A most proficient sculptor

How Art Shapes Our Life

Sal MaccaroneMarch 29, 2012 

A finished piece of sculpture can take many forms. The sculptural process is loosely defined as: The art of carving, modeling, or otherwise producing works of art which are three dimensional, such as would be a relief, an intaglio, or a sculpture-in-the-round.

Breaking this definition down, a relief gives the impression that a image has been raised above its background, such as the face of a coin. A intaglio, the opposite of a relief, is the result of a process which leaves a design engraved below the surface, as is often seen in head stones and monuments.

To help make sense of these two types of sculpture, if you were to press an intaglio into clay, it would yield an image in relief. The third type, what is known as "sculpture-in-the-round," is what most people will immediately relate to. This category includes: Statues, gargoyles, heroes riding bronze horses, or any other piece of art that is sculpted or shaped on all sides.

Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907) was an Irish-born American artist who made himself familiar with all types of sculpture. While growing up in New York City he became an apprentice to a renowned cameo-cutter. After finishing his apprenticeship in 1867, at age 19, he ventured to Paris and then Rome to study design, art and architecture. Ultimately he attended four prestigious schools in Europe. Already establishing a reputation as a sculptor, he began working on his first commissions while still attending school.

In 1876 at age 28, Saint-Gaudens won his first major commission to design and build a sculpture which was to reside within his home town of New York. When this monument to Civil War Admiral David Farragut was installed at Madison Square Garden, it became an instantaneous national treasure. From that point on, his reputation cemented, he continued to design and build sculpture commemorating many American icons.

His bronze statue titled, "Standing Lincoln," which was completed in 1887, still ingratiates Lincoln Park in Chicago. This piece is considered to be the most important representation of our 16th president produced in Lincoln's own century. Many exact replicas of this famous sculpture have been reproduced through the years.

Sometime in 1904 Theodore Roosevelt began thinking about the aesthetics of this country's money. Familiar with Saint-Gaudens work, the president approached the artist and asked him if he would consider redesigning some of our coins. So, beginning in 1905 right up until the time of his death in 1907, the sculptor worked directly with, not for, the US Mint.

What was ultimately produced as a result of this collaboration are some of the most beautiful coins the world has ever known. The Saint-Gaudens $10 Eagle and $20 Double Eagle designs were so outstanding that they were minted in gold. Both of these coins were struck from 1907-1933.

There was one slight problem that they did have with the artists original concept. It was found that the double-eagle "high-relief" design would not stack-up properly and the relief had to be lowered down below the rim. As a result, the twenty or so high-relief coins that were struck in 1907 are worth much more than their weight in gold. One of these coins was sold at auction in 2005 for an astounding $3 million.

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