Wiener Letters

The Henrietta Szold Medal, issued in 1976


It is often a challenge for medalists to find good pictures for use as reference. Thus Ms. Wiener writes (3/22/75): “I had already done a bit of research in the Jewish Department of the Public Library, and had learned about all the things she had done – but – no picture. Even in the picture collection of the library there was no picture of her. On Monday I shall call the Hadassah office (Women’s Zionist Organization founded by Szold in 1912) to find out where I could get a picture or pictures of her, and as soon as I have this I shall start making sketches for the medal.” Gerta continues (11/21/75): “On the 5 photographs ‘Hadassah’ sent me, she (Szold) looks like 5 different people. I tried to make a sort of composite of the impressions I have from the photos and knowing what she has done. While I wait for the slides to come back I’ll start on the other side of the medal.”


On December 6, 1975, Ms. Wiener sent Wacks a photo of the portrait modeled in clay, writing: “She looks serious but with a little smile, as I imagine she may have looked. As she was a writer I think that the book is a good touch.”


Szold original clay model (12/6/75)


But Gerta was not completely satisfied with the portrait, and made changes (4/5/76): “Here is a photo of the portrait side of Henrietta Szold – all finished to go to Medallic Arts (sic). As you see I have changed it greatly from the clay original. You will agree it’s better, and I think it is a good relief. The other side is not ready to be photographed, but it’s coming along nicely. It’s a he.. of a lot of hard work, I assure you!”


Most artists have opinions about their peers, and so Gerta critiques (3/22/75) two earlier Jewish-American Hall of Fame medals: “I like the Gershwin (by Robert Russin, issued in 1972) very much, but I wish Herbert Lehman’s (by Jacques Schnier, issued in 1974) shoulders could be corrected – which they unfortunately cannot --! They give me a pain in the neck and shoulders every time I look at the photo.”


In addition to the quest for good portraits, there were also searches for quotes to be inscribed on the medals. Ms. Wiener writes to Wacks (5/15/75): “I hope you can find time to either dig up a nice quotation from her (Szold’s) speeches or books – or whatever you think would properly represent her contributions.”


The usually good-tempered artist was upset when an official of Hadassah suggested dramatic design changes – after the modeling was complete. A “furious” Wiener wrote (5/3/76), giving great insight into her reverse design: “The motto you gave me (“Make mine eyes look towards the future”) is a fine thought and goes well with Szold’s activities, and I designed it to fit in just right with the other elements on the medal. To fill in those 3 lines of incised lettering and replace it with others would mean a horrible mess and very much work. To change 2 children into a nurse and a doctor seems so funny to me that it’s not worth talking about it! IT’S O.U.T! I designed those children so that each one would be just right in size, line and proportion, and each one would have a character of its own, expressed by its gait, the way it holds its head, and the movement of its body, as most of them are shown from the back. At the same time they were to form a coherent group, not attracting attention away from Henrietta, the main person, whose posture and place in the design draws your eyes to the motto.”


Later in this 4 page letter, Gerta concludes that “the only compromise I’m willing to make is to add 3 or 4 (at most) hebrew words. I think I can manage that without spoiling the entire composition …” Four days later, Ms. Wiener wrote: “Just now I received your letter with the Hebrew motto. I was much relieved to see that it’s short, and I will be able to fit it in nicely without its looking like an afterthought.” The 3 Hebrew words were the Hadassah motto: “The healing of the daughter of my people.”


Szold plaster models for obverse and reverse (5-3-76)


For some reason, Medallic Art Company extended the bottom of the obverse design, which became apparent when the Henrietta Szold medals were delivered. Gerta was not happy, complaining in a rare typed letter (8/29/76): “WHY did they have to add a piece at the bottom? And if, for some incomprehensible reason a piece had to be added, why not ask me to do it? I wonder if it is permissible to change the signed design of an artist without consulting him! The alteration made on this medal is so poorly executed that it will damage my reputation as an artist if it goes out like this.” But it did, and no one, except those concerned, ever mentioned it.


When asked by Gerta, “Medallic Art’s Miss Carol Cipos(?) answered saying that NOTHING had been changed on my design, and that you should have shown me the proof medal before you gave the O.K.” (Contained in Gerta’s letter of 8/8/76.)


Ms. Wiener continued to complain about Medallic Art’s modification of her design (11/14/76): “The top was cut off – misplacing the “Henrietta Szold” which was exactly parallel to the outline of the medal – and the barely finished addition at the bottom making the dates much too small and high up under the book.”


Szold silver medal


Go to page: Previous 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Next Page

QuizzesnominationNewsShopAbout JAHF
© 2000-2011 Jewish-American Hall of Fame © 2012 American Numismatic Society All Rights Reserved
Click here to e-mail us