Avid philatelists, aka stamp collectors, were probably among the first to learn that Steven Bronstein, a blacksmith who operates Blackthorne Forge in Marshfield, was the lucky winner of the U.S. Post Office's Hanukkah stamp design this year. That is, his wrought-iron menorah was chosen to be photographed for the stamp — an annual designation by the USPO.
Bronstein himself was not contacted until the selection was a fait accompli. "I had nothing to do with it," he says, when asked if he had applied for the gig. "I got a phone call one day and they said they wanted to use my menorah for a stamp."
What he learned later was that "an art director saw my work at a craft show in D.C." and chose his design. The piece is in the style of what Bronstein calls "Classic Curve."
That art director was Ethel Kessler, of the Kessler Design Group in Bethesda, Md., who has designed some 250 stamps for the post office.
There is no remuneration to be on the stamp, nor is his name on it, but it's an honor nonetheless. Of course, Bronstein can't help wishing the image on the stamp didn't cut the menorah in half. "There is this artistic component — I'd like the piece to be appreciated," he says, likening it to a painting only half seen.
But he's quick to say he doesn't want to appear ungrateful. He was thrilled his work was chosen, Bronstein says.
As it happens, when he got the call about his selection, Bronstein was at another craft show, and a customer who collects Judaica happened to be there at that moment. When he got off the phone, he told her about it and she immediately said, "You have to call your mother."
And so he did. Bronstein jokes that he was "supposed to be a lawyer," but instead he's an artist. Now, at least, his mom can call him "my son the artist who's on a stamp."
As it happens, Bronstein's blacksmithing thing has turned out pretty well since he founded Blackthorne in 1979. Moving away from his early focus on tools, he mainly creates items for the home: garden sculpture, table-top clocks and sculptures, jewelry displays. "What are things that people use every day?" Bronstein says. "That's my niche." That said, one of his most popular items is a nonfunctional but adorable six-inch iron songbird, a simple tabletop sculpture. "It's sold well in the Sundance catalog," he says.
Unfortunately, having his menorah on a postage stamp isn't necessarily going to bring in more customers. What he has received are a lot of post cards in the mail from philatelists. The post office creates a post card with newly issued stamps, he explains. Collectors "buy it on the first day of issue," Bronstein says, "and send it to me for my autograph. ... There's this whole world of stamp collectors out there," he marvels.
Bronstein admits that he collected stamps as a child — "I was one of those nerdy kids," he says. "But I stopped at around age 12 — probably girls had something to do with it. I stopped when I found something better."
Back then, Bronstein muses, he didn't think he'd become a blacksmith, or be making menorahs, or ending up on a postage stamp.