Since the early 1980s, American art medals have undergone major changes in how they are produced in reaction to the industrialization of medal production. Struck medals had dominated medallic art through private mints like the Medallic Art Company. These mints focused exclusively on struck pieces, imposing restrictions and design requirements. Struck medals produced in bulk are still preferred for corporate commemoratives and mass-produced award medals because of lower production costs, but the cast medal now dominates art medal production and is gaining in popularity for award medals with a small distribution. Assembled medals (cast or struck with multiple parts) are now the choice for most creative artists. Many have embraced the new technologies of computeraided design and manufacture.
In 1982, the American Medallic Sculpture Association (AMSA) was formed to promote improvement in American medallic art. Its impact was felt through medallic exhibitions. As American medallic artists prepared for the 1983 International Medallic Art Congress hosted by the Federation Internationale de la Medaille (FIDEM) in Florence, Italy, AMSA members dominated the American delegation. For the first time in decades, this delegation selected a number of cast medals for submission, instead of medals primarily struck by the Medallic Art Company. Since then, U.S. art medal submissions to FIDEM congresses have flipped from 95% struck to 95% cast or assembled, reflecting the greater manufacturing control and creativity desired by artists. This has resulted in great advancements in quality and artistic expression in American art medals. In 1987, FIDEM recognized this improvement by selecting a host site outside of Europe for the first time – the American Numismatic Association (ANA) in Colorado Springs.
John Cook, professor of art at Pennsylvania State University, led this movement as the lead American delegate to FIDEM in 1983, and by organizing a summer symposium at Penn State in 1984. This was followed up by workshops on medal casting by prominent artists at AMSA member shows and other venues. Several artists now do bas-relief sculpture workshops at Brookgreen Gardens and other art communities. Art teachers have incorporated medals into high school and college courses and the ANA holds sessions on the history and production of medals during their annual Summer Seminar. This display features a selection of modern American art medalists and their works.