June 20, 2017 by Pierre
NUMISMAG interviewed one of the rare French engravers who falls under the tradition of the engravers such as CHAPLAIN, DROPSY, ROTY, etc. He is named Nicolas SALAGNAC. Former student of the BOULLE school (1985-1990), Nicolas SALAGNAC is engraver, best french worker in 2000 and since 2003 setled down as a free lance engraver in Lyon, town of the first french medal struck for Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne travel, about 500 years ago. He initially was workshop manager at the french private mint FIA. He works now for institutional customers and big accounts companies.
NUMISMAG: Mr SALAGNAC, thanks for taking time to answer our questions. How did you came to this vocation of medals engraver?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: In fact, my grandfather, a cabinetmaker, had encouraged me as I was a young boy to exert a manual job, like him. This idea rained me and adolescent, I apply and enter to the famous school BOULLE. This one gave a training of metals art engraver on. This sector interested me, and I met Mr MIGNOT, my workshop teatcher and also my master. He knew to develop my taste for engraving.
NUMISMAG: Which was your career then?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: I was engaged by owners on Paris, then Lyon by the company FIA, as shop foreman. I worked in collaboration with the team engraving team to some 5,000 dies, obverses and reverses. I was in charge of some “cities euros” coins manufacturing, until the euro change over. I remained 9 years there. In 2000, I won “MOF” competition (Best Blue-collar workers of France) in my trade. The imposed subject was the engraving of a medal according to a drawing of Elisabeth VIGEE LEBRUN (portrait of young girl). This artist was the famous Marie-Antoinette painter, portraitist of the court, which officiates with 18th and 19th century all over Europe.
NUMISMAG: Are your sources of inspiration rather the classics?
NICOLAS SALAGNAC: Yes, but by classic, I will speak rather about roots which inspire to me. Since the Sumerian seals via the currencies of Evenet, Antiques, Celts, Rebirth, art nouveau, Grand Prix of Rome… in short as many sources to create my medals, of the medals of today, carrying direction with a need and an aesthetic, qualitative research and a good place of hand work …
NUMISMAG: What are your most outstanding achievements?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: There is a certain number of it. However it’s the case for my first official medal that was an order of the town of Lyon, in 2006. The 2008 medal of the Presidency of the French Republic, the 2013 medal of the Senate Presidency, for the 2015 CISH medal for UNO, or the medal “portrait of young girl” of MOF competition are beautiful references of which I am proud.
The 2008 medal of the Presidency of the French Republic
2008 Edition Arthus-Bertrand.
The Médicis Villa, Academy from France to Rome
2008 Edition Pichard-Balme
NUMISMAG: You carry out also personal studies and research.
Nicolas SALAGNAC: I answer mainly to orders and I take, between two orders, a little time to study, search and learn from “old school engravers”… It is my own ROMA Price… From 2008 to 2010 I worked on the clarification of a low relief inspired by a detail of “the removal of Proserpine” of LE BERNIN. All this time to develop and to deepen this detail, these two hands intertwining PROSERPINE, all by contrast with the general sensual character of the scene. In 2015, the continuation with the Kiss of Rodin, 5 years of work (when I had 5 mn…).
Low relief inspired by a detail of “the removal of Proserpine” of LE BERNIN
Princess of Hanovre Caroline at Monaco – © Palais of Monaco-Charles Franch
NUMISMAG: In a general way, who are your customers?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: Primarily public institutions such as the Presidency of the French Republic (once, I hope to have other opportunities), the Senate Presidency, the MOROCCO Royal Gendarmerie, the Médicis Villa, Academy from France to Rome and territorial collectivities. I also have big companies among my customers.
Medal of the Senate Presidency
NUMISMAG: Did you never work for the french mint, Monnaie de paris?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: Never live, but it is Monnaie de Paris that publishes my first medal creation ordered by town of Lyon, in 2006. Then, I gained some competitions with medals struck by Monnaie de paris. I am only engraver, not editor then I am taking of creation for new medals and currencies.
NUMISMAG: Which vision do you have of medal future?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: Since the night of times, the man has always to seek to leave traces of his passage… Engraving is a perennial means to mark the history with currencies, medals. In this long time, forcing the art of the medal thus evolved much… To imply in my trade to make it known, to make demonstrations, in France and in the world with the FIDEM (International federation of Art Medals, founded in1936, of which I am the delegate for France), we are several to note a reduced interest for the medal. Artistic creations and the facility of the lost wax techniques open the door of medal Art to artists, sculptors which are not always metal engravers. From September 7th to September 11th, 2016, within the framework of the varnishing of the international exhibition of the FIDEM (International federation of the Medal of Art since 1936) in Ghent in Belgium, I met Sir Marc Ellis Powell Jones, manager of Bristish Museum. We stood in front of the french booth… He suddenly told me “Is that nowadays french medals Art? It is no more what it was…” Certainly today, on the benches, no more rifflers, gravers, hammers… but mouse and keyboard… More and more medals are realized by graphic designers, on software in 2D, with addition of relief, it is new and faster. The hand of the craftman intervenes less and less. Returned are too often stiff, the low-relief is simplified and therefor not very attractive. The evolution should be accompanied, but, working with the hand is not replaceable. Still you have to keep the “know how”.
NUMISMAG: How to react with this evolution?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: It is necessary to react. Two axis seem important to me, to keep and practise know-how and then to transmit it to the young generation. I am also teaching and that enables me to ensure near my pupils this transmission of the artistic and technical knowledge. Beyond, it would be necessary to give again to the public, numismatists or not, the taste of the medal Art. Our business should be shown. We need to bring together the engravers, the schools and the pupils to promote and develop these crafts of engraving trades… The art of the stamp lives the same evolutions. The engravers must leave a little bit more their workshop, to take part in the development of projects. It would be necessary to provide to show what was made. I dream to see works of Rome Prices in engraving, but it is a hard fight… There is no more Academician in medal engraving within the Art Academy of France, since Raymond CORBIN.
NUMISMAG: Last question, Mister SALAGNAC, are you a numismatist?
Nicolas SALAGNAC: In Lyon, I am very close to the Lyon’s Numismatics Circle, but a little far fault from time. The medal collection of Lyon Fine Arts Museum and François Planet, his conservative, are inexhaustible sources of inspirations to me. I collect some XVI and XVIIth century old coins on the occasion, as well as punches, old dies. The old medals and currencies before all a whole source of inspiration for a draped, a face, an attitude for my creations…. Much more than an object of collection.
© Michèle Wolff, MOF