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Aaron Rubinstein

an interview

by Marbeth Schon

March 24th, 2010

 

 

 

 

 


 

Aaron Rubinstein began life in 1928 in Poland.  He was the youngest of seven children.  Music and art were common place at home and each of the children exhibited promising talent.  By the time he was eleven, Aaron's geographical area was plagued by unrest and turmoil.  In 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, the Rubinstein family was told they had to make a decision to either leave everything they knew and had worked for and become Russians or be over taken by the Germans.  They chose to leave their homeland for the unknown and arrived by way of cattle cars to Siberia only one month prior to the Nazis removing any evidence that Jews ever existed in their village.

Living in Siberia was a great hardship for the family, but Aaronís eldest sister learned of a possible escape for her youngest brother.  The Polish government (in exile) and the Soviet authorities agreed to allow the emigration of close to one thousand Jewish children.  Aaron Rubinstein was allowed to join this group, known as the Tehran Children.  He left his family and was taken to Tehran where he lived in an orphanage set up by adult refugees with the help of the Jewish community.  Six months later, in 1943, the eight hundred sixty-one children and three hundred sixty-nine adults reached Palestine.  Aaron was fifteen when he arrived in Ein Harod, a Kibbutz that was well known for producing artists.

After serving in the Israeli army, Aaron entered the teacherís college in Tel Aviv.  After graduation, he began teaching all subjects, including art, to the large immigrant population, very much in need of education.  He also earned an administratorís degree and became a principal in Ashkelon, Israel.  In 1960, the Rubinsteinís, Aaron and and his wife Rachel, were given the opportunity to become exchange teachers with the United States.  They left for Chicago where Aaron continued his education at the Chicago Art Institute and taught in the afternoon.  The family moved six times back and forth between countries and, while living in Minneapolis, Aaron received another bachelor's degree at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, majoring in sculpture with a minor in jewelry.  In 1968 the Rubinsteins finally settled in Cincinnati, Ohio and Aaron left teaching to concentrate on his first love Ė art and sculptural jewelry.

Aaron and Rachel created Modern Art Jewelry, Original Designs by Aaron, a company that translates sculpture into wearable art.  Aaron became a master in the lost wax casting process and designed thousands of molds.  His cast Bible wedding bands, with the uniquely detailed raised letters, can be seen all over the world. Aaron does not sketch anymore--he manually manipulates the sterling silver and gold to achieve his sculptural designs.  His passion is to use natural or faceted stones which he compliments  with intricate silver and gold designs.  After the tragic loss, in 2004, of his beloved wife and partner Ė Rachel, Aaronís daughter Haguit joined the company.  Modern Art Jewelry, Original Designs by Aaron has exhibited original work in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Palm Beach, New York, and most recently in Philadelphia.  Aaron now at the age of 82, enjoys creating new designs and exhibits at local art festivals.
 

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Aaron Rubinstein at his workbench

 

 

 

 

 

The interview:

Marbeth  Schon
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Aaron Rubinstein
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Hello Aaron, how are you?
 
Wonderful, I'm still alive
 
Thank you very much for your willingness to do this interview with me. It's an honor. My pleasure, because you are a nice person, otherwise I wouldn't do it.
Thank you.  

 

You are a survivor in so many ways--you survived the holocaust, hunger, being displaced, separation from family and you have lived a long life with a great career.  You have endured many economic hurdles. Do you consider yourself blest? 
 
Yes, It is a miracle!

Sterling hair pin, c. 1963

Sterling pendant with pearl, c. 1964

 

What special qualities of yours do you think have allowed you to be so successful considering what you have had to overcome in your life? I had a good teacher

 

Who was that?

 

 

 

 

Stalin was a good teacher. Stalin from Russia

 He taught me to fight and survive the situation.

Because he used to say in Russian, "If you will not adjust yourself, you will die."  We were very lucky.  We were one of the few families who survived--all of us!
 

Sterling pendant , c.1965

Sterling earrings, c. 1966

Your jewelry touches people when they wear it--not only physically, but as personal artistic expression. Women all over the world are enjoying your creations.  Does this give you a sense of completion-- that you are leaving something beautiful for generations to come.


 

 

.....an artist has an obligation to leave a trace from the present generation. Every generation comes, but the quality of art is left for the next generation.  If you are going someplace to different countries, and I have been in most countries throughout the world, you judge the country and the population by the art that is left behind.


 

That is right. It is often the art that is discovered by archeologists--the art and the crafts survive and this is how we learn about the people. Exactly, it is a refection--a mirror of that generation. 

