Oct. 21
Nov. 19

Medals at MICA, 1852-1950

October 21, 2021 – November 19, 2021
Decker Library
1401 W Mt Royal Ave
Artistic medal by Augustus Saint Gaudens featuring an engraving of an archway above steps and a fire at the center, an angel to the right, surrounded by trees.

This exhibition delves into the medallic art history of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) as well as the leaders of the medal-making industry such as the Medallic Art Company and community organizations like the Society of Medalists. Today some of these medals are housed in the Decker Library’s Special Collections. A medal is a thin disc of metal with engravings and relief imagery. Medal making as an art form gained the most traction in the nineteenth century, as more independently artistic medals were produced in addition to the existing commissions for event/organization based medals. This continued into the early twentieth century, with participation dwindling in more recent years. Medals are still made today, but are less popular than when these organizations were in their hayday. MICA was established in 1825 under the name of the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts and was later rebranded in 1959. While under its first name, Arts and Mechanics fairs were held and students exhibited their skills in various areas. These areas include diverse skills across both the arts and mechanics, such as the engineering of oscillating steam engines, corn shelling, grand piano, and mechanical execution on marble mantles. Those who excelled in their area were awarded with a medal engraved with their name and talent. In addition to the fairs, MICA would also award medals to students who showed improvement or mastery in their class subjects. Many medals were collected within The Rinehart School of Sculpture, mainly artistic medals such as the Augustus St. Gaudens’ piece commemorating the Cornish Marquee. Other artistic medals include designs from the Society of Medalists’ yearly contest. Artistic medals have a higher relief, tend to be heavier, and one of a kind compared to the more mass-produced medallions. The artists of these medals provided more detail by building up a higher relief and outlining as many interesting textures as they could. The allegory attached to each one instantly draws in the viewer, while the text tempts viewers to flip the medal over to finish the phrase that would often begin on the first side and continue on the back. The central piece of the exhibition is the MICA Centennial medallion, created by Rinehart alumni Hans Schuler, to celebrate the first one hundred years of the school’s operation. Honorable mention awards to MICA alumni in that year were given medals engraved with their name accompanied by text commemorating the centennial. With the bicentennial approaching in 2025, it is interesting to see the medallion’s designs and think about how they might hold up today.