If you lose your wallet, you hope someone thoughtful will find it for you…and if you’re in luck, that someone might by Sylvie Rosenthal.
Last winter, an Artful Home employee dropped her wallet in a snowbank and considered it gone for good. Little did she know that it would be found by an artist whose work she knew well. Because of their shared connection with Artful Home, Sylvie Rosenthal was able to locate the wallet’s rightful owner and return it to her without a penny misplaced.
This serendipitous occurrence is certainly a “small world” moment; it also reveals a bit of Sylvie’s character, though it tells you nothing about her vast creativity and expertise as a sculptor and woodworker. For that, you have only to step into her studio or learn a bit about her personal history. We were excited to have the opportunity to do just that on a recent spring afternoon, when Sylvie invited us into her Madison, Wisconsin, studio to have a look around.
Sylvie has been making things since the age of 5. Growing up, she spent a lot of time at the Eli Whitney Museum in New Haven, Connecticut, a hands-on, experimental children’s museum that nurtured her creativity and inventiveness. She worked there from third grade to eleventh, and admits that she sometimes went there instead of school. She has a continued relationship with the museum, teaching classes to kids in the summer and donating artwork to an annual fundraiser.
The museum’s emphasis on experimentation, risk-taking, and creativity left a lasting influence on Sylvie. She not only gained countless skills that she still uses today, but also learned that her talent for making things was valuable—even employable. This is part of the reason that working for herself was never a question—that, and the fact that both of her parents were self-employed while she was growing up.
Sylvie went on to receive a BFA from the Rochester Institute of Technology, which instilled in her a dedication to craftsmanship. She has since studied and worked with many prominent woodworkers, and recently earned an MFA in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin.
Sylvie Rosenthal has a rich, multifaceted artistic practice. She creates imaginative furniture and mirrors with a hint of the unexpected. She crafts fascinating, technically complex sculpture, often with kinetic elements. She even builds custom cabinetry and experiments with photography. Among her many works of art, there is one piece that is especially beloved by Artful Home customers: the Birdie Mirror.
This popular mirror was not originally intended for sale; rather, it was created as a meaningful gift. When her sister’s best friend and husband were expecting twins, Sylvie was asked to design a special mirror for them in celebration. She decided to create not one mirror but three: a large one for the parents, and a smaller one for each daughter, which they could hang up in their rooms as children and take with them once they were grown up. The four birds on each mirror represented the four family members. Needless to say, the new parents were thrilled with the heartfelt, heirloom-quality gifts.
Sometimes, a work of art takes on a life of its own—and Sylvie soon discovered that the Birdie Mirror had broad appeal. Now that she offers them at Artful Home, they have been featured in a number of catalogs and found their way into many delighted customers’ homes.
The first trio of mirrors was a labor of love, and every subsequent mirror requires just as much painstaking attention to detail. Each basswood bird is carved, sanded, and painted by hand, then individually fit to its own branch. The cherry wood frames were originally cut by hand using a router and band saw, but Sylvie now works with a local CNC router to achieve smoother, more even cuts. Once the pieces are cut, Sylvie carefully assembles, sands, and finishes them. At every step of the process, Sylvie takes care to ensure that the piece is well constructed and built to last.
What’s next for Sylvie? She tells us that she is currently fine-tuning aspects of her art business and developing concepts for a new line of home decor (stay tuned!). She hopes to ramp up this area of her business while maintaining her sculpture practice. Doing so may require some additional hands in the studio. Currently, she does nearly everything herself, only contracting assistants for particularly busy times (this is actually somewhat unusual in the area of woodworking). If her business increases, she may need regular help—and she hopes to be at that point sometime soon.
We love Sylvie Rosenthal’s work and have an even greater appreciation for her incredible range of skills and ideas after visiting her studio. We are excited to see her business continue to grow and thrive!