 

And it changes quite a lot.

 

 

 

 

 

It changes, yes.  And if you are going to study art history and look in different museums at what they achieved in their generations compared to ours--the more you will see from other countries, from other places-- the art reflects in the creation of the artists, because in his mind he builds up a reflection of the art from all over.  That's why I used to visit a lot of museums.  I have visited most of the museums in the world several times and compare (the art) to our generation and our place and this is what (has) really helped me to create without any problem, without drawing, without preparing, it comes by itself.
 
It is all in your mind--you have absorbed it. It is in the mind already.
 

 

 

 

 

Sterling pendant, c. 1966
 

 

 

 


 

Sterling earrings, c. 1967
 

Are you pleased that you have passed the love of creating art to you family, like Haguit for example?  Did you encourage her to be an artist?


 


Yes, I did.

 

 

You started as a teacher in Tel Aviv. Was there a definite movement towards modernism in Israel at that time?

 

 

Oh Yes, there was a great movement in Tel Aviv to the modern art. They contributed a lot.  About three years ago or more, I went to the museum, I was surprised, that in some places they gave too much freedom to themselves to create the modern art, but they have beautiful work, beautiful art.
 
What artists about that time might have influenced you? That would be in the 1950s and the early 1960s, I believe--people like Chagall and Kandinsky?

 

 

 

 

 

Exactly.  Chagall.  I have seen the original work of Chagall and compared to others--they are great pictures. The Louvre has a lot of Chagall. In the Louvre you have to spend at least a week.

I have been in St. Petersburg, in Russia--the great museum--they have Chagall in St. Petersburg because he is originally from Russia so they have a huge room just for Chagall.  Their are 300 museums in St. Petersburg and, according to the guide, you have to be over there three years to see all of them. There is so much from Chagall , from other artists. It is unbelievable.
 

Sterling earrings with ebony, c. 1967
 

Were you making any jewelry when you were in Tel Aviv or were you doing mostly sculpture?



 

In Tel Aviv, already, I worked in sculpture and in jewelry--both fields. I used to teach art there, also. I started to work with jewelry in 1949 and I graduated from the artists school in Tel Aviv and started to work in jewelry.
 
Did you know any of the Israeli jewelers that were producing modernist jewelry at that time--people like Rachel Gera? Yes. At that time, in my time, in the early time,  there were better artists than now, because most of them immigrated.
  Don't forget--this is a question of the situation, because jewelry was a major thing for the Jewish people because they used to wander from one country to another and they could take, in a small bag, all their creations. That's why they moved more to diamonds and jewelry and creating. This is one of the reasons. They could survive when they were pushed out by wars and bad leaders so they could take that and move to another country and start again to do their professions. That is one of the reasons jewelry is one of the professions in the Jewish community.
 

Sterling pendant, c.1967

Sterling  & ebony pendant, c. 1967
 

Why did you decide to go to the US, to Chicago, in 1960?

 

 

 

 

 


 

As an exchange teacher. They invited me as an exchange teacher to teach the Bible and history.  Because the first profession of mine was a teacher.  I moved into that because the government gave scholarships to people who went into teaching because we had a lot of immigrants in Israel, so with $200.00 a year, you finished the teaching college.  This is why--I didn't have money so I took this opportunity and finished as a teacher at the art college--in the art of general education.. in the beginning I was a regular teacher in Israel and when I finished the teaching college for all subjects--over there, starting as a teacher, you had to teach all subjects--everything.  So, when I graduated from the regular college, I immediately went to the art college. 
 
You must have had a love for art from the very beginning. Yes, I actually spent about fifteen years on my education.
When you went to Minneapolis, to study at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, is that when you studied with Christian Schimdt?


 
Yes, that is one of the greatest schools.

He used to be my teacher. He admired me and we became very close friends because he saw something unusual in me.  In his studio he would teach me the rest of the education.

He (Schmidt) has always been a favorite of mine.  I love the way he used naturalism in an abstract way. I've heard your work described this way--that it is naturalistic, but also abstract at the same time. Was Schmidt an influence on your jewelry?






 

Yes, usually Christian Schmidt used to cast a lot. He also created his own jewelry from scratch, but mostly he cast.  In the beginning I used to cast, too and I created my tools myself. I could create pieces that no one else dared to do--like 6" x 6" diameter--one piece to cast--very unusual. I used lost wax and also used to cast in fire bricks. I used to engrave into fire bricks and melt the gold and silver and pour directly into the bricks.  One was on the cover of the Weekly Magazine of Cincinnati (from 1971). It was an unusual piece that had been cast into the fire brick. 

