Saltus Award and Scher Lecture

by Robert Hoge

The annual presentation of the J. Sanford Saltus Award Medal of the American Numismatic Society, “for signal achievement in the art of the medal,” took place on Saturday, Feb. 9, in the West Gallery of the museum. This year’s recipient was the distinguished Finnish sculptor Toivo Antero Jaatinen, accompanied on his visit to New York by his son, Raimo Jaatinen—also a prominent Finnish medallic artist. Those in attendance were treated to a home video of medallic technique and tradition prepared by the Saltus winner. An exhibition of Jaatinen’s works, and a selection of those of other Finnish medalists from the late 19th to the late 20th centuries, was mounted in the East gallery.

Toivo Antero Jaatinen being presented with the 2002 J. Sanford award medal by the honorable Dr. Stephen K. Scher.

The annual Stephen K. Scher Lecture, having to do with medallic sculpture, followed the Saltus Award ceremony. This year’s speaker was Richard Stone, Conservator of the Sherman Fairchild Center for Objects Conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In his address “The Renaissance Cast Medal: Technology and Appearance,” he postulated that no original versions of the classic renaissance medals seem to be extant; that various casting and surface chemical treatment methods employed at the time explain the variations in quality, size and appearance of the surviving “aftercasts.”

The afternoon event was concluded by a Chinese banquet in honor of the guests at the Tang Pavilion restaurant, 65 West 55th St.

Finnish sculptor Toivo Antero Jaatinen working in his studio.

The Citation for the Award of the J. Sanford Saltus Medal

The northern forests of Suomi-Finland have witnessed epic struggles in the human urge toward identity and independence. Rich in natural and cultural resources, the country has maintained itself through centuries of foreign domination and, in the 20th century, achieved national status of its own. It is perhaps symbolic of Finland’s constant efforts and final realization of independent nationality that the past century presents a panorama of outstanding production in the field of that most symbolic, exacting and personal creation: the medallic sculpture.

Under the auspices of Sweden and Russia, the competing powers, which dominated Finland and its politics, a variety of medals were issued with a Finnish connection, and in the late 19th century, the mint in Helsinki commenced to strike medals. The first such to recognize a private person, the explorer N. A. E. Nordenskiold, in 1880, was the joint work of Jacob Ahrenberg, Walter Runeberg and Carl Jahn, bringing to bear their experiences from mints abroad. German-born engraver Jahn worked with the Swede, Eric Lindberg, who in turn served as a teacher for Finnish artist Gerda Qvist. Qvist holds a unique place in Finnish medallic sculpture as the first, about 1920, to create cast medals—a field in which her students and successors were to excel.

The Finnish Numismatic Society was founded in 1914, and independence from Russian domination was achieved in 1917, leading to a florescence of medallic sculpture. Artists like Gunnar Finne, Emil Wikstrom, Waino Aaltonen, Viktor Malmberg, Felix Nylund, Bruno Aspelin and Ville Vallgren soon joined Gerda Qvist in developing new tendencies in the medium through the 1920s and ’30s and thereafter. Through the 20th century, Finnish medallic sculptors have continued to excel. At every congress of the International Federation of the Medal (FIDEM), their vibrancy, creativity, innovation and productivity have been strikingly evident.

Finnish medalists in general have enjoyed a strong tradition of three-dimensional and monumental sculptural production, which is often reflected in the character of their work. Toivo Jaatinen, the creative genius whom we honor here today, is no exception. If there is a quality that characterizes the work of the Finnish medalists, it might be a sense of exploration and experimentation within a strong framework of tradition and technical discipline. Toivo Jaatinen’s medallic sculptures brilliantly reflect these tendencies.

Born in 1926 near Sortavala in Finnish Karelia (the area annexed by the Soviet Union in World War II), Jaatinen was trained at the Central School of Art and Crafts and the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. He first exhibited his sculptures in 1952, and since that time has participated in 25 expositions. He has created 15 public monumental sculptures. While he began experimenting with bas relief works in the early 1950s, he did not undertake medallic commissions until 1962, and felt that his career in this arena did not really begin until the late 1960s. He has produced 55 commissioned medals, a fine selection of which he has made available for display here at the American Numismatic Society. His productions frequently demonstrate his early training with the master-artist, Gerda Qvist, from whom he acquired some of the elements observed in his work.

Jaatinen has stated, “I never tried to create or assimilate consciously any artistic style, which could be recognized as the special style of my own. But in my art it is possible to see the influence of the traditional Finnish sculpture from the 1930s and ’40s.”

He modestly gives credit for his accomplishments to his fine mentors. “During and after my studies at the end of the ’40s, I worked as an assistant for many well-known Finnish sculptors. The artistic vision and sculptural expression, which was common to all of them, aimed at creating firm, plastic and monumental three-dimensional form structures.”

The prize-winning medalist is also a teacher himself, and an enthusiastic proponent and technician in the field of bronze-casting foundry work. His creations are to be found in a number of collections both in Finland and abroad, including France, Belgium, Poland, the Vatican and the Imperial Court of Japan. Something of the strength and character of his homeland resonates in Jaatinen’s work: contrast of light and shadow, as in the long, dark winter’s night with glowing snow and ice; long, summer days through brooding shadowy forests and bright waters; people with a profound interest in heritage, excellence and creativity.

It is our distinct pleasure and honor here today to present the J. Sanford Saltus Award for Signal Achievement in the Art of the Medal to Toivo Jaatinen, and to welcome him and his son Raimo, also a medallic sculptor of renown, to this country and this institution.