Dick Johnson submitted these observations on George Morgan's sketchbook. Thanks!
Kudos to Karen Lee and the Whitman staff for the attractive book just published, "The Private Sketchbook of George T. Morgan, America's Silver Dollar Artist." It is visually appealing with its photo album treatment of every page.
The author did an excellent job tracking down facts on the artist before he came to America, starting his career in England. To this was added photographs, copies of documents, illustrations of coins and medals, plus artifacts connected to the artist's professional life.
However, I wish to comment on the sketchbook itself, as this gives insight to the artistic acumen of the former U.S. chief engraver. The sketches are uneven. But this is what a sketchbook should be, to test a visual concept before even touching or transferring a design to clay, plaster or the surface of a die.
Some sketches give dramatic evidence to Morgan's mastery of draughtmanship. `I was highly impressed with the acanthus leaf ornament on page 118 complete with their crenulated edges. Note the shading. This is ideal for a graphic two-dimensional drawing. But it is not the precursor of a glyptic three-dimensional bas-relief design for a coin or medal.
Shaded drawings do not transfer well to modulated relief of a coin or medal. What is preferred is a hard line drawing outlining the portrait or device., preferably a solid line. Detail is added later in the modelling stage.
The drawing is called a cartoon. (These were not named after comic cartoons, it's the other way round. Cartoon drawings were employed by medallists for centuries, comics were a later invention and took the name from this existing art technique.)
Some of Morgan's sketches shown here intended for medals (example page 96) show a lack of a hard edge outline for a portrait or device. He has drawn over and over some guidelines intended for such device elements. These somewhat fuzzy lines indicate somewhat fuzzy thinking. How much better would it have been to make one single firm line to outline a device element.
Some master medallists -- as Saint-Gardens -- eschewed the drawing stage entirely. He preferred to sketch in clay right from the beginning. Thus he began thinking in three dimensions instead of two, later to be transferred to three.
Other American medallists, like the Frasers, preferred to sketch (as do most medallic artists) to outline the device, and often the lettering. This aids the observance of the total interspatial relationship of all elements.
Thus Morgan was an excellent technician. He could transfer his drawing into the rise and fall of relief, creating the modulated relief for a coin or medal model. It was his medallic concepts, evidenced by his drawings shown here, that were stiff, formal, prim and proper -- perhaps due to his stiff British training. He lacked a freer, more creative medallic style we see in American medallists.
o Note to authors: If you are writing about any American artist -- and I greatly encourage this like Karen Lee did here -- ask me for a listing of all the work by that artist. I have a databank on 3,152 American coin and medal artists I would gladly share the listing of an artist with you. Take a look at Appendix A in this book (pages 137-147). This is typical of what I can furnish, which I did for this book, though this is a more lengthy one. Contact: email@example.com
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