Marie Jean Lederman

FIDEM_SofiaThe thirty-third international congress of medallic artists took place in Sofia, Bulgaria from September second through September sixth. Two hundred eighty-two artists from thirty countries were represented in the exhibition, held in the National Institute of Archaeology. The building itself is a treasure. Originally a fifteenth century mosque, the museum includes in its permanent collection Thracian gold coins and metalwork dating from thousands of years ago. The FIDEM exhibition brings the building’s art into the twenty-first century.

And what an exhibition it is. A stunning catalogue shows the range of styles, methods and materials of this international group of medallists. Lectures included explorations of contemporary medalists as well as historical medals. A few lectures dealt with the nature of medals themselves: tradition and innovation or tradition versus innovation. Needless to say these lectures resulted in especially lively discussions. One speaker made the point that medals are going to change and suggested that FIDEM exhibition policies should change as well.

In addition to the FIDEM exhibition there was a fascinating student medal exhibition in the Academia Gallery at the National Academy of Art. As we walked around the exhibit many of us felt that some of the medals could easily have been in the FIDEM exhibit. The National Academy of Art has a long history of training artists and is considered the most prestigious Bulgarian institution of its kind.

On September fifth we were invited to attend the opening of Bogomil Nikolov’s medal exhibition at the National Art Gallery. In addition to being a superb medallist, Professor Nikolov has been head of the Metal Department of the National Academy of Arts for over twenty years. Professor Nikolov is obviously a charismatic and devoted teacher, evidenced by the work and devotion of his many students. He was, quite clearly, the guiding light of all of the exhibitions — and of medal making in Bulgaria.

The exhibitions and lectures prompted a lot of talking among the delegates. One interesting question is that of how to exhibit medals other than in the traditional glass cases. We know that this tradition separates the medals from the viewers, sometimes as a result of poor lighting and sometimes as overcrowding. Alternatives are wall-hung medals or medals hung in the air. These kinds of displays allow people not only to see but to touch the medals themselves. Obviously this raises questions of security and, in the case of medals constructed from materials other than metals, questions of perishability.

There was also a demonstration of sand casting which, for those of us who went to the industrial area in which it was held, was interesting. While there was an obvious language problem, the demonstration needed little explanation. In very close quarters, there was at one point a failed casting which caused a few of us to quickly jump out the way. This made the successful castings even more impressive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVery impressive too was the presence of seventeen students at the Congress (parenthetically fifteen were women).

There were numerous social events beginning with the opening of a sculpture exhibition at a local art gallery, co-hosted by the American delegation, a cocktail party at the opening of the FIDEM exhibition at the National Institute of Archaeology, cocktail parties at the Union of Bulgarian Artists’ Gallery, the Academia Gallery at the National Academy of Art, a cocktail party celebrating the opening of the Bogomil Nikolov medal exhibition at the National Art Gallery and, finally a gala dinner ending the Congress at the Sky Plaza restaurant in the National Palace of Culture. Needless to say we ate and drank well, sampling local wines and, especially the national drink, rakia.

On one of the days there was a walking tour of Sofia; on another there was a bus tour to Plovdiv, two hours outside of Sofia. We walked through Plovdiv’s Old Town and saw the Roman Theater which dates back to the 2nd century and holds 3000 people. Old Town had numerous nineteenth century buildings, and we explored one that had been a well to do merchant’s house. Of particular interest was the woodcarvings on the walls and ceilings. One of the distinct features of the town was that we weren’t walking on cobblestones so much as cobble-boulders — difficult to navigate because we had to look down as well as around us.

The two-day Post-Congress tour took twenty-three of us to Veilkorutnovo, which was the capitol of Bulgaria from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, Tsaravets rock fortress, and Arbanasi, where houses have been restored and craftsmen work and where we visited a seventeenth century church with magnificent frescoes.

On a personal note, I had spent the summer reading about Bulgaria, and I consider myself fortunate that I had this chance to wander around Sofia, a cosmopolitan city with beautiful churches, museums and a wealth of history. As always, it was wonderful to reconnect with artists I had met at other FIDEM meetings and to experience, together, this one. For those of you who do not yet belong to FIDEM and have not attended any Congress, you are missing a very special intellectual, social and artistic experience!


Mashiko/FIDEM USA Delegate

Sofia4Congress was hosted at the Grand Hotel Sofia, Bulgaria, where all the meetings and lectures were held. It was organized by Bulgaria Delegate Bogomil Nikolov. The night before the opening of the General Assembly, the USA Delegation hosted a reception in which the USA Delegation Medal was presented. Since the 1983 XIX Florence Congress, the USA has commissioned a delegation medal to celebrate the Congress, with the selection process for the past several congresses an open competition among the USA Delegation Artists. This year’s medal for FIDEM XXXIII was commissioned to Ivank Mincheva directly, who was born, educated, and still has a summer studio in Sofia. The USA Delegation reception, which is limited to by-invitation only, has become a FIDEM Congress tradition, where the USA Delegation Medal is presented to all USA Delegation attendees, all country delegates, and the FIDEM Executive Committee. The FIDEM XXXIII medal was very well received. We participated in this year’s Medal Fair with the Delegation medals.Three Sofia Congress medals were sold along with the USA FIDEM Delegation Medal from the Tampere Congress.

We are appreciative of Bulgarian sculptor, Emil Bachijski, who shared reception space with us, coinciding with the opening of his one-person exhibition at Rayko Alexiev Gallery. He also covered the cost of wine and snacks. We are especially appreciative to all FIDEM USA delegation members for maintaining the tradition of commissioning medals, and hosting the Congress presentation reception. The congress saw 103 registrants, among which there were 13 USA members, plus three members’ families in attendance. The USA members George Cuhaj, Cory Gilliland, Dr. Ira Rezak, and Mashiko were among the speakers at this congress. Several emerging artists were awarded scholarships to attend the congress; Lindsay Fisher from Michigan was one of these recipients. The FIDEM XXIII Exhibition was held at the National Archaeological Museum. The USA delegation was allotted quota of 86 medals with the following size regulation determined by the Bulgaria delegate: each side was an entry, and anything over 100mm and within 150mm was counted as two entries. Impressively, the USA judging committee received 121 entries (61 within 100mm and 30 oversized) well-executed works from 40 participants. Final selections from 36 artists were sent to the Congress Exhibition.