Wiener Letters


The Isaac Stern Medal, issued in 1982


A medal was considered for violinist Jascha Heifetz (4/13/80): “His face is, as I see it, not only uninteresting, but unpleasant in expression,” but instead, it was decided to honor Isaac Stern (7/9/80): “Tonight there will be a T.V. program on Ch. 9 in which Isaac Stern will appear, and I intend to take a look at him.”


Wiener references my photos of Carnegie Hall for the medal’s reverse (10/11/80): “How smart of you to have taken photos of Carnegie Hall!” And she goes on to write (1/30/81): The Carnegie Hall idea seems very good to me. What inscription do you propose for the reverse?”


Months later, Gerta was still searching for photo for the Stern portrait (2/16/81): “I … will look at whatever pictures (the Magnes Museum has) of Isaac Stern.” And the following month she wrote in a post card (3/19/81): “I am looking very hard trying to get a good likeness of Mr. Stern. With the poor photos I have it is most difficult, and you know I will not be satisfied with anything less than a good likeness.” The quest for a good photograph continued; on March 31, Stern’s agent Lee Lamont wrote to Gerta Ries Wiener: “I am enclosing the only photograph I have of Isaac Stern with a violin …” Unfortunately, this was of little help to the artist, who writes (4/4/81): “But the irony of it is, that this hard won prize of a photo is the very one I saw first on a record cover when I started looking, and which you sent me on the record cover! Anyway, I’ll use odds and ends of all the poor photos I have and hope to succeed in producing something worth looking at.”


By August, Gerta had completed the portrait for the medal, writing (8/22/81): “It’s a good, clean composition, emphasizing the man and his instrument without distractions.”



Stern sketch for reverse (8-22-81)


But then a strong disagreement erupted because Gerta had depicted Stern in a cardigan, as he often appeared at rehearsals (9/3/81): “Then you feel it to be necessary to assure Isaac Stern’s status as a famous violinist by putting him in stiff, formal attire, which is more and more often being abandoned in favor of more comfortable clothing by many artists – including Isaac Stern. I am ready to compromise by putting Isaac Stern’s name where you suggested it in the incused lettering style I used on the Golda Meir medal, and to eliminate the facsimile signature at the bottom left. (It’s illegible anyway.) The empty space I shall use to make you happy by lightly indicating a lapel, starting at the top of the neck and following the latest Brooks Brothers line …” 



Stern plaster for obverse, with cardigan (9-3-81)



Three days later, Ms. Wiener apologized “for having lost my temper and thatb you were the victim! I have made the changes you suggested and your criticism was right – it is a better medal now.


Now, let’s follow the development of the reverse design in the words of Ms. Wiener. First, in her letter of 3/23/81, she rejects the suggestion to feature a “list of violinists on the reverse (that) would shift the emphasis from a medal honoring Isaac Stern to one honoring a group of Jewish American (violinists). I still think Carnegie Hall is a good reverse with just a remark that Stern was one of those who helped preserve this venerable place for many artists to come. It needs no lengthy quote.”


When I proposed a quote, Gerta pointed out (4/4/81) that “I don’t know how I’ll ever get that word COMMUNICATIVENESS onto any line! I never heard the word and wonder if Stern really used it. And that idea was wisely dropped.



Stern sketch for reverse (4-4-81)


In a letter dated 8/22/81, Gerta Ries Wiener writes: “I just had an idea! Why not just the words ‘Isaac Stern helped save this famous concert hall from destruction’ around the lower edge as indicated.”  In the end, no inscription appears on the reverse side.



Stern sketch for reverse (8-22-81)


Gerta indicates (9/6/81) that: “I am afraid I cannot put people on the reverse. The people would be so small that no features would show. So I am now confirming to work out this view. The perspective makes it interesting.



Stern sketches for reverse (9-6-81)


Gerta Ries Wiener was again disappointed at the actual medals (5/1/82): “All of them have so much patina, which makes them look dirty! The patina on the right side almost obliterates Isaac Stern’s name. The Carnegie Hall side is fine – thank goodness my hard work paid off here, and patina or no patina probably makes little difference.”


Stern silver medal


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