wiener’s
substantial talent (in 1998 she won the American Numismatic Association’s
Numismatic Art Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture) is the fact that she
sculpted her first medal at the age of 72 and her last when she was in her
90’s. She lived through two century changes, and was the recipient of the
Numismatic Art Award when she was 100! (But on several occasions in her letters
she scolded Wacks for his mentioning her age in press releases.)
NAAEMS Medal obverse and reverse
Gerta Ries was born in Hull, England on December 9, 1898. Seven years later, her family moved to Berlin, where Gerta attended elementary and
high school. In 1917, she was refused admittance to the Academy of Fine Art because she was considered an “alien enemy.” Ms. Wiener studied art privately in Germany and then in New York, after she came to America in 1921. Her career ranged from
commercial art to a cartoon series in The New York World … portrait busts to
dolls and statuettes … illustrating children’s books, creating marionettes, and
giving puppet shows. Gerta Ries was married to Arthur Wiener from 1932 until
his death in 1961; they lived in Forest Hills, New York. In 1976, Gerta Ries
Wiener moved to Northern California, to be near her son Edward and his wife