It’s a win/win
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It’s a win/win

Teaneck artist exchanges original art for donation to hunger-fighting charities

Ms. Stern was inspired by the many illuminated manuscripts in the Israel Museum; here she combines some of what she saw.
Ms. Stern was inspired by the many illuminated manuscripts in the Israel Museum; here she combines some of what she saw.

Just the way being a successful politician demands two separate skills — running for office and legislating — so too does being a successful artist mean that you have to be creative and technically gifted, and you also have to sell yourself and your art.

It’s rare to be equally interested in both aspects. If, say, you are a gifted artist whose interest in self-promotion comes and goes, if you devote most of your time to creating and less of it to selling, then you will end up with far more art on your hands than you can put on your walls.

That’s the position that Miriam Stern of Teaneck finds herself in. She makes art every day; she sells it successfully, but gets more pleasure from painting than dealing.

“I’ve accumulated art over many years,” she said. “The majority of my art stays with me. I have flat file drawers” — an art storage cabinet that can house many works — “that were getting filled up, and so I bought another one, a small flat one.

The Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, outside Detroit, has railroad tracks that took Jews to concentration camps. Here, they are mangled into a Jewish star; that’s a shape that’s rarely in her art, but here, Ms. Stern said, it works.

“When I did that, I realized that I had to re-organize my drawers, which is always a good thing to do. I usually do it about once a year.” Because she doesn’t keep the pieces she didn’t like after she makes them, “when I went through this batch of prints, going back 20 years or so, I realized that they have merit.

“And I thought that it’s such a shame that they are just sitting in my drawer. I wish I could do something with them.”

Her friends suggested that she sell them, and she thought, basically, yeah yeah yeah. It seemed like a lot of work for not much benefit.

But then she realized “that people might be motivated to buy it if the money were to go to charity. I got very excited about that.”

“I thought that it was important for people to see the work and pick it up. So I was going to have a venue where people could come to a slide show. I also was going to do it partly online.

That was then, back in the pre-covid fall, when we thought we knew what needs surrounded us — and there certainly were needs then. The funds she raised were destined for food charities, Ms. Stern said. “That’s a fundamental need, and it was important to me.”

But this is now.

“Collaboration 2” is part of a long series; Ms. Stern’s posthumous collaborator is her father. She used some materials he’d brought from Germany to create art.

“When the virus hit, everything was postponed,” Ms. Stern said. “But then, when the unemployment numbers came out, and they are so devastating, and they have implications about what it means for people not being able to put food on the table for their families, it just dawned on me that there was no reason not to do the sale now.

“But now I am going to do it all online.”

For one week, from Sunday, June 7, to Sunday, June 14, Miriam Stern’s website will feature 50 of her works. Each is 15 inches by 22 inches, and each is for sale. Each would have gone for $1,000 at a gallery, and each will cost $200.

Ms. Stern will take no money for any of them. Instead, she will ask customers — donors, really — to give to one of four food charities, and to show her the receipt from that agency.

Those agencies range from the international to the local.

“Atlantic City” is based on small stickers of long-ago bathing beauties. The mirrors behind them reveal not how they look but how they see themselves.

The international one is Leket Israel, an Israeli group whose tagline is “Rescuing Healthy Food for Israel’s Needy.” Its mission is to take food that otherwise would be thrown away in Israel — good, nutritious, healthy food — and get it to Israelis who do not have enough to eat.

The national charity is Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, a group that advocates for policies based on Jewish principles that would get more food to more Americans who need it, and that funnels funding to groups that feed hungry people, Jews and non-Jews alike.

The other two are local. The first of those is Tomchei Shabbos of Bergen County, a group that delivers Shabbat meals to families that need them with tact and delicacy. The other is the Center for Food Action in Englewood, which provides help, including but not limited to food, for the county’s poorest and most vulnerable residents.

“Holon” echoes the shape of that Israeli city’s design museum.

With those four groups, donors can decide if they’d prefer to go local or reach out to the United States or to Israel. They can decide if they want to give to groups feeding only Jews or groups who feed anyone who’s hungry. They can decide if they’re more interested in activism or in more hands-on giving. And they can get a work of art for a $200 donation (and of course they’re entirely free to give more; to give as much as they can and feel moved to give.)

