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Pegasus symbol on medal by Laura Gardin Fraser

Pegasus symbol on medal by Laura Gardin Fraser

Unicorns may be more popular as art pins and pendants than the Winged Horse Pegasus. But in medallic art Pegasus flies higher. This was evident recently as Pegasus medal specimens were gathered to illustrate the 2012 Medallic Art Company annual calendar. More than the 12 different specimens in the firm’s medallic archives were found to showcase one for each month in 2012.

Pegasus is popular as a device on medals, and for good reason. Pegasus is the symbol of Inspiration for artists, The Muse to prompt their actions, the Courser to guide their creations. Pegasus with his outstretched wings is an ideal element to feature on a medal – not only for  the shape of its wings fitting well in a circle – but also for the  universal understanding as a symbol for Inspiration for all artists, and for all art media.

But he hasn’t always been such a symbol. A mythical creature in Greek mythology, Pegasus was ordered by Zeus to bring lightning and thunder to Olympus according to mythological chronicles. By the Middle Ages, Pegasus became more a symbol of Wisdom and Fame.

Only in modern time is his relationship with mythical Muses recalled with influence on poetry. Muses were said to inspire poetry, and from this the Winged Horse became an inspirational symbol for all artists, for all art forms, music, painting, and, of course, sculpture and medallic art, in addition to poetry.

Medallic artists have shown Pegasus flying in the air without a ground line – the wings can be conveniently shaped to fit the curve of a circular medal. Or Pegasus can be shown with a globe, flying over or touching the globe. Paul Manship shows his Pegasus symbol over the sun on two of his medals. A Poetry Society Medal shows a flying Pegasus over a single star.

For the Architectural League of New York Frank Eliscu displays Pegasus in repose atop a three-column pillar. He fashioned Pegasus’ head in regardant pose looking back over his wings.

Ernest Haswell fashions Pegasus flying over what looks like gears. This is in contrast to Albino Manca’s flying Pegasus in a Suermanish pose leaping over tall buildings for a medal in honor of another sculptor, Henry Hering. This was for the National Sculpture Society award medal bearing Hering’s name.

Several medallic artists researched Pegasus early mythological origin where Greek hero Bellerophon captured Pegasus and rode bareback into battle defeating the dreaded monster Chimera. Pegasus helped the Good Guys win that combat.

For one of those Manship medals with Pegasus over the sun, a musician is shown riding the Winged Steed. We know it is a musician because he is holding a lyre. On the reverse an artist is shown holding a pallet.  Manship was a master of symbols and tied in all the arts together with flawless use of only three symbols for this Art Directors Club Medal creation.

Manship's Pegasus medal for the St Paul Institute

Manship’s Pegasus medal for the St Paul Institute

For that other Manship medal the sun serves as a reserve – a circular cartouche – where a recipients’ name can be engraved on the struck award medal. That’s the reverse iconography. The obverse shows a kneeling female with lyre again in one hand, and a winged angel statue in the other. The repetition of the winged image on both obverse and reverse is Great Medallic Art. One could expect no less from Manship in this medal for the art organization, Saint Paul Institute.

Rene Chambellan displays Pegasus in an ethereal view amid clouds as a scientist below peers in a microscope. A similar view of Pegasus in clouds is shown by Laura Gardin Fraser for the Centennial Medal of the American Numismatic Society in 1858.

Forty years earlier for the same organization sculptor Chester Beach created the Peace of Versailles Medal ending World War I. Beach shows Pegasus being led by a male and female figure. Bellerophon is shown astride Pegasus as symbol of Victory from the early Greek mythological history. That’s good use of mythical symbols.

The most artistic use of Pegasus in this group, however, is Marcel Jovine’s Brookgreen Gardens Medal. The sculptor is shown carving the head of Pegasus on the obverse with mallet and chisel. It’s a close-up view with the horse’s mane flying in all directions. Jovine modeled a nose and mouth on the horse that’s uncanny, it’s so realistic. The reverse is dominated by the wings that curve around half the medal’s circumference.

