Britain’s best new medallist perfects her art at The Royal Mint
10 Jun 2014
Britain’s best ‘New Medallist’ has won the rare opportunity to spend one week at The Royal Mint perfecting her art and transforming her creative conceptual ideas into tangible design pieces which showcase her outstanding abilities.
Claire Poulter, age 26 and originally from Essex, is the winner of the prestigious 2014 British Art Medal Society (BAMS) New Medallist scheme which aims to nurture a new generation of contemporary British medallists.
The annual initiative, now entering its tenth year, is organised by the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) in association with the V&A Museum, the British Museum, The Royal Mint and is supported by the Brian Mercer Charitable Trust.
The New Medallist scheme is designed to stimulate the field’s originality and provide an artist who is new to medal-making with the opportunity to develop their interest, expand their knowledge and gain invaluable experience in medal-making, in order to help them shape the future of British art medals.
Art medals are small, deeply introspective sculptures which are made for personal pleasure or contemplation, usually cast in metal and considered to be best appreciated whilst being held in the hand.
The winning artist of the New Medallist scheme secures a place on a medal-making course at a college overseas, or an international medal workshop, for at least three weeks to gain a greater understanding of contemporary thinking on medals. They then undertake a one week placement with the British Museum or the V&A Museum, before finishing the final week of their residency in the engraving department of The Royal Mint. The aim of this placement with the Mint is to allow the artist to work alongside experienced medal-makers and have the opportunity to experiment with various techniques, including the use of computer-aided reduction machines.
This year’s winner, Claire Poulter, graduated from the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art specialising in video on a BFA Fine Art before completing an MA in Sculpture at the Royal College of Art last year.
As part of her Masters course Claire was challenged with the task of casting an art medal in bronze, and it was this piece which she ultimately submitted as part of her portfolio application for the New Medallist Scheme.
Claire admits that she never thought she would win the scheme with the first medal she ever made, but was thrilled to discover that she had been selected to act as an ambassador for the BAMS scheme and have the chance to work under the guidance of expert medal-makers and develop her skills.
She said, “Making a medal presented me with a new medium for transforming a concept into reality using little more than a single mark made by a traditionally shaped tool and the relationship that each face has to the other. To me, art medals offer a contemporary means to express two opinions or show different interpretations of an argument. Because of the nature of a medal and the constriction on its size I felt limited and this helped me to free up my creativity. I’ve found in my year that the medal is a curious medium with a fascinating history and with more diversity than one might initially think.”
“As part of the placement I spent eight weeks on a residency in Bulgaria last autumn developing my practical skills and working alongside the students and tutors at their National academy of arts. I was encouraged to make one medal each day, which I found changed the outcome of my work considerably as I would usually spend more time in contemplation of a design!”
Before commencing her work placement with The Royal Mint Claire considered concepts for her next medal and how she could utilise the cutting edge technology and the facilities at her disposal to make this concept a reality.
Claire explained, “I have a work space in London and occasional access to the foundry at the Royal College of Art, so have been able to continue my own projects and develop my activities as an artist. There are a few things that I am making at the moment, but the key piece I have been working on at The Royal Mint is a representation of the world. It is based on an image taken from a manuscript that I found whilst researching online. The illustration indicates that the world is spherical, but is depicted in a very flat format. I like this juxtaposition and the idea of replicating it with a medal.
“Before coming to The Royal Mint I prepared by sketching my idea and making three dimensional models of it. I’ve been able to use the Mint’s technology, traditional engraving skills and modern methods to develop my idea further and create an engraving to add to my portfolio. This will help me to progress as an artist, and enable me to present a collection of my work to BAMS later this year. I think it’s fantastic that The Royal Mint takes part in the New Medallist scheme, and is able to offer artists the opportunity to undertake a residency to help them to progress in their chosen field.”
The Royal Mint’s product designer and engraver Thomas Docherty was responsible for mentoring Claire during her placement with the 1,100 year old Mint, which currently designs and manufactures coins and medals for more than 60 different countries.
Thomas said, “It has been our honour to support the New Medallist scheme for the last seven years and have the opportunity to work with the winners, helping them to progress their ideas and develop their medal making abilities. Claire is clearly a very talented artist with a flair and enthusiasm for creating medals, and it was a pleasure to work with her for the week. We look forward to seeing how her career as an artist progresses.”
Philip Attwood, president of the British Art Medal Society, said, “Our society was founded in 1982 to promote the art of the medal through commissions from a wide range of artists, including internationally recognised sculptors and recent art college graduates. The New Medallist scheme is intended to provide a framework by which artists based in Britain and Ireland who are relatively new to medal-making can develop their interest in the medal as a vehicle of artistic expression. Its aim is to deepen and broaden the selected artists' knowledge of the medal and expand their awareness of the medium's possibilities. Their work breathes new life into the centuries-old art of the medal.
“We are very pleased to have worked with The Royal Mint and had the support of their expert medal-makers and engravers for the last eight years on this initiative. Each of our winners has benefitted greatly from the time that they have spent with the organisation.”
In April 2014, The Royal Mint unveiled plans to develop a purpose-built visitor centre at its headquarters in Llantrisant, South Wales. Construction is expected to be completed during 2015.