Wiener Letters


The Ernestine Rose Medal, issued in 1994


This new project was launched with these words (2/9/90): “Miss Rose is fascinating me, and I think that I will enjoy doing her. Here are my propositions for the medal – they are, of course, very rough sketches and will have to be refined and balanced. As you may be able to see I indicated, as you suggested, colored people amongst the audience, and I placed them separate from the rest of the people close to the speaker, because at that time negroes certainly would not have been permitted to mingle with the white crowd. As far as Ernestine’s masculine and rather fierce features go – a smile can show that she seemed to have had wit, humor and charm aside from her other good and rare qualities! I’ll try to make her appealing but not sweet or pretty.”




Rose drawings for obverse and reverse (2-9-90)


This is one of the only instances where a copy of Mel Wacks’ reply is extant (2/17/90): “We have never indicated the areas of interest of our subjects on the medals, so I would prefer a suitable quote alongside the portrait, if I can find one. And on the reverse, you should place a few men, as suggested by the enclosed engraving.”



 Rose engraving (2-17-90)


This same sentiment is repeated by Wacks on 3/10/90: “The overall designs are fine, but I definitely do not like the four subjects and diagonal lines … People wanting to know more about Ms. Rose should go to the library. In the past we have let the subjects’ words speak for themselves; thus I have enclosed an appropriate quote in Ms. Rose’s own handwriting: ‘Human rights without distinction of sex.’ This was here primary area of interest and the raison d’etre for the medal. Her interest in abolition will be implied by a few blacks in the audience (although I agree with you that they should not appear prominently in the foreground as in your original sketch).” And a change in the design is dictated by the mint: “Medallic Art Company does not want any raised sculpting all the way to the edge as with the figure in (the) lower right hand corner; please leave at least the outer half of the border untouched. Can you please send a new rough sketch?”


And Gerta did, along with an accompanying letter (3/30/90): “As you can see I exchanged my 4 proposed descriptions of her work with a quote of hers as you sent it to me, in her own handwriting. On the reverse I tried to indicate the many types of people listening to her oratory … the individual heads will be tiny in the finished medal, so that hats or hairdos will be the only way to characterize different sexes and types. I also avoided modeling on the edge (not entirely though) as you see, to please the Medallic Art people.”




Rose revised drawings for obverse and reverse (3-30-90)


When she finishes the portrait in plaster, Ms. Wiener indicates (6/17/90): Ernestine looks more feminine and less stiff than on the engraving, which seems to be the only available portrait of her. But … she may well have looked the way I see her rather than the engraver’s way.” A photo of the plaster is sent on 8/1/90: “I hope you will like her more feminine expression. I tried not to make it too sweet looking! The quote is copied strictly from her handwritten letter.”



 Rose plaster model for obverse (8-1-90)


Just one last slight modification, described 8/22/90: “Yes, I shall change that straight eyebrow, which I copied carefully from the engraving you sent to me!”


When the Ernestine Rose medals were finally issued, Gerta Ries Wiener believed that unauthorized modifications had been made by the mint (1/3/94): “I have penciled in the parts that differ from your photo of my original plaster and the finished medal, that is, the forehead and the width of the nose. Both are, I admit, not major faults, but they do change the character of the person’s face. But I guess no one but me will notice – or care. The medal as a whole is very nice!”



 Rose photo of plaster model of obverse, but no pencil marks are apparent on this supposed marked up picture (1/3/94)


Sometime after 1994, Gerta was photographed proudly holding her Ernestine Rose medal.


Gerta Ries Wiener holding Ernestine Rose medal, c. 1994


Rose bronze medal



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