Dick Johnson submitted this review of a new book on the life of sculptor and medallist Mico Kaufman. Thanks! Biographies are a goldmine
of information on the lives of the artists who design and create the objects we numismatists collect and study. -Editor
Collectors of Presidential Inaugural Medals will recognize the name Mico Kaufman. While one of America’s greatest living sculptors, he has
chosen an enigmatic name for his autobiography. While all of his more than 300 medals were modeled, he chose the title, “A Chiseler’s True
Chisel implies carving, typical method of creating sculpture. Mico is a master of both modeling and carving. At age 92 his life work
reflects his mastery of four sculptural media – bronze, wood, pewter and polymer plastic – in a range of sizes from a 2-inch medal to an
18-foot monumental male figure.
His medallic work spans five decades, first under the commission of Medallic Art Company which produced the majority of his medallic
work starting with the Gerald R. Ford Vice Presidential Inaugural Medal. Later models were for Franklin Mint, Art Medals Inc. and Longines
As such, his most noted medals were the four Inaugural medals for three presidents: two for Ford (as VP and President), Reagan’s Second
Inaugural and the George Bush Medal. His inaugural model of Jimmy Carter submitted to the Inaugural Committee by Medallic Art was outbid by
Franklin Mint (by one million dollars) but Mico’s was considered by all a far more lifelike and superior portrait.
The author quotes medal dealer Joseph Levine at the beginning of his chapter, “Medallic Sculpture,” noting the artist’s major impact on
presidential medals. He also reprints a favorable article by Numismatic Literary Guild exec Ed Reiter in this chapter. Of numismatic
interest Mico created two coins for Marshall Islands, and two badges for American Numismatic Association Conventions, 1973 and 1976.
While his total medal count – by my website listing – is 309, he created the obverses of 192 medals of the 200-medal series, “History of
America,” with reverses by MACO staff artist Ramon Gordils.
His Society of Medallists medal of 1973 bore a war-time theme. It was the first of nine medallic series – including United States
Capitol Historical Society and four for Franklin Mint -- in which he prepared one or more issues.
His medallic talents were recognized by both ANA for their Sculptor of the Year Award in 1978 and the American Numismatic Society with
their J. Sanford Saltus Award in 1992.
Mico Kaufman was born January 3, 1924 in Buzau, Romania. The first chapter of “A Chiseler’s True Story” recounts his early life
in a way seldom encountered in biographical literature, in brief takes, he calls “fractured snapshots.”
Even so, the text reveals his Spartan youth, his leaving home at 17, a journey with bouts of illness and hunger – cured with sessions in
several Kibbutzes -- until he ends up in Rome to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. Meanwhile he is attracted to a beautiful Greek girl he
marries and bears their daughter.
While much of this takes place in 1947, it is not until 1951 that he immigrates to America, preceded by an uncle. Those four years are
not covered in the book. In America he works at modeling toys for a Nashua toy company. The pay is so low his wife, now with three
children, leaves him, unable to cope as an artist’s wife.
Mico does not mention this in his book, but one of his creations in this early period was Burgerboy, the colorful trademark for the
Burger Boy chain of restaurants.
He was introduced to medals by William Louth, president of Medallic Art, on a trip to their Danbury plant. Louth recognized the
potential talent in the artist seated in his office and gave him a chance to prepare a relief model for the Ford VP Medal.
Mico’s design and model won over four other artist’s submitted designs. His model was placed in production and met with Ford’s approval. It
led to a second Ford Medal when Ford was named President and deserved his own Presidential Inaugural Medal.
Mico met with Ford in person at the White House ceremony awarding the President his gold medal. With this success he was commissioned to
create George Bush’s medal. This time he was allowed a 50-minute session to model the president from life.
Medallic commissions rained on the medallist, now considered a seasoned sculptor in bas-relief. Portraits, events, anniversaries, art
medals, historical medals, all were gist for the artist’s nimble fingers and creative mind. He kept busy.
Mico and I served together on the Massachusetts American Bicentennial Medal contest. After winnowing down to three designs, the
committee choose one. The artist’s name did not appear on the design. When the winner was identified, Mico exclaimed, “she’s my former
Mico’s autobiography is the product of a very intelligent mind. The language, however, is not the soft-spoken Mico I know. The book
covers his other sculpture as well: bronze casts, monumental works, miniature pewter figures, and more recently, polymer sculpture.
The book is uneven in its editing. Table of Contents lists the medallic sculpture chapter as “medallics.” There is no such word. The
last chapter, “Musings” is disconnected, as if the author wanted to record in print his every thought. The book lacks an index and the
customary list of the artist’s works with dates.
Even so it is an easy read and would appeal to any serious collector of Mico Kaufman medals offering rare insight to the artist and
fascinating medallic lore to medals in their collection. Available in stiff card cover from Amazon for $55.
Could anyone send in (or point me to) images of some Mico Kaufman medals for an article next week? Thanks. -Editor
To read the complete article, see:
A Chiseler's True Story: The Art of Mico Kaufman
Wayne Homren, Editor
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