Judaica Then and Now: An Unexpected Journey


It touches my heart to hear fans relate how they have collected and treasured my artful designs. Usually the pieces are Fanciful Flights or Judaica, and sometimes they are Originals! Often I am asked whether I am Jewish, and how I came to create so much Chanukiot.

It feels as though this story should start with "Once Upon a Time...."

Once upon a time I participated in many trade shows, particularly the New York Gift Show. As a newbie, my booth was placed out on the piers, which linger over the Hudson River on the West Side of Manhattan. Buses would run across the city from the Javitts Center, unloading large amounts of buyers, looking for "the latest.” I put great effort into setting up my booth, and was rewarded by being moved to the very front of the Hall.

The Art Gallery business was very different in the early 80s (before the revolution of computers, digital printing and arts licensing). Many Art galleries came to order my little flying creatures known as “Short Stories” (later renamed to Fanciful Flights). I also sold my mobiles, mirrors, picture frames, and wall sculptures. Susan Boni, of Frames of Mine gallery in New Jersey, loved my work so much that she decided to commission my first menorah. Not having known much about the Jewish culture or religion, I proceeded to interview everyone in my path about the Hanukkah season. I was thankful that my librarian, Miriam Hyman, and her Rabbi, were generous to take me under their guidance. I was very nervous about creating a religious object, but they reminded me that Hanukah is the Celebration of Light.


 My father had taken me to Petersen's Hardware to introduce me to the world of copper tube and plumbing fittings. When Susan asked me to create a menorah, the only way I could imagine fabricating it was from the copper tube. I had taken a workshop with a metal smithing workshop with Heike Seppa, and learned to silver braze copper cones. By the time I'd finished connecting all the pieces, it was at least 5 feet wide and 3 feet tall!

About that same year I had participated in another tradeshow show called "Art Expo." My girlfriend Debra Porter represented an artist named Agam. He told me that the earliest menorahs were made from olive branches. I Immediately wondered what they looked like, so asked my uncle Rowe - a Florist in Scarsdale, if he could shed some light. I will never forget this; he sent me a giant box of olive branches by UPS! I proceeded to adorn the menorah with metal renditions of them. Finally, I added the candle cups and a swarm of my flying people - dubbing it: "The Family Menorah.” I called Susan to warn her that it was a little large, but I was going to bring it to the show regardless, whether she wanted it or not!

I placed it front and center in my booth and Susan came right away to see it. She lamented that it was just beautiful but about as big as a room in her Manhattan apartment! As the show started and busloads of buyers started pouring in, they began to flock around my booth. You could hear exclamations whispering through the group; "Is that a may-nor-a?” (lots of different accents). Soon a beautifully coiffed woman parted the crowd and guided me outside the crowd at my booth.

She said, “Karen, I’d like you to design a Judaica collection for all 33 of our stores”. I exclaimed, “but they’re so expensive and one of a kind". She responded, "That’s very good, didn’t you see my badge - I am a buyer from Neiman Marcus” (Neiman Marcus - a place a country girl from South Windsor had never shopped). Now I was truly out of my element. I wondered if she would like to see photos before I shipped them ( since I needed to come up with seven designs for each store). She said she didn't, exclaiming, "Obviously, you know what you’re doing”!) How did I do that?

I lived on adrenaline for the next six months, until I fulfilled the order. It led to many more Neiman Marcus orders, which opened doors to worlds I never imagined. Today I continue to create Judaica which is primarily sold at retail, through my website.

More recently Karen has shifted her focus from wholesale to retail and commissioned works.

More recently Karen has shifted her focus from wholesale to retail and commissioned works.