In the West Howard antique district of Bethesda’s Kensington suburb a team of artisans at work at The Gary Rosenthal Collection, in a two-story warehouse-turned-sculptor’s-studio/workshop, are fulfilling orders for Judaica from the late August New York International Gift Fair.
Gary Rosenthal, founder and artistic director—and a graduate of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda—is especially pleased that he is able to design and create, here at home, the pieces he sells around the world.
Prominent among his introductions at the Gift Show—and fitting to the season--is a series of handcrafted Shofar Holders. The shofar, a ram’s horn, is blown 100 times each of the two days Jews celebrate Rosh Hashanah--the Jewish New Year--that begins on September 16 at sundown. "The holders are the first mixed media, metal-sculpted, decorative holders I've seen,” said Rosenthal. “I believe that most such holders are purely functional while this collection is fine art for display at home year round."
A pioneer in his specialty, Rosenthal has designed and sculpted contemporary Judaica in welded metals for over three decades. With his team of artisans he pays tribute to this preeminent icon of the Jewish New Year in each of the four holders in the initial offering, to which he plans to add more.
The sculpted holders are crafted of copper, brass, steel and fused glass. As with much of his Judaica, Rosenthal celebrates Jewish tradition by depicting the religion's symbolism. In these pieces, graceful scrolls and twists of metal amplify the natural movement of the ram horn, accentuating its significance while not overpowering it. The holders are flexible, designed to accommodate a horn’s spirals and length.
“I like my work to tell a story," Rosenthal continued. "The elements of one 36-inch tall holder celebrate the Sacrifice of Isaac, central to the story surrounding the shofar." Burnished copper and brass flames represent the fire on which Abraham prepared to offer to God his son, Isaac. Instead, he sacrificed the ram, caught in thorn bushes, the latter represented by brass leaves on steel branches. A smaller 12-inch tall stand represents Jonah and the Whale, another biblical story associated with the High Holy Days, specifically Yom Kippur.
Rosenthal was a teen when he learned metalwork as an apprentice to his father who fixed stoves. He first sculpted welded metals—copper, brass and steel—in his garage in the early 1970s. About 20 years ago he added fused glass under the tutelage of Tim Tate, a world-famous glassmaker. His craft honed, he then taught others. Today, a dozen artisans, some of whom have been with the Collection for 20 years, collaborate with Rosenthal.
The metal shop includes John Linder who cuts, bends and folds metal into flames and leaves while Bill Bradshaw builds machines and tools that allow Rosenthal to achieve his vision. Rosenthal counts on Aleksander Petrogradski to braze pieces of metal together in the welding shop. In the glass studio, Suzanne Gartner and Aselin Lands, glass studio manager and artist assistant, respectively, create the distinguishing colored accents that punctuate each piece. Where Rosenthal wants silkscreen 24 karat gold Hebrew letters on fused glass it’s Sarah Matas’ fine work you see.
In addition to shofar stands, The Gary Rosenthal Collection includes a range of handmade Judaica, some of which—a honey dish and apple dish, the latter with an inscription that expresses wishes for a sweet new year--would make model Rosh Hashanah gifts. He also crafts menorahs, dreidels, candlesticks, tzedakah boxes [to collect coins for charity], yads [ritual pointers], Seder plates, mezuzot and much more.
"I found faith and spirituality through my sculptures,” said Rosenthal. “I am lucky. According to Jewish tradition, it's a blessing, a mitzvah, to make beautiful, functional art.”
The shofar holders are available on line and soon in stores nationwide, [shofars sold separately]. Visit www.collectorgaryrosenthal.com for store listings. Retail prices for shofar holders range from $90 to $2,400.