When Medallic Art Company was just Henri and Felix Weil working together in their lower Manhattan workshop they were, in effect, a service industry to the sculptors who had created medals. They had been “sculptor assistants” since at least 1892, had worked for some prominent New York City sculptors, and even had a sculptor in the family, married to an older sister.
If they had a policy at the time it would have been: Bring us any bas-relief model or pair of models and we can provide you with anything you want — a plaster copy, a metal copy, that is a galvano cast, a master pattern, a hub, a die, a matched pair of dies, struck medals, a cast medal, whatever. If you want your model “touched up” or lettering added, or your medals patinated, we can do that as well.
They took the concept Service-to-the-Medallic-Sculptor seriously. With their combined sculptural experience, knowledge and special equipment — electrogalvanic tanks and the first American Janvier — they were not only able to do any task requested, they did it with professional aplomb. Plus their network of sculptural contacts extended beyond New York City confines. Local NYC sculptors knew and respected the two Weil brothers as consummate craftsmen in their field.
This unspoken policy continued into the 1920s, even after they had hired Clyde Curlee Trees in 1919. When Tress recognized this was de rigor he chaffed under its restrictions. Instead of waiting for a sculptor to bring them a medal job he wanted to go seek medallic work and then commission a sculptor. This was sacrilege to the Weils. They would have none of it.
The situation continued until the Weils decided to sell the company to Clyde Trees. He then, starting in 1928, began aggressively seeking medallic work. He advertised for the first time. He sent out sales letters. He undoubtedly made sales calls and sales contacts. Unfortunately the depression in the years following damped his results.
Trees policy toward sculptors then was: Medallic Art will contract for striking the medals then choose a sculptor suitable and appropriate for the job, for any kind of medal. He could still accept medal jobs brought to the firm by sculptors, and this did occur. But he began developing a coterie of sculptural talent he could call upon for any work. He also built an exhibit of past medal jobs where he invited a potential client and let him choose among previous struck medals. “Like that artist’s style?” he would ask a potential client. “We can certainly have that artist design and prepare similar work for your new medal.”
He took it one step further. He had long since known that most of he artists who prepared medals were members of one particular organization, the National Sculpture Society. He joined that society as an associate member.
He also did a bit of apple polishing. He invited members of the Society to a sit-down dinner at his tiny shop on New York’s upper Eastside 51st Street in 1937. He expected maybe two dozen to accept his invitation. To his surprise over seventy accepted. [They were shoe-horned in to the dinner on the first floor and to the showing of The Medal Maker on the second floor.]
For decades it was a symbiotic relationship between Trees and National Sculpture Society members. For Trees it was the advantage of having a first-string team of very talented artists he could call upon to design and model very high grade medals. For NSS members it was a four-week commission that could quickly earn a substantial fee from Medallic Art Company’s quick checkbook.
Society members, recognizing Trees business acumen, named him their Society Treasurer. In return Trees put the Society’s finances in top shape and increased their endowment four fold. He remained in that trusted position for more than three decades until his death in 1960.
Appropriately his widow, Francis Kimberle Trees followed in Clyde’s footsteps as NSS Treasurer for another two decades. So the Trees dynasty benefitted the National Sculpture Society in more ways than officer talent for half a century. As a plus, MACO was never at a loss for sculptural talent.
So the policy became: Get the order for the medal and we can have an NSS member design and model it to your complete satisfaction.
First factory artist. That same policy continued past Trees’ death, with a trio in charge of the firm, Bill Louth (Trees nephew), Francis Kimberlee Trees (Clyde’s widow) and Julius Lauth (Trees most experienced employee).
When Clyde had contacted a new prospect he would first learn of their interest. He would then have a sketch artist prepare a drawing of a proposed medal design incorporating that interest. At first he would have a medallic artist make those sketches. Under the triumvirate of the three owners they found they could keep a sketch artist busy full time.
Also, beginning in 1951, they added a staff sculptor, their first “factory artist” as an assistant to Julius Lauth. Julius was in charge of buying art, dealing with the sculptors and issuing all the commissions to prepare medallic models, which often included the artist creating the designs as well.
For the sales staff, they were never to mention “staff artist.” Instead the company line was “all our models are made by freelance artists.” There was a reason for this, other than not having the expense of paying a full-time sculptor a wage he deserved. It gave all artists, particularly those National Sculpture Society members, the belief they had a chance at those lush MACO medal commissions.
Perhaps it was an economic reason to make all Medallic Art medals commissioned by outside artists, but it also achieved that one very important truism, they all look different! Every medal is the best creative effort of a different artist.
Ramon Gordils, a Puerto Rican self-taught sculptor, was hired as Medallic Art’s in-house sculptor. At first he was employed only to do plaster work. If an outside sculptor brought in a positive model, and a negative was needed, Ramon would make the cast.
Then he was encouraged to do “touch-up.” To eliminate the tiny casting flaws, then sharpen up the lettering and detail. Make hair lines a little finer. Give the pupils in the eyes a little more attention. Improve the model. Also, it was learned, some of the most famous sculptors, no names need to be mentioned, created magnificent designs and models but had deplorable lettering.
Ramon could back-stop any artist. He could improve any artist’s model. Julius, as art director, and Ramon, as consummate craftsman, would always put their heads together over every model that came in. If the required change was more than Ramon should do, the original artist was called in and asked to remodel.
Julius had a way with high-ego artists. I once observed him ask an artist, in a very soft voice, “would it be better to have a few more tree branches here?” The artist responded, “By George, Julius. I do believe your right.” He retrieved his model to spend two more day’s work in his studio.
Artists always tried to please Julius, not only because he controlled the purse strings, but also because he knew exactly how to improve a model to create great medallic art! He had thirty years experience when I knew him. He knew the field, he knew every piece of equipment in the plant, and he knew what made great Art in Medallic Art.
Thus the policy under Louth and Lauth: Get the medal order; we will commission a freelance sculptor to design and model to the client’s extreme satisfaction. The client could, if he so chose, name the sculptor in advance.
Thus MACO management became proficient in matching client to artist. And artist to a client’s pocket book.
On the high end, for example for Ford Motor Company, a medal to display the three generations of Fords, the best medallic portrait artist at the time, Anthony di Francisci was chosen. His model was magnificent. So was his fee, $5,000 I believe. The most ever paid an artist during my tenure at the firm.
On the low end, if the client wanted a simple design, mostly lettering or very simple art work, Julius often commissioned a hand engraver. There were three of four of these at any time in New York City. A couple could knock out a pair of dies in a day’s time. Thus Medallic Art could serve the full spectrum of clients.
When the company was sold by the triumvirate three owners to Don Schwartz in 1972 he, of course, established his own policy toward medallic sculptors. He tried to maintain cordial relations with the National Sculpture Society and its members, but he drifted away from using them for in coming work. In the end he had four artists in the art department, one sketch artist, and three modelers.
Great medallic artists, like great painters, composers and authors, have a different Muse. It is not nine-to-five. It’s their Life. They are inspired! Their creative juices flow. Their imagination flies. Their creations tend to be spectacular!
What is Medallic Art’s policy be toward medallic sculptors? Accept every job. Match the artist to the amount the client wants to pay. Sell up. Talk the client into the best artist he can afford. Learn the full spectrum of talent that is available. Develop artists but recognize the fire in the belly of an artist who can be channeled into greatness. Know what each artist can do and their fees.
Adopt this goal: Create Great Art!