• About Medals

    About Medals

  • DAVID GEURIN<br> Taurus


    Cast bronze. Obverse.

  • DAVID GUERIN<br> Taurus


    Cast bronze. Reverse.

  • CHRISTINE MASSEY<br> Give a Voice (and Water) (2006)

    Give a Voice (and Water) (2006)

    Cast bronze. Obverse.

  • CHRISTINE MASSEY<br> Give a Voice (and Water) (2006)

    Give a Voice (and Water) (2006)

    Cast bronze. Reverse.

  • BING DAWE<br> Long Jawed Galaxias (2015)

    Long Jawed Galaxias (2015)

    Bronze and painted steel 150mmx142mm. Plaque

  • FRANCES BATTERSBY<br> Muraki Medal

    Muraki Medal

    Bronze, silver, gold. Unique object medal.

  • JIM WHEELER<br> Inner Nature (2001)

    Inner Nature (2001)

    Bronze Object medal

  • JIM WHEELER<br> Inner Nature ( 2001)

    Inner Nature ( 2001)

    Bronze Object medal ( opened).

What is an art medal?

A medal (a generic term for medallions and plaques) is a small sculpture with definite obverse and reverse faces. ‘Object medals’ investigate a third dimension and became very popular in the 60’s, particularly in France.

Each ‘face’ can be used to explore different aspects of an idea. The illusion of space is rendered through bas-relief and the play of light on the surface. Even the rim face of the medal can be incorporated. In addition text and image must be cohesive within the design.

These days a large variety of geometric shapes are acceptable forms for art medals but the use or reference to the circle continues to be the most accepted or preferred. Traditionally, medals must be produced as editions and made of permanent materials such as bronze, silver or gold but other materials may be used and these are quite varied, particularly with technological advances; glass and porcelain for instance. The main requirement is that they are durable.

Edition sizes vary according to the methods of production, and scale ranges from very small and intimate works to those as wide as 150mm and as heavy as 2kg. The requirement is that it fits comfortably in your hand.

The Federation International de la Medaille (FIDEM) http://www.fidem-medals.org/ is the international member based group for medal makers. Approximately 35 countries including New Zealand exhibit in the FIDEM bi-annual congress exhibitions. Each year new countries join- the most recent being Cuba and China. Many countries also have their own member based groups. A list of such organisations can be found on the FIDEM website, the most established and active being BAMS (British Art Medal Society) www.bams.org.uk which produces a quarterly publication entitled The Medal.

The History of Medals

The contemporary medal evolved during the Italian Renaissance. In the Roman times they were made for state occasions and Middle Ages rulers copied Roman coins to give their realms an illusion of grandeur.

The reinvention of the medal in the fourteenth century was a combination of this scholarly admiration and the rise of humanist glorification. It was an idea suited to the time and Pisanello (Italian 1395 – 1455) was an artist suited to the task. He defined the unique potential of the medal; a portrait on the obverse (front) and metaphysical symbols rendering a ‘portrait of the soul’ on the reverse (back).

This new portable, durable, reproducible and double sided art form swept across Italy. Two great masters Albrecht Durer and Benvenuto Cellini then enthusiastically helped export it into both Germany and France. Another boost came in 1550 when the invention of the stamping machine allowed mechanical precision and speed to supersede casting methods.

Europe continued to enjoy centuries of employing medals and medallions in every means imaginable. In 1839 a further mechanical advantage, the pano-graph machine, allowed artists to work on designs four to five times larger than the medals themselves, simultaneously reducing the design and engraving the die.

  • PISANELLO<br>Medal of Cecilia Gonzala (1447)

    Medal of Cecilia Gonzala (1447)

    Bronze diameter 8.7 cm Obverse.

    National Gallery of Art, Washington

  • PISANELLO<br> Medal of Cecilia Gonzaga (1447)

    Medal of Cecilia Gonzaga (1447)

    Bronze diameter 8.7 cm Reverse.

    National Gallery of Art, Washington

  •  Benvenuto CELLINI<br> Doppio carlino, anno X, Rome.

    Benvenuto CELLINI
    Doppio carlino, anno X, Rome.