First two-part medal. I have saved a favorite for the last. It is the first two-part medal issued in America. Created by Frank Eliscu at the top of his career, he modeled a Pegasus for the Plant Dedication Medal for Medallic Art Company’s new headquarters in Danbury, Connecticut.

This led, with further Inspiration, a year later to create the two-part medal shown here. The obverse shows the Hand of God releasing Pegasus. Inspiration is released for the use of Man is the symbolism implied here.

The two interface surfaces – shown when the medal is parted into the two halves – displays Pegasus in fine flying form. The two surfaces are convex and concave reliefs of the same image, both made from a single sculptural model.

The reverse shows Man and Inspiration in harmony. The heads of both are shown in artistic repose. The harmony is accomplished, the creativity is produced, the work is done.

I liked that medal so well, I wrote the leaflet that accompanied the medal when issued. I even signed my name to it. That was the only leaflet among dozens I wrote for company medals that I signed. In that leaflet I wrote about the first two-part medals in Europe, artist Eliscu’s efforts in creating the model and the symbolism represented in the design. I mentioned all the firsts the firm had issued before.

I posted about this medal along with the press release here.

Here is how I ended the leaflet:

So innovation is not new to Medallic Art Company. It is proud to have produced Frank Eliscu’s Inspiration medal and to have added it to a growing list of famous firsts. Here, then, is America’s first multi-part medal, inspired by Inspiration itself, stimulated by the invention of a new medallic art form in Europe, created by a talented and gifted artist in Connecticut.

It remains only for art lovers and collectors the world over to accept it for what it is, a thing of beauty and a joy forever!


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The medal “Inspiration” was originally issued in 1974 and in many ways was a noteworthy first. This press release was obtained after a dear reader wanted to know more about the medallion.

AMERICA’S FIRST TWO-PART MEDAL
ISSUED BY MEDALLIC ART COMPANY

Silver Issue Number One Presented to ANA Museum

Bal Harbour, Fla., August 16—”Inspiration,” the first fine art medal struck in America that opens up to reveal two additional surfaces inside—in effect America’s first multiple part medal—was exhibited to the collecting public today at the convention of the American Numismatic Association meeting here this week at the Americana Hotel.

The 2 1/4-inch medal is the creation of Frank Eliscu, a Connecticut sculptor, and is issued by Medallic Art Company of Danbury. The innovative work features the mythological horse Pegasus, symbol of inspiration.

Inspiration Medal Obverse

Inspiration Medal Obverse

Pegasus is shown on the obverse being released from the hand of God; the two inside surfaces show Man capturing Inspiration; and the reverse shows Man and Inspiration in harmony. The unusual medal breaks apart to reveal the two inner surfaces, convex and concave images of the same design.

This novel work of art is struck in both bronze and silver. William T. Louth, president of Medallic Art, will present serial number one of the silver version to the American Numismatic Association.

In a ceremony planned to be held Saturday, August 17th, during the awards presentation, Virginia Culver, president of the national collectors’ organization, will accept the unique silver two-part medal for the organization’s numismatic museum in Colorado Springs.

Inspiration Medal Reverse

Inspiration Medal Reverse

As a work of art, sculptor Eliscu was required to prepare three models—the two inner surfaces were made from the same bas-relief pattern—and to provide an interlocking rim design for the interface surfaces. He solved this design problem by creating a ring of flames, symbolizing earth, for the convex and concave surfaces.

This ring of flames design, no two of which are alike, ingeniously permits the two halves to be put back together only one way. Thus the medal breaks apart to reveal the inside designs and easily fits back together as a complete unit.

Much of the charm of the medal is, indeed, opening it up to examine the inner design and fitting it back together. The medal is made to sustain examination over many years; its finish is such that its four surfaces are protected and will not mar despite this handling.

