The Centennial of the J. Sanford Saltus Award
The eponymous J. Sanford Saltus Award was initiated in 1913 by J. Sanford Saltus, who donated $5,000 (roughly the equivalent of $120,000 today) to the ANS to establish a permanent fund for the striking of a medal to reward and recognize sculptors “for distinguished achievement in the field of the art of the medal.” Since 1919, when the first Saltus Award was given, the Society has selected 58 outstanding medallic artists to receive what has become one of the most coveted and prestigious awards in the field. On December 12, we honored our 59th recipient, the New York City-based artist, Mashiko. Examples of the work of all of our Saltus award recipients over the last century can be viewed in an exhibit in our Member’s Lounge, which was assembled by Elena Stolyarik, Scott Miller, and Peter van Alfen.
Saltus, like many of his peers on the Society’s Council at the time, was a strong supporter of contemporary medallic artists, who sought as well to encourage greater appreciation for their work among the Society’s members. This same initiative continues to this day. The ANS is firmly committed to supporting the medallic arts not just through the prestigious Saltus Award, but also through our own commissions of medallic art, our teaching, and our publications, which feature a medallic art series. The latest volume in this series, in fact, just appeared last week: Michael Ross’s study of Jacques Wiener’s architectural medals. Most significantly, the ANS purchased the archives of the Medallic Arts Company in 2018, including 50,000 individual items such as medals, dies, galvanos, plaques, and paper and digital archives, that we aim to publish and make available to the public.
It had been intended that the Saltus Award would be given on an annual basis, but already in the 1920s and 1930s there were years when there was no award, included the nine-year gap between 1937 and 1946 roughly coinciding with the Second World War. In more recent years, the Award has been given every 2–3 years with the delays caused in part by the cumbersome arrangement of the Saltus Award Committee itself consisting of more than a dozen voting members, and in part by a persistent lack of supporting funds. In 2017, the Society’s then-Executive Director, Ute Wartenberg, and the Committee’s secretary, Peter van Alfen, proposed to the Board of Trustees a new arrangement for the Committee, which it was hoped would help speed the selection process and allow for the Award to be given once again on an annual basis. With the Board’s approval, the Award Committee was pared down to five voting members consisting of Donald Scarinci as chair (replacing Stephen Scher, whose nearly two decades of service as chair is most appreciated), Ute Wartenberg, Peter van Alfen (secretary), Gwen Pier (Executive Director, National Sculpture Society), and until recently, Luke Syson (then Curator in Charge of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts, Metropolitan Museum of Art). In addition, the Committee now has an Advisory Board, chaired by Philip Attwood (Keeper of Coins and Medals, British Museum), to help form a pool of suitable candidates from which the Committee then selects a winner. This Board is comprised of curators and other individuals particularly well versed in contemporary medallic art including: Marjan Scharloo (Director of the Teylers Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands); Maria Rosa Figueiredo (Curator, Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon, Portugal); Gunnel Sievers (Past President of the Guild of the Medal in Finland); Erika Grniakova (Curator, Coin and Medal Museum, Kremnica, Slovakia); Bernhard Weisser (Director of the Münzkabinett, Berlin, Germany); Alan Stahl (Curator, Firestone Library, Princeton University); and Mashiko, who was kept unaware of her nomination for the Award. This new arrangement went into effect in the summer of 2017 and since then the ANS has again been presenting the Saltus award on an annual basis.