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De Francisci featured in Luce Center

NN0912hettgera_color.jpgOn July 1, the Smithsonian American Art Museum reopened its doors after a makeover that started in 2000. Completely renovated, it also includes a new addition within, the Henry Luce Foundation Center for American Art.

In the photos: The designer of the Peace dollar, Anthony de Francisci, is well represented at the Henry Luce Foundation Center for American Art. Above right is his George C. Marshall Medal, struck in 1946 to honor the general?s leadership during World War II. At lower left is his Henry C. Turner Medal for Notable Achievement in the Concrete Industry, which was made in 1927. A giant cement mixer occupies the background behind the allegorical figure.

NN0912hettgerb_color.jpgThere are 3,500 paintings, sculptures, craft objects, miniatures and folk art items from the Smithsonian American Art collection. Included in the group are 160 art medals. These are found secluded in case number 46a on the fourth floor of the exhibition.

Below the medals, visible to the eye in the upper case, are numerous drawers which open when a button is pressed, providing a drawer filled with the art medal production of the famed artist and engraver Anthony de Francisci, as well as other medallists, with most of the examples being in bronze.

The 1921 Peace silver dollar, perhaps de Francisci?s most famous composition, rests in the center of the upper row, one example to portray the obverse and another for the reverse. The grade of the coin to portray the reverse is especially low and corroded, as well, surprising considering the coin is relatively plentiful.

This is unfortunate, considering this design?s importance and the high grade of the bronze medals. In any event, it is a pleasure to view it in the display and it appears to be the only coin in the group of medals.

The collection of art medals comes from different sources. In 1966, Mrs. de Francisci provided a gift of the medal for the Henry C. Turner Medal for Notable Achievement in the Concrete Industry It shows a thoughtful seated male figure and a giant cement mixer to the right. Rays are behind the main design and look similar to those on the Peace silver dollar. This is just one interesting medal of a remarkable group.

Another magnificent medal is the George C. Marshall medal (reverse), of 1946 by Anthony de Francisci. Marshall is remembered by Churchill as the ?true organizer of victory? for this leadership under Franklin D. Roosevelt. Later, Marshall would receive the Nobel Peace Prize for the Marshall Plan, which helped to rebuild shattered nations? economies after the war.

The flame at the center looks similar to that seen on the torch of the Roosevelt dime. Below is a horizontal sword being presented by an outreached hand, with five stars in an arc below, symbolic of his rank. The legend is above in a circular arc.

On another theme, an art medal designed by John Gregory in 1939 depicts a female head with grain interwoven in her hair to create a modern portrait of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. This is titled the ?Betrothal Medal? and has an obverse legend ?Ceres Blessing So Is On You? with the reverse showing symbols of passion with bees approaching a rose.

This is an exhibition that will keep the lover of art medals very busy in trying to study them and appreciate their details. Next to each medal there is an accession number, but no title. You are required to jot these numbers down, then enter them into a nearby computer station to find out the designer and the details.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum is located at Eighth and F Streets N.W. in downtown Washington, D.C. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, except Dec. 25.

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