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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Vermont Blacksmith Designs Menorah For 2013 Hanukkah Stamp

Vermonters have a special incentive to buy this year’s Hanukah Stamp from the U.S. Postal Service. The menorah on the stamp was designed by blacksmith Steven Bronstein of Marshfield.  

The cars passing by the Blackthorne Forge on Route 2 are the last indication that you’re still in the 21st century. Walking inside Steven Bronstein’s blacksmith shop, you’re struck by the sights and sounds of the late 19th century.

Bronstein is hand-making iron clocks, garden tools and various other creations that are sold in shops and galleries around the country.

But now attention is focused on Bronstein for one of his menorah designs, which has been chosen to grace the 2013 Hanukkah Forever stamp.

The classic curve design piece is one of the dozen or so menorahs that Bronstein features on his website.

The roots of Bronstein’s business go back almost 35 years, when he moved to Vermont.

He started as a woodworker, quickly learned the art of blacksmithing, and became a working blacksmith at the Shelburne Museum.  He eventually learned he could make a living on his own.

"Well there was a boom in the craft era around 1980 which is when I started, and I was able to catch that wave, figure out how to make a living as a blacksmith, there were other craft artists doing it at the time, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to keep going ever since," he said.

Bonstein works with original turn of the century machinery, including a power hammer from 1890.

"It’s amazing that this has been really in continuous use since it was made. It was made in St. Johnsbury, from the Fairbanks factory, it was in some granite sheds, it was another blacksmith shop and it ended up in my shop around 20 years ago. "

Bronstein said he doesn’t need to worry about finding replacement parts for his machinery.

"Well, I’m a blacksmith, so I can make the parts!"

Bronostein eventually added menorahs to the list of crafts that he designs and produces.

"Most people thought I was nuts, because at the time an iron menorah was just not done. Menorah’s were typically in clay, porcelain, brass, and  I had this kind of contemporary, primitive look that I was doing, and there were people who appreciated it. "

Those who follow the Jewish faith know there are rules for all facets of life. Bronstein said crafting a menorah is no exception.

"Two very simple rules," he explained. "One is that all the eight arms, which represent the eight days of the holiday, should be of equal value. Meaning the first day is not any more important than the last day, so you shouldn’t create any kind of hierarchy. The shamis, which means helper, should be separate, to distinguish itself from the others. And the helper, it turns out, wasn’t the help to light the other candles, the help is that the Hanukkah menorah is not supposed to  be used for function, its not supposed to be used for illumination, so the shamis , the helper is really to light the room, so you can then light the other candles. I found that very interesting. "

More recently, a worker in the postal services art department spotted one of Bronstein’s menorahs in a Washington, DC gallery.

"One day I got a phone call and this person is asking me if they could use my menorah design to make a stamp, and I’m thinking rubber stamp, I couldn’t quite figure out what they were talking about, and it was halfway through the conversation, I finally asked, 'where are you from again?' Then is when I realized it was the U.S. postal service."

Bronstein said it’s a satisfying feeling to know that his designs bring pleasure to his customers around the world.

"I make lots of things for the home, candleholders, and clocks and vases and non-religious items, so my motivation here wasn’t so much as religious as what’s meaningful and important to people’s everyday lives, and I’m really happy that I can make something that people value and want to take home. "

Neal was a reporter and VPR's All Things Considered host from 2001 to 2014. He joined VPR in 1996, hosting VPR's jazz programming, including live performances from the VPR studios and the Discover Jazz Festival. Prior to VPR, Neal was a programmer and host for WNCS in Montpelier and WDEV in Waterbury. He holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College.
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