Medals in Lockdown

21 April 2021

The Student Medal Project was set up by the British Art Medal Society (BAMS) to promote the art of making medals in arts universities across the UK. Students from BA (Hons) Fine Art were invited to submit for the first time in 2020 with great success when student Jonathan Kelly took home the Grand First Prize.

The students were invited to submit again to BAMS 2021, but lockdown restrictions presented significant challenges for a project that places emphasis on use of materials and practical skills. Despite these difficulties the students were once again hugely successful taking home three prizes; Elliot Birt, Best Political Medal, Tom Wilson, the Kate Harrison prize and Nicola Garvey, Merit.

Senior Lecturer, BA (Hons) Fine Art, Liadin Cooke was asked by BAMS to explain how the course supported students to overcome these barriers allowing them to produce completed bronze medals for submission:-

At Leeds Arts University a key emphasis of teaching and learning is material engagement, and we are lucky to have excellent workshops with committed and informed instructors. They moved heaven and earth to find ways for all the students to have a fully completed medal for submission.

There were headaches while this took place, some students were shielding and had to complete all the work online, others found that the university closed down completely when they should have been in the workshops working on their bronzes. We got around this by assembling packs of tools geared around each student’s needs, which they collected or were posted to them.

Image: Miranda Melbourne’s Everything but the Kitchen Sink in progress. 

Students were given clay to work on their medal at home and in the brief periods when we were in the university they were able to get technical support while accessing guidance about their design online. Our technicians are full of enthusiasm for the competition and were enormously helpful and accommodating with students, within the limited time available in the workshops.

We pulled together, the students compared notes with each other on their ideas and designs, those who had done it before provided support to those doing it for the first time. A BAMS group of excited and engaged people emerged who were delighting in learning and refining new and old skills. It was clear that they really wanted to have this opportunity to physically make something fully resolved, in spite of the pandemic.

Image: Joanne Kelly's Two Sides of the System ready for finishing. 

This competition has allowed students to focus on a specific idea from original concept right the way to a highly finished work. The confidence this generated has been very important allowing them to recognise that, no matter what the constraints are, there is always a way to make work. It allowed them to explore ideas in depth and with rigour, through focused material engagement, ensuring the development of technical skills in areas they would not normally pursue. Without exception all the students acknowledge this and want to continue exploring metal casting, and how things change as they move through different materials and methods. We had the bronzes cast at Lunts Casting Ltd. who produced excellent casts from the students waxes and were enormously accommodating in working around our restrictions and timescales of delivery.

The mixture of online and face to face teaching was challenging, but ultimately worked in the end. The student experience of doing much of the work at home in their bedrooms, though difficult, did enable them to be more self-motivated and take charge of their practice, giving them a greater understanding of how to organise their time and workspace as practicing artists. This year the students embraced the competition with, if anything, more gusto.