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 Alexander Shagin  (1947 - )

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Lived/Active: California / Russian Federation      Known for: sculptor-medallist, engraver

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Leningrad in 1947, Alex Shagin studied at the Vera Muchina School of Arts and Design. Later, as a sculptor-engraver at the Leningrad Mint, he was allowed a wider artistic latitude than some Soviet colleague. However, as a Russian Jew, he had religious beliefs that brought him under constant government surveillance. His medal honoring the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz space project was presented to the American Astronauts during their visit to the Soviet Union. Although Shagin was to have designed the official series of silver commemorative coins for the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, only six designs were completed when he applied for an exit visa in 1978, and he became an American citizen in 1985.

His work has been shown at exhibitions of the Federation de la Medaille, the American Numismatic Society and the American Numismatic Association. He is one of several artists commissioned to create a series of bas-reliefs on the theme of liberty for the Museum of Immigration at Ellis Island. Shagin's medal of Olympic runners bearing a torch, chosen for the symbol of the U.S. Track and Field Team of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, received the American Medallic Sculpture Association Award. One Planet, a commentary on world peace, was the 114th issue of the Society of Medalists.

In 1995, the American Numismatic Society (ANS) Saltus Award for Achievement in the Art of Medal was presented to Mr. Shagin. According to the ANS announcement at the time, "Shagin has pursued the art of the medal with an amazing show of energy, inventiveness and determination. He has explored the nature of medallic expression with ever-growing freedom of form and subject, but has kept at the core of his work, the classical concept of the medal as the portrait of an individual".

Mr. Shagin is listed in the "Dictionary of American Sculptors", the "Encyclopedia of Living Artists", "Who's Who of Young American Professionals", and the American Numismatic Association's, the "Numismatist".

Some of his commissions for sculptures, medals and coins from various institutions include: Ellis Island Foundation, HOFSTRA University, Los Angeles Jewish Federation, Society of Medalists, Gallery Judaica, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Singapore Mint, Sephardic Center in Jerusalem, American Numismatic Association, Israel Government Mint, U.S. Mint, American Numismatic Association, Christopher Columbus Quincentenary Association, Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce and Los Angeles City Hall, March of Dimes.

Submitted by Catherine DuPont, DuPont Medias, Beverly Hills, California:----------------------------------------------------------------------
The following is from T H E N U M I S M A T I ST, October 1999

SOVIET MEDALS
Shagin's Medals from Leningrad
by Yuri Barshay & Thomas F. Fitzgerald

Alex Shagin was a leading designer of medals for the Soviet Union when he announced his desire to emigrate to the West in search of artistic freedom.
MEDALLIC ARTIST Alex Shagin applied for an exit visa from the Soviet Union in 1978, just five years after he was appointed an artist at the Leningrad Mint. Unhappy with Shagin 's decision to emigrate, Soviet authorities immediately relieved him of his duties. During his five years at the Mint, however, he already had created a wealth of medallic designs.

The Leningrad Mint originally called the "St. Petersburg Mint," was founded in 1724 by Czar Peter the Great (1672-1725). Peter had selected St. Petersburg to replace Moscow as the capital of Russia, and the Mint was established inside the Peter and Paul Fortress.

In 1799 operations of the St. Petersburg Mint were temporarily transferred to the nearby Assignat Bank while the buildings were repaired. After the reconstruction (1804-05) the production of coins and medals was returned to the fortress complex. Following the 1917 Revolution, the Soviet government changed the name of the city and likewise the Mint, to "Leningrad." With the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, the coining facility 's original title was restored.

Born in Russia, near Leningrad, on January 21,1947, Alexander George Shagin is the only child of George and Ekaterina Shagin. He studied at the Vera Mukhina School of Arts and Design, completing his work in 1971. (The school's namesake was a renowned sculptress who lived and worked in Paris prior to World War II. Her combination of French and Russian artistic styles later became known as the "French/Monument Expressionism School of Art.")

Upon finishing his studies, Shagin was drafted and spent most of 1972 in the Soviet Army. Following his discharge, he became an apprentice at the Leningrad Mint, during which time he submitted his diploma project-a medal of Peter the Great-to Soviet authorities. One older official liked Shagin's work so much that he recommended the young man be appointed an artist at the Mint. By 1974 Shagin has become a leading designer and sculptor.

At the time, the Leningrad Mint was involved principally with the production of medals and designs for commemorative coins, and Shagin was to produce at lest one medal every two months. He was allowed a rather wide latitude in his work, but still his designs had to be approved by the Council of Art Medals before they could be struck. One example of each of the medals was delivered to the Numismatic Department of the Hermitage Museum, where they became a part of the National Numismatic Collection.

