Obituary: Marcel Jovine 1921-2003

by Joanne Isaac

Distinguished medals sculptor and recipient of the ANS J. Sanford Saltus Award for Signal Achievement in the Art of the Medal, Marcel Jovine, died on January 20, 2003 in Greenwich, Connecticut at the home of his daughter, Andrea Coopersmith, leaving behind also his daughter Marcia of Washington D. C., and grandson, Alexander.

Born in Naples, Italy on July 26, 1921, Jovine was raised in Turin and attended the University of Naples. He was commissioned by the Military Academy at Turin, the equivalent to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he created mechanical and architectural drawings and drafts. In Turin Jovine met sculptor (and fellow officer) Bruno Burachini of Siena, who taught him the fundamentals of sculpture. Although Jovine had been drawing, whittling and model-making since his childhood, he had no formal training in sculpture other than his brief time with Burachini.

During World War II, Jovine served in the Italian army in North Africa and was captured there by Allied forces. Sitting out the rest of the war as a POW in Pennsylvania, Jovine spent his free time sketching and sculpting. It was during this time that he met and fell in love with Angela D’Oro, a singer and pianist, who performed concerts for the prisoners. After the war, upon returning to Italy, Jovine continued to correspond with Angela. In 1950, Jovine returned to the United States to marry Ms. D’Oro, and embark on a new life shaped by diverse and creative pursuits.

Jovine soon began what would prove to be a lucrative career as a toy-maker. Working for the Ideal Toy Company, Jovine fashioned several noteworthy creations: first, the Blessed Event Doll (unique for its rubber-plastic substance with an uncanny human-like fleshy quality), then a pirate ship with a full crew of tiny pirates, an anchor, plank and lifeboat. Later, he created hobby items utilizing authentic Army blueprints, designing tanks, missiles, missile carriers, and a dozen varied military vehicles. He also became known for his renditions of great thoroughbred race horses immortalizing in bronze the likes of Affirmed, Spectacular Bid and John Henry to name only a few. It was for his bronze of Spectacular Bid that the National Sculpture Society awarded Jovine the M.H. Lamston Prize for meritorious sculpture in 1983.

Russia’s launching of Sputnik in 1957 inspired Jovine to create hobby items that could serve a purpose. The result was a series of educational plastic models initially produced by Revell that included the anatomically correct Visible Man and Visible Woman. Jovine also designed the Visible V-8 Engine, still being made today.

In the late 1970’s, Mr. Jovine turned his attention away from toy-making and began concentrating his talents on numismatic sculpture. In his studio he carved bas-reliefs and intaglios, creating prototypes for coins, medals, and molds for minting. Jovine achieved notoriety for his superbly detailed, historically authentic artistry. Commissioned by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, Jovine created seventeen-inch models for the 1976 Bicentennial Calendar winning the Lindsay Morris Memorial Prize for bas-relief of the National Sculpture Society in 1977. He was commissioned to create the 100 Year Anniversary Medal of the Kentucky Derby; he made the Olympic medals used in the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, NY as well as the 1980 issue of the Society of Medalists. In 1982, Jovine’s design won the competition for presentation medals for the winners of the International Violin Competition held in Indianapolis, Indiana. He designed commemorative medals for the Viking I and II missions, the Soyuz-Apollo Linkup for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 36 medals of endangered species for the Sierra Club, and another 36 medals observing the “The Opening of the West” for Wells Fargo. In 1981, Jovine created the 60th anniversary medal for the Grand Central Art Gallery in New York City, depicting Grand Central Station statuary on the obverse and the likeness of the artists John Singer Sergeant, Edmund Greacen and W. L. Clark on the reverse.

In 1982, the ANS awarded Jovine with the design for our 125th anniversary medal, one of the ANS’ most successful issues in recent years. Rectangular in shape, the medal portrays a minter striking a coin on an anvil with a hammer; behind him are depictions of various important coins from the ANS collection. The verso illustrates a screw press and a pantograph machine, used for reducing designs in the preparation of dies. The piece, commissioned under the presidency of Harry Bass, was a favorite of the former ANS President. Interestingly the piece originally designed by Jovine showed a nude figure striking coins, but was deemed inappropriate for the occasion.

In 1984, Marcel Jovine was again selected by the ANS to receive the J. Sanford Saltus Award for Signal Achievement in the Art of the Medal. Karen Worth presented the citation praising Jovine for a “style of figurative art that is at the same time varied and individualistic. He has combined a baroque sense of decorative invention with an Art Nouveau love of swirling forms and an Art Deco conventionalization of figurative portrayal. Yet there is nothing old-fashioned or stilted about his work; it is clearly in the contemporary spirit.”