Artist evokes childhood memories with Chanukah stamp

By: Sharon Nichols

Howard and Suzanne Kleinwaks How good were your powers of observation? Did you notice the dreidel shape of the second "K" box?
People have been collecting stamps for centuries. Once a pastime of the wealthy (who had both the leisure and the disposable funds), it is now enjoyed by individuals of every circumstance. Some collect in hopes of discovering an overlooked treasure and others with the expectation that the collection’s value will appreciate, while many simply like the diminutive artwork. The creator of this year’s United States Chanukah stamp is Suzanne Kleinwaks, who has family in the Binghamton area. She is married to Howard Kleinwaks, a Vestal native, whom she met in Washington, DC. Her mother-in-law, Ilene Pinsker, and her sister-in-law, Abbi Foreman, are active in the local Jewish community.

Kleinwaks grew up in Baltimore and decided while in high school that her ultimate career would involve creativity. She earned a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design from Washington University in St. Louis, and continues to expand her skills with course work in Washington, DC, where she now resides. After nine years in a variety of professional design positions, she founded Suzanne Kleinwaks Design this April.

Her work is not limited to stamps. Kleinwaks’ primary focus is on logos and branding, with an occasional web design. A project can range from a simple logo to an 80-page publication. Much of her previous design work involved public health. "Public health has become important to me and I’ve carried it over into my business," she said. She was involved in a breast cancer project intended to raise awareness about male and female survivors of breast cancer who are under age 40. "Health work makes me tick. It’s where I’ll continue to focus my efforts."

Kleinwaks explained the facets of her art, saying, "Design is interesting. It’s a combination of creating and problem solving. My goal is to create something unique that solves [the client’s] problem. I get to learn so much, for example, about obesity prevention and heart disease. Research is a large part of my projects, to be sure that my work meets my clients’ needs." A lot of her clients have been referrals. She establishes relationships with nonprofits as well. "I’m lucky to have wonderful clients who pass my name to others." Working with clients is iterative and interactive. Initially, they discuss the target audience, concept and desired message. Then she develops several alternatives that are again discussed with the client, revisions are made and the final design produced.

While she likes to work face-to-face, in the age of Internet and Skype, her clients don’t have to be in Washington. She recently worked with a temple in Miami on a campaign to encourage involvement of young adults in the temple and community. She developed a logo and helped market a Rosh Hashanah event for that demographic. She would like to expand her work in the Jewish community and hopes that the Chanukah stamp will facilitate that.

The first Chanukah stamp was issued in October 1996 and was reissued for several years. The 2011 stamp was developed by Kleinwaks in collaboration with Ethel Kessler, president and creative director of Kessler Design Group in Bethesda, MD. There are only four art directors in the country who are authorized to work on U.S. stamps. Kessler is one of them and she sought out Kleinwaks for the project.

In her work, Kleinwaks researched traditional Chanukah imagery. "Everyone," she lamented, "used dreidels and menorahs." She and Kessler worked on the color pallet, eventually selecting colors opposite each other on the color wheel. Tilting the blocks and letters create a sense of movement. "It reminds me of a spinning dreidel and of joyful dancing. It captures the essence of a beautiful, fun holiday and reminds me of my childhood," mused Kleinwaks. She developed the fanciful design in the spring of 2010 and recently attended the stamp’s unveiling in New York City. The Kwanzaa stamp was unveiled the same day. "It demonstrates the country’s diversity," she said.

"Starting my own business has been challenging. I’m comfortable with designing and client interaction, but there has been a lot to learn about marketing and managing a business. It’s been rewarding," said Kleinwaks.

If the Chanukah stamp is any example, she will keep creating and moving, with joy, in the business of design.