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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Keeping the Faith: Montgomery Magazine

Local fans, have you picked up the September/October issue of Montgomery Magazine yet?  If you did, you'll find this fantastic article about Gary and the Collection!

Keeping the Faith: The Gary Rosenthal Collection

By Pamela Schipper | Photography by Hilary Schwab
Gary Rosenthal has been the leader in contemporary Judaic art for more than 35 years. But he says that “The Gary Rosenthal Collection” applies more to his people than his art. “We work as a team here,” he explains, to create his handmade mixed media pieces. “It takes a community. ‘The Gary Rosenthal Collection’ is not about my work. It’s about my people.”
Today, Gary employs about a dozen artists and artisans, administrators and shipping professionals at his large, limited production workshop in Kensington. When he comes up with a new idea for a traditional item like a Seder plate, mezuzah, menorah or even wedding keepsake, he describes it in words to his team. Then they work the idea together to create a new yet functional take on a spiritual mainstay.
“I have lots of people who are expert at what they do,” Gary says. “So the people here who do glass, they do glass better than I would do it; the people who do metal, do metal better than I would. You know, I started off and I trained everybody, but then they specialized. By pushing them to do things that I think of—I’ll have an idea and say, ‘Can you do this?’—they do it and they get good at it.”
His pieces are known for their brilliant fused glass set against copper, brass and steel.
Suzanne Gartner, glass studio manager, and Aselin Lands, glass artist assistant, together mix recipes of recycled glass, frit and confetti into multicolored masterpieces. On some of these glass pieces, artist Sarah Matas delicately silkscreens Hebrew letters in 24-karat gold.
In another area of the studio, the metal components of Gary’s pieces are being prepared. The machine shop manipulates metal into the shapes needed. Bill Bradshaw creates specially designed machines and tools. John Linder, who is autistic, uses his singular focus to cut, bend and fold metal with precision and safety. Pelayo Lopez, hired through CASA De Maryland, works in the welding shop, using a torch to fuse pieces of metal together. Sparks often fly!
In the administrative wing, Webmaster and Marketing Director Hamilton Whitney gets the word out about new creations and popular standbys. Nearby, Tim Welsh, who is also autistic, does beautiful metal weaving.
At the loading dock, Nick Stanford, the shipping manager, works to mail pieces across the United States and internationally—no small job. Every U.S. president since Jimmy Carter has something from The Gary Rosenthal Collection, as do foreign dignitaries and celebrities like Bette Midler, Ben Stein and Henry Winkler.
Gary’s mother, Ann Rosenthal, was surprised at Gary’s talent and interest in art. She gave him piano lessons when he was a child, but says “I would have given him art lessons if I had known.”
Lighting the Fire
Gary fell in love with torch work as a teen when he helped his father with the family’s stove and refrigerator repair business in D.C. His interest in art, though, came later when he was majoring in Industry and Labor Relations at Cornell University.
“I graduated from college in 1976. But I had already been welding and I was selling things in 1974,” Gary explains.
“I was lucky. … I was self-taught but as soon as I got started, people wanted to buy what I made. It was unbelievable.”
Years later, he showed his work to an art professor at Cornell. The professor panned it but then told Gary it would “‘sell like crazy.’”
It has. Gary thinks that being selftaught has made him more tied into his audience. Plus, he puts himself into his work—and he’s a man who really cares.
“My work speaks to people. It always has. It’s from inside of me. It’s the emotion, the spirit,” he says.
“My work isn’t complicated. I don’t have lots of hidden messages in my stuff. I just make things that people like, that people want to buy. And then I’m lucky in that I have an MBA, because it’s the business side of things that’s so important as well.”
Gary’s mother Ann, who volunteers at the studio and accompanies Gary to art shows and his many community-based art projects, agrees. “He has a real business sense that some of these other artists in New York (at the New York International Gift Fair) don’t have. Their stuff is beautiful but it doesn’t sell.”
“We just run a nice business making things that people like,” Gary says. “It happens to be Jewish art.”
But that’s only part of the story.

This story was published in the September/October 2012 issue of Montgomery Magazine.
For the rest of the article, head on over to Montgomery Magazine.

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