Wiener Letters


The Gertrude Stein Medal, not issued


In the aforementioned letter, Gerta mentions her new assignment for the first time: “I am studying Gertrude Stein’s life, and (will) try to find more pictures of her in the library. She WAS an interesting person!”


On 3/23/94, Ms. Wiener writes: “I just finished reading Gertrude Stein’s ‘Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,’ and when I got the book at the library I immediately thought that the photo on the cover was exactly what I’d want for a medal! I’m sending you VERY ROUGH sketches of how I could do the front and back sides IF I succeed in doing it.”



Stein sketches for obverse and reverse (3-23-94)


At some point, Gerta changed the concept of the portrait and sent a revised sketch on April 4, 1994.



Stein sketch for obverse (4-4-95)


When asked if she “can show some details of actual paintings on the reverse,” Gerta replies (4/6/94): “No, I wouldn’t risk that, because of possible lawsuits – you know that – but also because those pictures on the medal will be too small.”


And she sent a photo, indicating (10/22/94): “No, I did not do it in Terra Cotta – it’s strange color is caused by a special bulb Victor used when he took the picture, because he thought the bulb in my lamp wasn’t bright enough. I had his little slide enlarged, so you could see Gertrude’s expression better and I hope you like it.  The roses in the background I will work out more carefully in the plaster. Now I have to try to rest my eyes – because they are very strained and inflamed – generally it was a very strenuous job for me, but I loved doing it very much despite that fact!”



Stein model for obverse (10-22-94)


On November 22, 1994 Wacks writes: Esther and I are hoping to come up to the Berkeley-San Francisco area December 29 – December 31. Of course we want to see you. I also want to film a little video describing the background of the medals that you have created for the Jewish-American Hall of Fame. Don’t worry, it won’t be a big production … just me and the camera.” (Note that a copy of this video is included with the collection.)


In the same letter, suggestions are made: “Please make her heavier and older, as she usually appears in photographs and paintings. Make the roses raised.”


A week later (11/29/94), Gerta replied: “As you know, I was not at all sure I could still achieve a perfect medal – with my unsteady hands and the great strain on my eyes – but I tried my best – and I would not mind one bit if you asked me to stop! I kept what I have made so far damp, but it is slowly shrinking, and it would be very difficult indeed to give Gertrude a fatter face – it would not be good either, as she never had a fat face on paintings or photos – only the body was fat.”


Nevertheless, Ms. Wiener continued on Gertrude Stein (1/28/95): “I’m working hard on G. S.  It’s very difficult, with my having to enlarge her shoulders, since the entire composition has to be changed. But I try my best,” and she concludes: “You once considered the possibility of making Gertrude S. a one sided medal, in case that I won’t be able to dot he reverse (you know that could happen) of Stein any more? I just wonder, and so far we don’t have to think of it. Right?”


A newspaper article is included with this letter, featuring a 1927 photo of Gertrude Stein.



Stein newspaper photo (1-28-95)


A large envelope was sent on 4/4/95, containing “a sketch of the ‘a rose’ etc., that I think will very much improve the Gertrude Stein medal. It will be done with fine lines, and will look like a tapestry behind the massive head and shoulders, and show them up much more as a plain background would. You asked me to send you the sketch of what I could put on the reverse – but I cannot find it! But I had planned it something like this (see sketch below) showing her sitting at a table writing, and the wall full of all the paintings she had collected. After all, her writing and her picture collections made her famous. But, Mel. As I told you before, I have no idea if I ever could manage the reverse! The mere thought of having to go through 2 more plaster castings horrifies me!”


Unfortunately, the original plaster model for the Gertrude Stern medal was damaged beyond repair, and no medals were produced.


In the last letter from Gerta Ries Wiener to Mel Wacks, she writes (10/18/96): “My eyes are so bad now that I can’t see anything even with glasses.”


And in the final letter in the collection, Gerta’s son Edward and his wife Rose Marie write: “We are very sorry to tell you that mom died just past midnight on March 1st (2000). We had been by her side for much of the past 3 months. She gained weight and often was alert and happy. On Saturday and Sunday she was smiling, ate very well and we sat together holding hands. On Monday her nurses moved her to a wheelchair. She sat by the large sliding glass door looking out at the beautiful Monterey Pines, the flowers and the rays of sunlight softly filtering down through the trees. At 1 AM (on Monday) the hospital called us, telling us that she had just passed away in her sleep.”


I would tell you that she was 101, but Gerta would not like me to mention her age.

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