Favorite, In-House and ‘Workhorse’ Sculptors
For the first two decades of its existence, Medallic Art Company did not choose the artist to make the models for the medals the company produced. It was just the other way around. The artists chose Medallic Art.
Founders Henri and Felix Weil were originally sculptor assistants and the company they built existed only to service sculptors. The sculptors received the commissions to prepare a medal, just as they would receive a commission to prepare a statue or relief, or whatever in three-dimensional form.
Fortunately Henri and Felix were among the “in-group” of these New York City sculptors. Every major sculptor in the area new them, and one even married their sister.
The pair could receive the models from the commissioned sculptor at just about any stage and carry it through to fruition. Even if the big-name sculptor gave them a clay model, they would know to make a plaster cast, and then have the sculptor approve that. Then they took plaster to the next stage of making a hard-metal pattern by electrocasting in galvano form.
From that galvano dieshell the Weils cut a die on their Janvier reducing machine. Once they had a pair of dies, they subcontracted the actual striking of the medals. For the final step, they “colored” the medals, giving the medals the necessary final patina finish.
They had all the skill, knowledge and equipment – galvano tanks and that Janvier – to carry the medal job from beginning to end, all except the presses to strike the medals. [They did not own a press until after World War I when they purchased a surplus press formerly use in the manufacture of war munitions.]
From 1929 to 1946
Once Clyde Curlee Trees acquired control of the company in 1929 he changed the philosophy of the company. Instead of waiting for a sculptor to bring them work, he wanted to solicit work on his own. He became his own best salesman. He mounted extensive letter campaigns to prominent firms pointing out the benefits of issuing a medal for a variety of purposes. Orders did start flowing in – slowly.
I believe at first, Clyde made the decision of what sculptor to award those new commissions to prepare the models for medal jobs he sold in strong consultation with one or both Weils. After all, the Weils knew all the sculptors who could perform the necessary and rather specialized bas-reliefs for medallic models.
Clyde joined the National Sculpture Society (NSS) headquartered in New York City. He used the Society as an ersatz employment agency. The sculptors they needed to prepare their necessary models were all members of NSS. He got to know each of the Society’s members, their strengths and capabilities of preparing the glyptic models he needed.
That was beneficial both ways, since National Sculpture Society members were the cream of the sculpture field, Clyde got top name artists! The artists often got a quick commission they could accomplish between larger jobs. Clyde even became an officer of the Society in the position of the society’s treasurer.
Once Clyde gained confidence he probably made the choice of an artist decision on his own. This continued through the difficult years of the 1930s Great Depression era. Then came World War II, his employees went off to war, and bronze metal became a rationed war material prohibiting him from issuing medals in any quantity. Then came the post-war period of producing military decorations that required long production runs with little need for sculptors’ models for new medals.
After this period Clyde Trees began training an employee who had been with him since he graduated from architecture college in 1930, Julius Lauth. Julius was named a company director in 1956 and became a “favorite son” to Clyde perhaps even more so than his own nephew, William Louth (note spelling is different–no relation) who he had hired in 1950. Bill was slated for sales, however, and Julius was molded for production with knowledge of those sculptors.
From 1946 to 1960
At what time Trees relinquished control of naming which sculptor should be assigned what job is not known. Julius joined the National Sculpture Society, as did Trees’ second wife, Francis Kimberle Trees, who followed Clyde as NSS treasurer on Clyde’s death. They all became part of the NSS family with close working knowledge of the sculptor members and their activities.
But Julius was secure in his position of making these important decisions by the time of Trees’ death in 1960. Trees left the company to three people, his widow Francis, his nephew Bill, and his oldest and trusted employee, Julius.
From 1960 to 1972
All decisions in the choice of a sculptor were made by Julius Lauth alone for the decade of the 1960s, right up to 1972 when the three owners sold the firm to Donald Schwartz.
All during the period since Clyde acquired the firm in 1929, sculptors were encourage to solicit medal work on their own, but these artists often did not have the temperament of a salesman. If they learned of a potential medal job, more often than not, they turned over the lead to Clyde Trees, let him sell it, and be content that Clyde or whomever would favor them with the commission.
The Seven Workhorse Sculptors
I don’t know who first used the term “workhorse sculptor.” It may have been myself. But the term is apt. It means a sculptor who would accept any commission, no matter how mundane, prepare it in a very professional manor, and meet a fixed deadline for delivering the completed models.
Such an artist was a consummate craftsman and professional. It may have been an “easy” job – not the most desirable or most prestigious – but it kept the pot boiling and brought in a steady flow of commission dollars.
