I began studying the figure in the early 1970s. Robert Beverley Hale was teaching anatomy at the Art Student’s League in New York City. Hale was esteemed, and Drawing Lessons From the Great Masters was required reading for anyone working figuratively.
Hale’s classes weren’t just full; they were SRO. Hale was old and frail, and we hung on every word, knowing his teaching days were numbered. At the end of each lecture he recited, from memory of course, poetry or prose in celebration of the human being. It was, of course, like being part of a congregation of worshipers. We all left feeling uplifted, and determined to reflect the grandeur of the human being in our work.
My completed works from 1976 to 1987 were all sculptures in-the-round, and included portrait busts, commemorative statues, and figures exploring dance, yoga, and sport. Other figurative works sprang from these, including works celebrating the passages in my own life, pregnancy, mother and child, and father and child figures. A whimsical series I called Family Tree had my family members interacting as dancers freed from the confines of gravity. The serious dance sculptures, celebrated different choreographic styles, led my hard-worked dancer-models to naturally twist, turn, stretch, and recline, and these natural poses led to my Modern Muse series of female figures naturally in motion or repose.
When George HW Bush ran for President in 1987, I began experimenting, for the first time, with medallic art. I began collecting inaugural medals, and eventually other portrait medals that I thought were particular good. I had been told that I had a natural facility in working the figure in the round. Not so in rendering in relief. My early attempts were student attempts, with student results, some passable others not. I felt the beauty of the medium and the challenge. The Medallic Art Company was conveniently based in Danbury CT, twenty minutes from my home.
That iteration of Medallic Art had a long-time exhibit on its walls, unifaces of what could be termed The History of American Medallic Art in the Twentieth Century. Examples of America’s medalists were clustered, each with a photo of the artist. All the greats were represented. My wife and I are now the proud conservators of that collection. We’ve had summer interns catalogue the works, and loaned examples, notably to the wonderful medallic art exhibition Robin Salmon mounted at Brookgreen Gardens a few years back.
Having multiple medals home was helpful in learning. With each competition or commission I would go-to-school on medals in my collection.
Miracle of miracles, with time my understanding of the medium has grown. I’m particularly proud of the most recent portraits of Albert Schweitzer and of Barack Obama. The Obama was my 4th attempt at an Obama relief. The third became the obverse for the 2009 Official Presidential Inaugural Medal.
Meanwhile my medal collection has grown, thanks mostly to Joe Levine of Presidential Coin and Antique, whose portrait I did when Joe was President of the Tokens and Medals Society. Ebay has been another source of wonderful medals, and some galvanos and larger plaques. Beyond portraits I enjoy the Society of Medalists medals, and the Brookgreen Gardens series. My medal for Brookgreen was the last that Joseph Veach Nobel chose, for their 2002 medal, From the Artist’s Studio to Nature’s Gallery. Joe told me that “a good art medal tells a story, a unified theme from obvers to reverse.” Another mentor was Hugo Greco, master technician at Medallic Art. His encouragement meant a lot. The Brookgreen medal, along with my Theodore Roosevelt medal for the Theodore Roosevelt Association, and two of my Obama medals, are in the National Museum of American History collection. A gold strike of the Official 2009 Presidential Inaugural Medal is in the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, and multiple museum collections nationally.
The last few years I’ve been collecting European medals, mostly French, but really artists throughout Europe, and some European trained South American medalists. There’s a confluence of technical virtuosity, grace, and design in these medals. When Robert Beverley Hale taught drawing, he used to say that drawing isn’t about line, or contour, or anatomy, and negative space, but about driving all the horses at once.” The best medalists can drive all the horses at once.