By HOWARD BLAS
American Judaica artist Jeanette Kuvin Oren is well-known for her work in many media. She designs unique Torah mantles, ark curtains, chuppah wedding canopies, ketubah marriage contracts, papercuts, stained glass and nearly any ritual object or decoration a synagogue, Jewish home or family would ever need.
On Oct. 20, Oren added “designer of a U.S. Postal Service stamp” to her résumé. The “Hanukkah Forever” postage stamp is based on one of her works.
“Jeanette’s art came to my attention several years ago and I am very happy to be able to bring her work to a very wide audience,” Ethel Kessler of Kessler Design, who serves as art director for stamps at the USPS, says enthusiastically. “Her work has a glowing and joyful spirit and that’s what I wanted to add to our U.S. Hanukkah series.”
Based On Wall-Hanging
A first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony for the stamp was at Temple Emanu El in Orange Village, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland. This year, Chanukah begins on the evening of Dec. 18.
Kessler adds, “Stamps are a joy for me to art direct. What it entails is getting familiar with people across the country who are making interesting art that can be used at stamp size.”
The USPS states, “The stamp art features the design from an original wall-hanging. The fiber art was hand-dyed, appliquéd and quilted to form an abstract image of a chanukiah.”
The stamp is being issued in panes of 20. It will always be equal in value to the current First Class Mail one-ounce price (currently 60 cents). Kessler acknowledges, “First class mail may have dropped off in the past decade…But we still print over 10 million Chanukah celebration stamps.”
Artist Oren has now received an education in stamp collecting and stamp releases. She explains that the first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony took place in Cleveland since the USPS wanted it to be in the Midwest. Emanu El was enthusiastic to host.”
She has also learned that the stamp date and location will appear on every 6-3/4 inch envelope with the state and date of issue and location. Stamp collectors traditionally go to the post office to buy new stamps, put them on a clean white blank envelope and mail them for a first-day-of-issue cancellation. These are known as first-day covers. Many aficionados also collect cachets, an illustration usually on the left side of the envelope.
“The USPS doesn’t create a cachet so it is up to the artist or a dealer to create one. It is a nice souvenir for the first day of issue so I created my own,” reports Oren.
A Dream Realized
Oren, a resident of Connecticut and Jerusalem, recently offered a tour of her home studio in Woodbridge, Conn., and enthusiastically shared her many works in progress and stories of her artwork with JNS.
In describing the process of being discovered by the USPS, she reports, “I sent a piece 30 years ago to the USPS and always had a dream of being on a stamp—this is the culmination of a lifelong dream. I am very honored and it is very emotional to see my artwork there. It is something so historical.”
Oren explains that a small wall hanging of her stamp will hang in the National Postal Museum in Washington. “It will be Hanukkah forever!”
The artist, a graduate of Princeton and Yale universities, has many talents. She completed a master’s degree in public health and most of her doctorate in epidemiology. Since deciding in 1984 to work on commissioned art and graphic design full-time, she has created installation pieces for more than 400 houses of worship, schools, community centers and camps around the world. She specializes in large installations of glass, mosaic, metal, fiber art, calligraphy, paper-cutting and painting. Her Torah covers, ark covers, ark curtains and wall hangings may be seen in homes and Jewish institutions around the world.
Oren shares with great excitement a donor recognition art wall project she recently worked on for a synagogue in Miami. She demonstrated the sequipment and process (in her basement studio) needed to produce 40 Torah covers for a shul that has three sanctuaries.
She has also shared her talents close to home—at her beloved synagogue, Congregation B’nai Jacob in Woodbridge. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she helped create a video of departed members of the synagogue; the faces of each person were incorporated into the video, which was shown as part of the Yizkor memorial service.
Oren plans to use the Chanukah postage stamps on the invitations to the wedding of one of her daughters, which will take place in March 2023.