Cast Sterling cuff, c.1973
 

The photographs that Haguit sent me are of excellent vintage modernist pieces.  Where are those pieces now?
 

 

Some of them I kept. I used to keep the best pieces.   I sold pieces in the museum stores throughout the country.  When they came to the show that I used to have in New York, people from all over the world would buy from me.
 
We like your jewelry because of the beautiful wearable designs, but also because the pieces are signed and the customers get to know the maker. They love the fact that they know who made their jewelry and it is one-of-a-kind.

 

 

 

 

To duplicate a piece takes me more time than to create a new piece. That's why it is mostly one-of-a-kind.  For me to put together eight new designs a day is not a problem, because if I duplicate, it takes more time because I have to measure  the pieces exactly.  I don't like it, but there are a few pieces that are fabricated over and over.  I wish you could come to Cincinnati to see the collection and the tools that I created myself.  Today, you cannot create pieces that compete with other artists if you can't produce the tools to create them.  If you are a good engineer, a good tool maker, you can create and compete with other people.
You had to compete in the marketplace.  There is something to be said about being an artist, creating beautiful jewelry, doing all that and also being able to make a living. That is a whole other part of it.


 
Exactly.  You have to be the best in all aspects--an engineer, a technician and a creator.

 

 

Sterling pendant & chain, c.1980
 

I like the way you design around stones. Do stones sometimes dictate your designs or help you with your designs? Yes.
And I love the stones you pick such as amber, azurite, topaz, raw amethyst, etc. They are very rich in colors and textures. Do you prefer the colored stones to say diamonds or emeralds--precious stones, etc., or is that a decision made because of cost.


 
Cost.  Because the average person does not have the money--because my philosophy is that every person, if he has money or doesn't have money, should be able to afford a piece of art jewelry and to create according to his pocket.

I am creating as much as I can so that everyone can afford a piece of jewelry.

A very good mantra.  
I'm sure you have made some very special pieces with expensive stones.

 

I  create it now because I have been in South America two years ago and have seen Aztec designs so I created a full line of new designs that is close to that. I am using diamonds and precious stones, too. We use a lot of diamonds for custom work.
Do you do a lot of commission work?
 

 

Yes, I do.  If people have some stones from the family, I can create for you something unusual from the stones. I get stones from all over the country. 
 
Who are some of your most famous customers?  I have head that there were presidents wives, movie stars?
 

 

Yes, many movie stars because I used to show in art expositions in Los Angeles for thirty years and they used to buy and I didn't know how it came to be that one of the presenters from the US government bought one for Mrs. Gorbachev.  And Miss Universe bought one of my pieces--a beautiful piece!
That is exciting!
 
 

Parure for Mrs. Gorbachez, sterling silver, topaz
 

Parure for Miss Universe, sterling silver
 

Do you have one piece of either jewelry or sculpture that you consider your masterpiece or do you have a lot of masterpieces?

 
A lot of masterpieces.  Sculpturing requires more space.  and this is why I stopped doing the big sculptures (measuring 4.5 feet high made of steel and plaster). I have them at home, but I create many up to eight inches and I don't want to sell them.
So jewelry is your sculpture now.

 

 

 

Yes, that's why I'm mostly into jewelry because it is easier to produce and also to create faster than a piece of sculpture. 

They came from Washington from the Kennedy Center and  ordered, from me, pendants to sell in the gift shop. The front was a picture of the building. They are beautiful and it took a lot of time to create them. They were silver. 

Sterling pendants for the Kennedy Center
 

 
Is there something you haven't done that you would like to do in the future?
 
To become younger.
So what would you say to someone, today, who wanted to do what you do--who wanted to make a living creating jewelry--what would you tell them?
 

 

First I would suggest to them to visit and go all over the world to see what is going on somewhere else.  To burn into their mind the different kinds of jewelry and art that exist in other places.  This way it will help him to create something different and more sophisticated.
 
It is seeing, then.  

I greatly appreciate your spending time with me on the phone.
My pleasure.

"A Touch of Nature," sterling collar with branch coral
 

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Interview with Aaron Rubinstein by Marbeth Schon
www.mschon.com

Photographs courtesy Aaron and Haguit Rubinstein
Biographical by Haguit Rubinstein-
Towler, from http://modernartjewelry.net/

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