Inspiration Medal Raised Interior

Inspiration Medal Raised Interior

Creating an innovative medal such as this one came easy to artist Frank Eliscu. Not only is he an accomplished sculptor, author, and teacher, but also a craftsman in many media—crystal, wax, slate, clay—and an authority on casting bronze. In fact, he has written textbooks on most of these subjects.

As a young boy Eliscu modeled figures using candles softened in hot water. He studied at the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, Pratt Institute, and under sculptor Rudolph Evans. With maturing study, increasing recognition and a growing list of commissions, came the development of a highly individualized technique which has remained with the artist during an active career.

Among his commissions include slate carvings, sculpture in the round, and heroic reliefs, all in distinctive Eliscu style. These are complemented by a number of well executed medals, notably a Society of Medalists issue, the Architectural League of New York Collaborative Medal, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica Bicentennial Medal.

Inspiration Medal Recessed Interior

Inspiration Medal Recessed Interior

His art works include “Atoms for Peace,” a 16-foot heroic bronze figure at Ventura, California, the “Shark Diver,” an undersea fantasy, also in bronze, for Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, and “Slate Horses,” for the Bankers Trust Building in New York City.

He has had exhibitions in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Ohio, Massachusetts, Michigan and elsewhere. His work is widely represented in private collections and museums.

He has been much awarded, including the Bennet Prize for sculpture, National Sculpture Society prize, Henry Hering award, and others. He is a fellow of the National Sculpture Society of which he is a past president, an associate of the National Academy of Design, and a member of the Architectural League of New York.

Eliscu’s sculptural forms are, as one art curator once said, “Lean forms in action, wrought with sharp detail to give an impression of wiry strength and nervous energy.” This is certainly true in this innovative medal. Innovation and creativity are nothing new to Medallic Art Company. It has many firsts to its credit, including importing the first Janvier pantograph into America. This machine is credited with the finest reductions of sculptors’ models while it simultaneously cuts a die. Previously dies were all handcut, or only a portion—as a portrait—was reduced from a sculptor’s model. Medallic Art Company struck the first private medal series produced in America, the Circle of the Friends of the Medallion; the first medal with raised lettering on the edge from engraved collars.

The firm produced the first medal with a moving part, that of a magnet, for General Electric’s dedication of its West Milton, New York, atomic plant in 1955. It produced the first medal with a Braille inscription: a fine art medal for the Library of Congress Division of the Blind, the Francis Joseph Campbell Medal, 1966, by Bruce Moore.

The 70-year-old firm also produced the first bimetal medal—with a clad strip of silver on a bronze base—for the 1967 centennial of Handy & Harmon, the precious metal dealers.

It produced the first high relief proof surface medal in 1968 and the first collectors’ plate to be made by bas-relief medallic process.

So, innovation is not new to the Medallic Art Company. It has produced the first multi-part medal similar to several from Europe, the earliest known was “Jonah in the Whale” by French medallist Rene Quillivic.

With the creation of a new product often comes new terminology. D. Wayne Johnson, who wrote the leaflet which accompanies the “Inspiration” two-part medal, states that a study of names was undertaken for the new Medal and the kind of medallic item it is.

A member of the A.N.A. Terms and Standardization Committee, Mr. Johnson said “‘Two-part’ is the shortest term used by those employees of the medal manufacturing firm, along with ‘inspiration’—its name as a work of art.

“But ‘two-part’ implies correctly there are only two components. What if the next creation were of three, or more, parts? And one far-thinking client has already explored having Medallic Art produce a 12-component item.

“Therefore the best overall term must take into consideration these multiple parts. The best term, then, for medallic items of more than one equal components is ‘multi-part’ and ‘two-part’ for those which, of course, have two parts.”

“Inspiration,” America’s first multi-part medal went on sale at the American Numismatic Association convention today. In addition to a bronze variety, at $15, the silver version—which weighs eight ounces of 999 fine silver—at $120, there is also a half-bronze and half-silver version. This sells for $60.

The medals are all serially numbered, in fact twice, once on each part of the medal.

Inspiration Medal Serial Number

Inspiration Medal Serial Number

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