Ms. Stern’s been in touch with each of the agencies, and each one knows what she’s doing, but none of them are involved with the sale in any way.

Each piece of art is something she calls a monoprint. “They are one-of-a-kind original prints, and it’s also partly mixed media,” Ms. Stern said. “I start off with photographs, and I manipulate them on the computer, with Photoshop, and then I print them out on artist’s paper.

“That first part of the process is clean, because it’s all on the computer.

“The second process is dirty. I work on an artist’s printing press in my studio; it goes over on top of the digital image, so the final one is a combination of a digital image with hand painting.”

“Amona” is based on debris from the frequently dismantled and rebuilt West Bank settlement.

She could print out more than one computer image, and if she is not satisfied with her first try she will do it again, but once she is pleased with the final result, she will not use that computer image again. “I will never do one piece twice,” Ms. Stern said. “I might do something similar in a series, but I don’t repeat anything.” So not only is each piece original, it is also made of a mixture of techniques, of centuries of art history and of technological developments. Most are abstract; each has a story, and each grows out of Ms. Stern’s very specific understanding of art, the world, history, Israel, Judaism, feminism, American life and culture, and life in general. Each piece is both unique and very much of its time and place.

She had a hard time deciding what to charge; she wanted to have a price that was accessible without being too self-valuing. “I needed to have a sale price,” she said. “The price I chose — $200 — is 80 percent off, and that is inexpensive for original artwork. And I know that for many people, $200 is a substantial amount of money.”

Because the artwork is basically a gift Ms. Stern is giving to buyers to reward them for their charitable donations, “it’s a win/win for them,” she said. “It’s also tax deductible.

These images from medieval haggadot in the Israel Museum’s collection, each in a comic-book-like cell, tell the story of Passover.

“I called my accountant to ask about it, and I said ‘Can I claim anything? I think I know the answer.’” The accountant confirmed that yes, Ms. Stern is correct. There is nothing in this sale for her — other than the freed space in her flat file, her knowledge that her art is up in other people’s houses, and her more basic knowledge that people who need food will get just a little bit more of it, because of her.

This is the system that Ms. Stern set up.

Anyone who is interested in looking at her art should go to her website, MiriamStern.net/Art-to-Feed-the-Hungry.html, and follow the link you’ll find there to the gallery.

Once you’re there, look at her art, imagine it in your dining room, say, or in your bedroom. When you’ve decided that you want one, and you’ve chosen the one you want, you follow the link again, and email her to ask her to reserve that one for you. (If someone else has reserved it, she’ll tell you that sad news.) Then you click on the charity you want, make a donation, get a receipt, and forward that receipt to Ms. Stern.

Then you’ll have one more decision to make.

Before it was renovated, the Israel Museum offered visitors chairs shaped like hands; here, those welcoming seats themselves are cradled.

“I realized that most people don’t really want to just pick up a piece of paper,” Ms. Stern said. “They would like to pick up something that’s framed. Over the years, I’ve worked with a very nice framer in Closter. He’s meticulous, and he does beautiful work. I don’t want junky frames.

“I negotiated with him, and for $150 he will do an acid-free white or black mat — which is so very important, it protects the paper from deteriorating — and a simple white frame and glass.”

The money buyers spend on framing does not go to charity. It’s a discounted fee for service, and it all stays with the framer. Again, Ms. Stern touches no money. And buyers can choose not to have the art framed. That’s entirely their call.

The last part of the process is to pick up the art in Teaneck; if you live farther away, Ms. Stern can send it to you, but that’s not included in the price. The pick-up will be socially distanced; if Ms. Stern is around she will be masked and gloved. She also can leave it out, if she knows when you’re coming.

So all in all, it is win/win. You can donate to a good cause and get an original and beautiful piece of art along with the glow from doing something good.

And Ms. Stern gets to know that she’s responsible for feeding many people, and also she’ll get more room in her flat file to fill with new pieces of her art.

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