Saltus Award and Stephen K. Scher Lecture

by Robert Wilson Hoge

On Saturday, March 8, 2003, the J. Sanford Saltus Award for Signal Achievement in the Art of the Medal was presented to the distinguished Canadian artist Dora de Pédery-Hunt (see the citation, below). Ms. de Pédery-Hunt is perhaps best known as the artist whose portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has graced the obverse of Canada’s coinage since 1990. Born and trained as a sculptor in Hungary, she immigrated to Canada in 1948 and commenced working in the medallic format in 1960. Since that time, she has created over 500 works in this field and gained wide international recognition and popularity.

The annual Stephen K. Scher lecture in connection with the presentation of the Saltus Award immediately followed the ceremony. This was “The Renaissance of the Cast Medal in 19th Century France,” by fine arts connoisseur and dealer David Yates. Mr. Yates, a graduate of Amherst College, where he served as Curator of Anthropological Collections from 1972 to 1975, has been a specialist in late 18th through 20th century French sculpture, drawings and medals since 1977, working in New York City and Paris.

A selection of the works of Dora de Pédery-Hunt was placed on display in the East Gallery of the Museum for the occasion. In addition, a special exhibit of items from the ANS cabinet entitled “Cast French Medals of the 1800s” opened in the East Gallery at that time in conjunction with the Scher lecture. The two-part exhibition will remain on view until late September, 2003.

The event was followed by a subscription dinner in honor of Ms. de Pédery-Hunt at the Tang Pavillion, on West 55th Street.

Standing from left to right is Stephen Scher, Dora de Pédery-Hunt and Robert Wilson Hoge

Saltus Award

The language of art is universal. Originality, craftsmanship, a nod to tradition and an urge to express embodied in a metallic object can transcend distances and cultures. Today, she is recognized as a premier artist of Canada, but this year’s winner of the J. Sanford Saltus Award Medal for Signal Achievement in the Art of the Medal was actually born in Hungary, that crossroads of Central Europe. She is Dora de Pédery-Hunt, one of the foremost, and most prolific, medallic sculptors of the 20th and now of the 21st centuries. The peoples and themes represented in the range of her medallic sculptures reflect a life and a sensibility outlined by two continents since the second decade of the 1900s. It is our honor and privilege to celebrate her achievements here today.

Ms. de Pédery-Hunt had an artistic career in Hungary, where she was born in 1913 into a family actively committed to the arts and sciences. She studied at the Royal School of Applied Art, in Budapest, where she received her diploma in sculpture and design. After the end of World War II and the Communist take-over of Hungary, she immigrated to Canada, where she taught art and worked as a designer of church interiors. She continued her sculpting, however, frequently exhibiting in group shows. In 1960 she began to explore the medium of the medal and in 1965 her first solo show, at the Dorothy Cameron Gallery, in Toronto, focused on medallic works and small sculptures exclusively. From this beginning, in the past 40 years she has executed more than 500 medals and gained world-wide attention and acclaim. The image of her sculpted model of Queen Elizabeth II has adorned the obverse of Canada’s national coinage since 1990.

A regular participant in regional, national and international exhibitions of medallic sculpture, such as those of FIDEM (Fédération Internationale de la Médaille), Ms. de Pédery-Hunt has developed an impressive following. Her many works are included in museums, galleries and private collections all over the world, and a constant demand for new commissions continues to come her way. In addition to medals, she has made a name for herself in the fields of sculptured jewelry, emblem and logo designs and other graphics.

Her work does not involve preparation of preliminary sketches; rather, Ms. de Pédery-Hunt will bring forth an idea “ready in my mind.” She does not ask subjects to “sit” for her; instead, she will pass time in their company, visiting, gaining an impression, a perspective.

Ms. de Pédery-Hunt has become an advocate for medalists in Canada, taking pride in exhibiting and promoting the works of her confrères. She is particularly enthusiastic about encouraging and assisting young people. A distinctive boldness and plasticity characterize her works, and aspects of her style have been adopted by quite a few more recent practitioners in the creation of the medal. Many of her medals exhibit fresh and fanciful portraiture, often embodying the characteristics of clay in the final metallic outcome.

“The medal always intrigues me,” Ms. de Pédery-Hunt has stated. “I find it equally exciting to make one or to own one… To create a medal I have to accept the challenges of working inside the limits of a small disc and obeying the strict rules of the striking, casting and finishing processes… My medals are a result of a good fight against them—and at the end at least I can look back on a bravely fought battle…

“The medal’s real place is in your hand… There is really magic in a medal. Clasp it in your fist, let your warmth enter the cold metal and then take it to the window. Watch it: the light hits some edges, hidden crevices appear, there are some mounds you had not even seen before. Feel the tension of the surface. There is life underneath. It is not a cold piece of metal any more: trees grow here, bodies leap high, faces emerge.”

The subject matter of her works is highly varied, including historical commemorations, humanistic concerns, celebrities, private individuals, and a host of occasional awards. A few of Ms. de Pédery-Hunt’s varied institutional commissions are the Pearl McCarthy Scholarship Medal, 1965 (St. Hilda’s College, Toronto); the “Reach for the Top” Award, 1967 (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation); the John Drainie Award, 1968 (Association of Canadian television and Radio Artists); the Osaka Expo 70 Official Medal of the Canadian Government, 1970; and the Paul Ehrlich Medal, 1971 (First International Congress of Immunology).

The American Numismatic Society is distincly pleased to bestow the prestigious J. Sanford Saltus Award for Signal Achievement in the Art of the Medal to Canada’s grande dame of medallic sculpture, Dora de Pédery-Hunt, and to welcome her to this institution, this city and this country.

The Saltus Award Medal