Over the years I believe seven artists could fall into this category of “workhorse sculptor.” Clyde Trees or Julius Lauth knew they could issue a commission to any one of these artists and get a pair of acceptable models in quick time, to the satisfaction of any client, no matter how critical that client might be.
Julio Kilenyi (1885-1959)
Julio Kilenyi was making medals as early as 1916 but was most active from 1920 to 1955. For a brief time in the 1920s he was a full-time employee at Balfour, but he later worked free-lance and did work for Whitehead & Hoag as well as Medallic Art, where he did 54 medals over three and a half decades.
Jeno Juszko (1880-1954, active 1929-1953)
Jeno Juszko was commissioned to do a series of plaques for a New York coin dealer and met Henri Weil, for whom he did a similar plaque (see Monday Report #1). Juszko did not become active for Medallic Art until Clyde Trees took control of the company; his active period was 1929 to 1953 during which he did 90 medals for the firm.
Rene Chambellan (1893-1955)
Rene Chambellan did a medal in 1921 – the Newberry Medal –that so impressed Clyde Trees that he started commissioning him in 1935, and he remained active until 1952. In all, Chambellan did an amazing 183 medals for Medallic Art Company!
Joseph Renier (1887-1966)
Joseph Renier became active making medal models somewhat late in his career, but even so he created an astounding 95 models that Medallic Art made into medals from 1951 to 1959.
Joseph DiLorenzo (1920-2001)
The term “workhorse sculptor” can certainly be applied to this artist, and I think I used this term with the artist’s son when he delivered the family medal collection to me to catalog for an exhibit in Fall 2011 at the Belskie Museum where I am curator of numismatic art.
DiLorenzo earns this accolade for two reasons. He was the first of this group to be commissioned to prepare models for series of medals – 17 total – often the only sculptor of the entire series. In addition to this he worked with other artists who designed the medal that he would then model – such as illustrator Paul Calle, architect Louis Sullivan, book designer P.J. Conkwright, painter Patrick Kennedy, and other well-known artists of the day. While active from 1958 to 1989, DiLorenzo prepared 370 models which Medallic Art struck! In addition he free-lanced to other medal makers as well, Metal Arts and Franklin Mint. His record will be well documented in his Fall Exhibition at the Belskie Museum
Rolf Beck (1901-1979)
Like DiLorenzo, he was commission to create models in series, 17 in all. Active from1960 to1990, he has 115 Medallic Art medals to his credit. We all know the stress of facing tight deadlines, and I recall one incidence where the pressure got to Rolf and he suffered a brief breakdown but recovered to continue his modeling marathon.
Patrick Whitaker (1918-1994)
He prepared models so quickly he became a favorite of Julius Lauth for medals of less than top-name clients. He was most active from1965 to1981 and is credited with 76 medals made for Medallic Art Company.
Ramon Gordils, In-House Sculptor
While the official company statement was “all work is done by free-lance sculptors,” we did have one in-house sculptor, Ramon Gordils. Hired in 1951, his stated purpose was to “backstop” outside sculptors work. He was an expert on touchup work. He could take another artist’s model and make it better, often touching up the lettering.
He was self-taught, but he was so good Julius would often just assign him to do the model himself intact. That is why there are 162 entries bearing his name in the MACO medal archives. And this reflects only his major efforts, not the hundreds of touchup jobs he did to make outside sculptors look their best and make their models shine.
Everybody loved Ramon, even the sculptors whose work he improved. He could be called a “factory artist,” but he was far more than that. He was a consummate professional who fully understood his craft and knew intuitively what made an excellent medallic model.
Favorites – Ralph Joseph Menconi, and Robert Alexander Weinman
It is personal nature, of course, but Julius could be assessed with the claim that he favored a couple of sculptors. Two of these would be at the top of that list: Ralph Joseph Menconi, and Robert Alexander Weinman.
Menconi had a nearby studio in New York City (56th Street cross-town from Medallic Art’s 45th Street address) – easily within walking distance. Weinman worked out of a barn converted into a studio on his estate in suburban Westchester County. Both were in the Medallic Art plant and Julius’ office often.
Both were friends of Julius as well as every person in the plant. Both were at the top of their profession, and both were master medalists, sculptors, artists, and craftsmen. They both produced top-quality medals for top-rated clients. Julius knew he could commission these two for any medal, right up to the White House!
One important fact on six of these artists, workhorse and favorites, they were second-generation sculptors. Their fathers were sculptors as well!