Montana State University

Students' artistic mettle results in new Presidential Medal

April 16, 2008 -- Carol Schmidt, MSU News

A four-member team made up of MSU art students, a recent graduate and an art professor designed and made the new Montana State University Presidential Medal for Global and Visionary Leadership. Team members are, from left to right: Bryan Petersen, MSU metals professor; Shem Wold of Helena; and Cole Arpin of Bozeman, both seniors majoring in studio arts; and Russ Kaufman-Pace, a recent graduate in graphic design from Boone, N.C. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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A team of Montana State University students, a recent graduate and their professor, have shown their artistic mettle by designing and producing the new Montana State University Presidential Medal for Global and Visionary Leadership.

Shem Wold of Helena and Cole Arpin of Bozeman, both seniors majoring in studio art, and Russ Kaufman-Pace, a recent graduate in graphics design from Boone, N.C., worked with MSU metals professor Bryan Petersen to make the medal that will be presented for the first time Wednesday.

The medal will be given to Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Ebadi will lecture on "Iran Awakening: A Story of Revolution and Hope" at 7:30 p.m. April 16, in MSU's Strand Union Building Ballrooms. A second medal will be presented to renowned primatologist Jane Goodall when she lectures at MSU on April 28.

According to Yvonne Rudman of the MSU Office of International Programs, the medal was developed to honor people of international stature who have made intellectual and humanitarian contributions and who are known for their societal impacts, innovation, courage and character. The committee decided to use a student team to "present the Presidential Medal recipients with something tangible from its talented students."

"The students did an admirable job of designing and manufacturing the medals, all within budget and on deadline," Rudman said.

And the students involved in the project said the medal project was a wonderful collaborative experience that has been one of the highlights of their education.

"It was cool to see all the parts of a multi-faceted project such as this come together," Kaufman-Pace said.

The team made the medal over 12 weeks, which they say was a "tight deadline." Petersen, who supervised the project, is himself an MSU metalsmithing graduate (1998) who is back as a professor after earning his advanced degree at Eastern Carolina University. He immediately asked Wold and Arpin to work on the design, later folding in Kaufman-Pace, a graphics designer who had taken several semesters of metals. Kaufman-Pace, who had graduated in December and gone on to found a local design firm, Licty Creative, in Bozeman, put the designs on the computer and refined them.

Rich Helzer, now the director of the MSU School of Art, made the official MSU President's medal, which President Geoff Gamble wears on official occasions such as commencement. Petersen said that medal design was where the students began their quest to make a new design. In all, the team came up with eight design ideas, ranging from a bobcat to the wind sculpture in front of the EPS building, to the cupola on Montana Hall. In the end, Petersen and Kaufman-Pace collaborated on the winning design, which features Montana Hall and the "M" on Mount Baldy cast in sterling silver. The design, which employs a dynamic perspective, is evocative of MSU's tagline "Mountains and Minds."

"I think what we came up with was both sophisticated but inspirational," Petersen said.

Once the design was refined, the group set to having the medal cast using the lost wax method. A .pdf of their design was e-mailed to a company that etched the design in magnesium. Later, the etched piece was sent to another company to create a rubber mold from the etched piece. The team then created wax multiples from that rubber mold. The team covered the waxes in plaster, melted out the wax, and then poured molten sterling silver into the void. Once the team cast the medals in the MSU metalsmithing studio, the final product required hours of hand finishing.

"Metalsmithing takes longer than any other medium," Arpin explains. "It's a stubborn material."

"The experience definitely brought up a lot about the attention to detail, especially as we tried to get medals that were uniform," said Wold, who plans to both work as a jeweler and apply to graduate school.

In addition, the team was charged with designing presentation materials, such as ribbons from which to hang the medal as well as pouches and MSU-blue boxes imprinted with the new school logo.

"The packaging is really important," Petersen said. "We found recycled boxes and Russ and Licty Creative were able to do the screenprinting of the logo.

Another key contribution was found by Arpin, who works for local jeweler J. L. Walsh, who supplied scrap sterling silver at scrap prices.

"For a medallion recognizing a conscious individual, we also thought it was important to use sustainable and recycled methods to produce it," Petersen said.

While the team is proud of the final result and their work, they are also thankful for the experience.

"To me it was more about the process and working with other artists on a team," said Wold. In exchange for their work, the Office of the Provost paid for Arpin and Wold to attend their professional conference in Georgia. "I thought the experience to practice our craft over an extended period of time was beneficial."

"We (metalsmiths) usually are sitting alone at our desks," Petersen concurred. "We're independent artists. So for metal students to collaborate is a great experience."

Kaufman-Pace said the design is a nice addition to his portfolio.

"Just to have something this formal and tactile is good," said the graphic designer who soon will have his screenprinting designs sold at Cactus Records. "It's good to show other aspects of what I can do."

Arpin, who will sell his jewelry designs at Bozeman's Bogert Farmer's Market this summer, said he is honored that he had a hand in something that will find its way to such luminaries as Jane Goodall. And all members of the team said they will be there Wednesday when MSU President Geoff Gamble first awards the Presidential Medal for Global and Visionary Leadership and are flattered that their project will endure.

"The experience of working for a large institution and creating something symbolic and lasting that will be used over the years was a great experience," Wold said.

International Program's Rudman says she thinks the recipients will enjoy the students' efforts, too.

"Hopefully, the Presidential Medal will serve to remind the recipients of the talented students and faculty they met while at MSU to accept the medal, as well as our beautiful surroundings," she said.

Bryan Petersen (406) 994-2952,