    Diameter 28mm Obverse

    Clemens VII Pontifex Maximus

  •  Benvenuto CELLINI<br> Doppio carlino, anno X, Rome.

    Benvenuto CELLINI
    Doppio carlino, anno X, Rome.

    Diameter 28mm. Reverse

    (anno) X QVARE - DVBITASTI "Why did you have doubts?"

  • CHAPLAIN France 1900<br>Paris Olympic Games & Exposition Chaplain Art Nouveau Medal

    CHAPLAIN France 1900
    Paris Olympic Games & Exposition Chaplain Art Nouveau Medal

  • CHAPLAIN France 1900<br> Paris Olympic Games & Exposition Chaplain Art Nouveau Medal

    CHAPLAIN France 1900
    Paris Olympic Games & Exposition Chaplain Art Nouveau Medal

Contemporary Medals

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a golden age in medallic art developed in Paris paralleling Art Nouveau. Medals were cross fertilised by many currents in art and design; German Expression produced a brief but vigorous school before and during the First World War, then the medal form began to go into decline.

However, just in time, the Federation Internationale de la Medaille (FIDEM) was established in 1937 and quickly revitalised the practice.  Now, over thirty countries have active groups which meet every two years for congresses and exhibitions displaying all the experimental enthusiasm of a living medium. Many of the MANZ members take the opportunity to exhibit at the bi-annual FIDEM congresses.

How did medals get to New Zealand? We know that Captain Cook brought one commemorating his second voyage in 1772!  But the current artistic tradition began in 1961 with Paul John Beadle.  Professor Beadle, already a member of FIDEM, took up his appointment as Foundation Professor of Fine Arts at the University  of Auckland. One of his last students Marian Fountain, came back from Europe in 1988, and together with Paul's wife Betty Beadle set up a group of artists to make and promote medallions. This led to the formation of the New Zealand Contemporary Medallion Group ( NZCMG), which is known as MANZ today.

Techniques of Medal Making

1: The original

There are several ways to create the ‘original’ or ‘master’

i) Cutting or pressing negative forms in plaster, clay, stone, steel, or cuttlefish (the chalky, hard body of squid). Molten wax is then poured into this negative form or die to produce the master.

ii) Making a positive in wax, metal, clay, plasticine, fibreglass or plaster by modelling, assembling, painting and carving or a combination of all.

2: Wax editions

Once the master is produced, a mould can be made from plaster or rubber and new wax reproductions are made.

3: From Wax to Metal - Casting techniques

The most ancient method is ‘Lost Wax ’ (ciré perdue). As a process, this has remained almost unchanged over the centuries. At this stage, most, artists use commercial foundries to complete their work. Moulds are made from heat resistant materials such as ceramic shell, plaster or sand and are built up around the wax master. The mould is then heated, causing the wax to melt out – thus the term ‘lost wax’. Then the hot metal (bronze, silver, brass etc) is poured into the remaining cavity. When cool, the mould is removed to reveal the new medal.
Spin-casting of pewter is a possible variation. Silicon rubber moulds are spun at high speed and molten pewter is thrust into the moulds. Such moulds are reusable.
‘Striking’ is a method commonly utilised when large editions are required such as the minting of coins. This is rarely used by MANZ members as they limit themselves to relatively small editions, A negative form (die) is engraved into steel and blanks of pre-heated bronze, copper etc are then placed onto the die and struck under immense pressure which forces the softer metal into the die.

4: Fettling the cast medal

The fettling of, or cleaning up of, the metal casting is done with files, burrs, chasing tools, grinding tools, carborundum paper and wire brushes. Thus the crisp original design of the master is retrieved. This revives the fine details of the original often lost through the previous processes.

5: Patination

If desired , various colours may be achieved by an application or exposure to chemicals which react with the bronze. Copper, ferric, or potassium are the most commonly used. The possibilities are endless and patination is truly the realm of alchemy. Finally, wax is applied to retain the patina and to polish the surface.

  • Hand sculpted master in wax

    Hand sculpted master in wax

  • Silicon mould for creating wax reproductions

    Silicon mould for creating wax reproductions

  • Unfettled bronze casting

    Unfettled bronze casting