Medals at Forrester

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Small-scale artworks have taken over most of the Forrester Gallery’s display space.
Oamaru is the final destination for “Regroup Reflect Regenerate”, a 25th-anniversary exhibition from the Medal Artists of New Zealand. It was created as a one-off for Auckland’s Pah Homestead last year, designer Richard Mathieson said. Then he was asked to take it to Tauranga and to the Canterbury
Museum.
At the latter it attracted the interest of Forrester director Jane Macknight and education curator Liz King. Mathieson’s connection with Oamaru _ his father came from the town and his uncle Ken still lives here _ presented him with “a very nice opportunity” to visit.
Mathieson built the display cases holding some 200 medals from 33 artists. For ease of transportation, he made the plinths so they would “fit inside each other like measuring cups”, as Macknight put it.
The medal artists’ group was formed in 1989 by five artists, Mathieson said. When renowned medal-maker and Elam School of Fine Arts dean Paul Beadle’s health was failing, “they put a show together to champion the medal”.
Mathieson, who had just graduated from Elam and opened a gallery called Star Art, hosted that show. Twenty-five New Zealand artists from other disciplines were invited to contribute to it.
The core group “gathered momentum” and has now expanded to 30. The 25th anniversary exhibition, with five guest artists, was “almost a reflection of the original”.
Some of the medals on display were made decades ago and others recently. In that sense they represented the history of New Zealand art and could be seen as a “best of”, he said.
The artists were “very collegial, very encouraging” of each other, happy to share their knowledge of techniques.
His own medals were made within three years of each other, about 15 years ago. They were cast in sand from wooden patterns, encapsulating Mathieson’s interest in architecture, topography, and repetition.
Another of the medal artists has even stronger links to Oamaru. Bing Dawe was brought up at Glenavy, attended Waitaki Boys’ High School, and has become one of New Zealand’s most renowned sculptors.
His medals depict his longstanding concerns for native eels and fish. He spent about three years crafting his Small Fry from out of a Night Sky – From the Family Galaxiidae pieces and was about to start on “whitebait patties” that were also likely to be in medallion form.
Depicting such delicate forms was “quite a challenge from a sculptural point of view”, he said. – “Regroup Reflect Regenerate” is at the Forrester Gallery until February 12.