The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Medal making

 

The making of medals and medallions, typically in cast metal but also in wood, ceramic, stone, etc.

 

Status Currently viable
Craft category  Precious metals
Historic area of significance  London and Birmingham (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Area currently practised  UK (see ‘Other information’ for further details)
Origin in the UK  16th century
Minimum no. of craftspeople required  21-50
Current no. of trainees  1-5 (See ‘other information’ for further details)
Current no. of skilled craftspeople  21-50
Current total no. of craftspeople  21-50

 

History

Medals are two-sided, small-scale sculptural objects, often made from cast metal, and available as an edition. The craft of medal making is not limited to metal, and can include wood, ceramic, stone, etc. depending on the vision of the craftsman.

Medals as an art form originated in the late Renaissance period in Italy. The characterisation of the medal as an art form as we consider it now, is attributed to Pisanello, an Italian painter and medallist of the fifteenth century.

Most medals will portray a relationship between the obverse and reverse, and can also include detail around the edge. Medals are usually hand-held and therefore tactile. They can address political, social or historical issues, and depict text, abstract forms or figurative imagery, including portraiture. Contemporary medal-makers have questioned what defines a medal, experimenting with alternative materials, scale, and the use of modern technology.

 

Techniques

The techniques used in the craft of medal making range from plaster carving, modelling, wax working, patinating and many other techniques depending on the aesthetic of the medal. Often, the artist will make a positive pattern, which will then be moulded and lost-wax cast, or sand-cast. Struck medals are made by the technique of die engraving.

 

Local forms

 

Sub-crafts

Coin engravers, sculptors or jewellers often execute the craft of medal making.

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • Training issues: Medal-making skills are rarely taught in art colleges.
  • Market issues: Medal-making is constantly facing the problem of lack of demand. Few organisations realise the potential of medals and commission them. Even the Royal Mint appears to have ceased making commemorative medals.
  • Market issues: Whilst there is a niche market of medal collectors who collect contemporary art medals, as well as a number of organisations world-wide which help promote and support medallic art, there is not enough demand for a medal craftsman to create a living from medal-making as their sole profession.

 

Support organisations

  • The British Art Medal Society (BAMS). This is the central British organisation for medallic craft. Annual conferences and monthly lectures take place. An annual student medal competition is held throughout a number of universities, helping teach new generations of art and craft students about medal-making. BAMS also publish a journal twice yearly, and regularly commission new editions of medals from sculptors, jewellers and other artists. The BAMS New Medallist Award sponsors a new medal artist every year, helping continue the craft of the medal; the awarded person receives mentoring from a skilled medal artist, as well as a period of study abroad, a period of study at the Royal Mint, and the opportunity to study the historic archives of medals in the British Museum and the V&A.
  • Fédération Internationale de la Médaille d’Art (FIDEM). This is an international organisation for the promotion, support and international exchange of issues related to the art of the medal. Bi-annual symposiums are held at different locations around the world.
  • British Museum. The museum hosts BAMS and houses the UK’s national collection of commemorative medals. It actively acquires contemporary medals made by artists around the world.
  • Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths. The company regularly commissions portrait and other medals and has an important collection of modern medals.

 

Craftspeople currently known

 

Other information

Historic area of significance: London and Birmingham have been the main places, although other centres have been important at different times as a result of the activities of individual artists, eg Ron Dutton in Wolverhampton.

Area currently practised: Medal making is practised throughout the UK, in artist’s own studios, as well as universities. Contemporary medal art exhibitions, conferences and lectures are held in different locations around the UK. Monthly BAMS lectures are held in London.

Number of trainees: According to the Goldsmiths’ Company, medal and insignia/regalia making is of least concern, and there have been 3 apprentices known to the Company in recent years.

 

References

  • The Currency of Fame: Portrait Medals of the Renaissance. Edited by Stephen K. Scher.
  • Designs on Posterity: drawings for medals. Edited by Mark Jones.
  • Size immaterial: hand-held sculpture of the 1990s. Luke Syson.
  • The British Columbia Medals of John Lobban. Edited by Philip Attwood.
  • Medals of Dishonour. Philip Attwood and Felicity Powell.
  • Contemporary British medals. Mark Jones.
  • British art medals 1982-2002. Philip Attwood.
  • The New Medallists. Marcy Leavitt Bourne and Melanie Vandenbrouck-Przybylski.