Jewelry designer to take part for 40th time
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Aaron Rubinstein sits at a compact work bench in the back room of Modern Art Jewelry, his jampacked Deer Park shop, moving slender bars of sterling silver around a piece of azurite.
Within minutes, he has created a design for a striking pendant with the blue stone as its centerpiece. After 39 years in business, the 79-year-old jeweler is so deft at what he does that he no longer needs to sketch a piece out.
Drawers are filled with the components of the bold, sculptural necklaces, bracelets, rings and earrings that are his signature. They are priced from $22 to $3,500 and will be among the items for sale to the thousands of people expected to attend Summerfair today through Sunday at Coney Island.
It's the 40th anniversary of the show and also the 40th year that Rubinstein has been in it, which makes him unique among the 300 participants.
No one else has weathered all four decades during which the arts and crafts fair outgrew the streets of Mount Adams and confines of Eden Park and moved downtown to the riverfront before settling in at the amusement park in 1985.
The first fairs were more like a street party than anything else, he says. "They were a gathering where anyone could exhibit," he says, adding that a booth cost $2. That has jumped to $325 and since 1977, a panel of judges has weighed in on who gets in and who doesn't.
A few handmade and hand-lettered ribbons hang behind the counter, a reminder of the makeshift nature of the early awards.
He calls the years in the late 1970s and early '80s when the fair was on the plazas around Riverfront Stadium and the Coliseum "the worst." Not because of a lack of customers, but because of the "hot, steaming concrete."
Rubinstein came to jewelry by way of sculpture and to Cincinnati via Poland, Russia, Israel and a half-dozen other places. His Jewish family was split apart when Poland was occupied by the Germans in World War II. Against all odds, the five siblings and their parents survived the Holocaust and later reunited.
Rubinstein arrived in the United States in 1960 as an exchange teacher after receiving teaching and art degrees in Israel. He taught in Chicago and Minneapolis, where he studied sculpture and jewelry making. He returned to Israel but was lured to Cincinnati in 1968 by an offer to teach at Yavneh Day School.
He's pragmatic about why he stayed.
"It's in the middle of the country," he says with a shrug.
In 1969, he gave up teaching in favor of jewelry making. He worked out of the basement of his Roselawn home before opening three galleries in 1973, of which only the Deer Park one remains.
The back room is crammed with mismatched desks and tools, most of them invented by Rubinstein. Photos of past pieces are tacked onto the doors of a line of vaults.
He is constantly tweaking his designs. At the moment, he's captivated by texture, using a rolling pin to press patterns onto the surface of the soft silver.
"But the stones come first," he says as he pulls a matching green amber necklace and bracelet from a case. The huge translucent chunks of the speckled resin seem to glow from within.
He points to pieces with branches of blood red coral and others with spiky hunks of amethyst. "I am trying to use things the way they came from nature, for more character," he says.
His pieces are sold in museum shops and stores worldwide. Commissions include a bar pin made for the Kennedy Center that replicates its lean modern façade in silver.
Until 2004, his wife, Rachel, worked with him every day. After her death, his daughter, Haguit, stepped in. He says she's brought an eye for simpler lines to the collection.
Rubinstein puts in up to 60 hours a week ("the secret of a long and healthy life is to keep busy"), and although he travels less now, he's participating in a number of art fairs this spring and summer.
But his first love is Summerfair. He calls it his "baby" and plans to keep entering with the hope that he'll continue to make the cut.
The streak just might continue, says Mary Strubbe, a Hyde Park artist and a juror this year.
"His work is original, graceful and has a timeless beauty," she says. "It stands out."
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