Wiener Letters


The Adolph Simon Ochs Medal, issued in 1985


Near the end of the aforementioned letter (12/30/83), Ms. Wiener asks: “If you want me to do Mr. Ochs, please get SEVERAL photos of him. Good ones!” And so we were pleased when Leonard Harris, Director of Public Affairs for The New York Times, writes (3/12/84): “Photographs of Adolph S. Ochs, who will be honored by the Jewish-American Hall of Fame of the Judah Magnes Museum in 1985, are being sent to you separately.”



 Ochs photo (4-11-84)


In a typed letter (4/11/84), Gerta comments on the photograph of Ochs and rejects a suggested design theme: “The picture of Ochs is excellent. His looks certainly have improved since I saw his big photo hanging in the lobby of the old Times Building in 1922. I don’t agree with your suggestion to show ‘some of the needy … the disabled, the elderly, children etc.’ on the reverse of the medal. No – this design … should be cheerful to look at – not a group of unhappy needy human beings. But aside from that I don’t think that to single out this one particular service the N. Y. Times offers its readers once a year with the appeal to ‘Help the Needy’ is appropriate for a memorial medal for Mr. Ochs.”


A little over a month later (5/13/84), Ms. Wiener sends “my sketches for the Ochs medal – dignified but not boring, and showing up Mr. Och’s life achievement.” And she goes on to write: “The New York Times office sent me the Ochs signature, and as my sketch shows, it is a very decorative but completely illegible doodle! O.K. with me!”




 Ochs drawings for obverse and reverse ( 5-13-84)


 Her letter of 5/24/84 well illustrates the give-and-take with myself, that is characteristic of the entire quarter century of correspondence: “I’ll gladly make Mr. Ochs’s head fill more space, and certainly will push my name around until I find the right place for it. I can’t grant you your wish to have me ‘modify’ Mr. Ochs’s signature. Either you use a signature as is (you wouldn’t shorten a nose in a portrait to suit your taste!) or print the name as I did for Brandeis, Szold and Isaac Stern.” Gerta continues: “Now for your suggestion about the reverse. You think it would be more effective to eliminate the building and ‘just a small boy selling newspapers in its place on the far right.’ You say of the building that it is ‘no longer the N.Y. Times building anyway.’ But the medal celebrates Mr. Ochs’s achievements and meaning for New York City during his active life – not the years he has been in the grave.” And, finally, the artist reveals that “the fashions the people are wearing … represents the years around 1908-10, the time of Mr. Ochs’s most active life. The newsstand also is typical of those years and long after, and makes a newsboy superfluous. (I never saw one as I can remember, and I lived in N.Y. for 65 years!)” (Note that the Times building was removed, but the newsboy was not added.)


Over 5 months (11/3/84) later Ms. Wiener reports that “Mr. O is coming along famously, but to my great regret I decided not to use his doodle-signature. … most people wouldn’t have been able to decipher it and wouldn’t have known whom the gentleman represented.”


Before any medals were struck, Gerta writes about an important development (dated 4/19/86 – but actually 4/19/85): Mr. Fromer (Director of the Magnes Museum) discovered … that Adolph Ochs is spelled with ph, not with f at the end, as I had spelled it on the medal! Of course it had to be changed! When he couldn’t reach you … he called up the mint and was assured that their artist would be able to make the change without difficulty.” And Gerta Ries Wiener writes (4/26/85): “I’m very glad you decided to have them take off the S. after Adolph.” (Note that this was done because there was no room for the initial, once “Adolf” became “Adolph.”)




Ochs plaster models for obverse and reverse, misspelled ADOLF ( 4-19-85)


On 12/12/85, Ms. Wiener again expressed her dissatisfaction with the medals produced: “The finish (of the Ochs medal) diminishes the feeling of quality the medal should have. You only have to put the Ochs medal next to the very 1st ones – the Brandeis and the Seixas medals – to see the difference! I … was surprised that each of the 4 were (sic) different in color – the lowest numbers looked best and didn’t look so greasy as the higher numbers. The nose particularly didn’t have a pinkish shine on it that makes Mr. Ochs look as if he had ‘one too many.’ No, Mel – you think that I am ‘too critical.’ If an artist stops to be critical about his own work and the way it is presented to the public, his art will suffer – he just won’t care anymore and will never develop beyond a certain point. It may sound silly, but I try to do better with every piece of work I do …”


Ochs silver medal


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