Copper in the Arts

December 2015

Brass Adds Warmth to Contemporary Judaica Art

By Nancy Ballou

Handcrafted Judaica art by Joy Stembar.Handcrafted Judaica art by Joy Stember.

Photo courtesy of Joy Stember. 

At the age of five, Joy Stember began art classes and then worked at metal studios throughout her teenage years. She studied at Tyler School of Art, Temple University in Elkin Park, PA, graduating with a BFA in Metals in 2006. She took summer workshops at Penland School of Crafts, NC, studying with renowned metalsmith, Fred Fenster and at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts as a teacher’s assistant in the Metal Department. Her father, a fine jewelry designer, mentored her in design, craftsmanship and business.

In 2010, a Taglit Birthright trip to Israel deeply inspired Stember. “The rolling hills of sand with a view of the Dead Sea in the background were mesmerizing. I realized how incredible it was to be there, standing where my ancestors stood a thousand years ago. While on a Kibbutz having Shabbat dinner, I felt so connected with the people, landscape, culture and history.”

Judaica art by Joy Stember featuring a copper bowl.Joy Stember's work is featured in more than 250 museums, galleries and synagogues and purchased by more than 1,000 individual collectors. 

Photo courtesy of Joy Stember. 

She took five pieces of Judaica she had made at Penland and applied for several juried shows. “I got into all of them, including the prestigious Smithsonian Craft show. Compelled to follow my legacy and my dreams, I quit my job as custom picture framer. I opened Joy Stember Metal Arts Studio, with my father’s help, so I could share my craft with the world. I feel privileged to spend so much time with my dad, to work and learn from him.”

She primarily works in pewter, brass, bronze and copper, and begins by drawing and etching  patterns onto sheets of brass which are then roll-printed onto sheets of pewter.

“The sheet metal is scored, folded and soldered together using lead-free, low temperature solder,” she explains. “Brass design elements are also soldered in place. Each piece can have between 10 to 50 soldered elements. I use jewelry hand tools, a Smith torch band saw, metal shear and belt sander. Textures from many influences achieve a contemporary look. My goal is to create heirlooms for a new generation of collectors.”

To celebrate Passover, Stember created a brass Seder plate designed with cut holes for pewter cups. Another Seder plate is fabricated from pewter with inlaid brass Hebrew letters. Smaller cups are removable and can be reconfigured into different patterns. Metal gives it a warm feeling.

Stember likes the duality of color when using brass and pewter. “I think the brass adds an element of elegance to the design,” she says. “I use brass for my trays because of its structural integrity. Unlike pewter, it won’t bend from gravity. I order my brass from McMaster Carr. Everything is hand made in the USA.”

Artist Joy StemberArtist Joy Stember in her studio. 

Photo by Paul David.

The Yahrzeit candle holder is for the act of honoring departed parents, siblings or spouses. A pewter box with a brass star houses a set of matches used to light candles for various ceremonies.

The Havdalah-Spice Box is used in the ritual that marks the end of Shabbat and separates it from regular work days. The smell of the spices revives as Shabbat departs. A triangular box, it is adorned with a brass, hand-pierced Star of David in the front, held in back with a brass hinge.

Eight sturdy brass candleholders separated by a ninth, make up the Negev Menorah. A small sanded Mezuzah fabricated in pewter and copper is perfect for the modern Jewish home. Chanukah features many of her dreidels. Tzedakah boxes are popular gifts for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs or as awards or retirement presents.

“My work is carried by more than 250 museums, galleries and synagogues and purchased by more than 1,000 individual collectors. I specialize in commissions for synagogues like North Shore Congregation Israel in Chicago, Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell, PA, and organizations including Einstein Medical Center, the Birthright Foundation and the Brandeis Law Society. In 2016, I will be at the American Made Wholesale show in NY and the American Craft Council, among other exhibits. To put it simply, metal is my life!” says Stember.


Joy Stember constructing a hand-crafted dreidel using pieces shaped from brass

Joy Stember Metal Arts Studio, 1160 Easton Rd., Abington, PA, (215) 885-2930

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