As time passed, Shagin became more and more concerned about the Soviet government's control over his artistic creations. In early 1978 an exhibit of medals by Soviet artists was scheduled to be displayed in Poland, a country then witnessing the beginnings of artistic and political change. Shagin was to accompany the exhibit. He was astonished to learn of the freedom of expression enjoyed by his Polish colleagues, and was convinced he had to seek artistic independence in the West. Returning to Leningrad, Shagin applied for an exit visa. After waiting for more than a year-without means of making a living-he received permission to leave. In 1979 Shagin emigrated to the United States, he now resides in Santa Monica, California, where he continues his art.

When Shagin came to America, he was not allowed to bring much of his work with him. In 1995 numismatist Thomas Fitzgerald traveled to St. Petersburg, where, with the help of co-author Yri Barshay, a Leningrad native, he was able to purchase examples of 11 of Shagin's medallic works. A review of Russian Numismatic publications and interviews with Shagin himself resulted in the following list of medals he created while an artist/designer at the Leningrad Mint.

1. Peter the Great
Date: Designed in 1972; produced in 1974. Size: 60mm
Composition: aluminum Mintage: 200

Obv: Right-facing bust of Peter the Great (1672-1725) wearing a laurel wreath in the style of a Roman Emperor. Inscription of circumference, "Dedicated to the 200 Years since the Birth of Peter the First."
Rev: A battleship of the time of Peter the Great. (The czar had a great interest in such vessels, having learned about shipbuilding while living under an assumed name in the Netherlands.) At left, dates of Peter's birth, death and 200th anniversary of his birth. At bottom, mintmark and "A Shagin."

Comments: Shagin created this diploma medal for his apprenticeship at the Leningrad Mint. It is based on a study of contemporary Russian medals of the first quart of the 18th century.

2. Peter the Great Portrait Medal
Date: Designed in 1972, produced in 1974 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: Three-quarter bust of Peter the Great. No inscription or date.
Rev: Identical to #1.

3. 250th Anniversary of the Founding of the Leningrad Mint
Date: 1974 Size: 65mm
Composition: Aluminum and Tombac Mintage: 300+(88-percent copper/12-percent zinc)

Obv: Front view of the Leningrad Mint. Above, ribbon with Roman numerals CCL. (The ribbon originally was inscribed "St. Petersburg Mint," but Soviet authorities had it removed after the facility was renamed "Leningrad Mint.) Rev: Die engraver's hands, with an engraver's tool in the left hand inscribing the date. (Shagin used a mirror to pattern the design after his own hands; thus although he is right-handed, the image on the medal is the opposite.

4. Heroes of the Baltic Sea Navy Torpedo Boats
Date: 1974 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum Mintage: 300+

Obv: A torpedo boat modeled after a monument along the Neva River in St. Petersburg. Above: "Leningrad."
Rev: Six-line inscription, "1941-1945" and "To the heroic navy torpedo boats of the Baltic Sea." Above: a star; below, a laurel branch and mintmark. At 4 o'clock, "A Shagin 1974.

5. Heroic Defenders of Leningrad
Date: 1974 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: Profile of Greek Goddess, with a "perpetual flame" emanating from her raised hand. Dates 1944-1974.
Rev: Horizontal inscription, "Dedicated to the heroism of the defenders of Leningrad 1944-1974."

Comments: Commemorates of the 20th anniversary of the end of the 900-day siege of Leningrad by German forces. An unidentified artist's model posed for this medal, as well as for the large monument Victims of the Siege of Leningrad.

6. Skills and Hard Work Success of the Five-Year Plan
Date: 1974 Size: 65mm
Composition: Tombac (copper/zinc) Mintage: 50 to 60

Obv: Two hands holding symbols of energy (atom), agriculture (flower), space exploration (rocket), industry (gear), science (beaker) and knowledge (book). At bottom, mintmark.
Rev: Inscription "Young engineers and designers of Leningrad" and, vertically at left, "Five-Year Plan." At top, hammer and sickle; at bottom, "Shagin 1974."

7. Glory to the Peoples' Victory
Date: 1975 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: A Russian soldier, back to the viewer, writes the date 9 5 45 on the wall of the Reichstag.
Rev: Inscription on brick wall, "Glory to the Peoples Victory." At top and bottom, respectively, 1945 and 1975.

Comments: Honors 30th anniversary of the fall of Berlin. Shagin dedicated the medal to his mother, who, as a nurse with the Russian army, witnessed the fall of Berlin. He intended to show that peace would replace war and there would be no more killing. Soviet authorities criticized the design because it depicted the soldier's back and his weapon pointed toward the ground.

8. Apollo-Soyuz Joint Space Mission
Date: 1975 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum and bronze Mintage: unknown

Obv: Soviet and American space vehicles docked and circling above the Earth. Inscribed to the left, "Soyuz"; to the right, "Apollo." A curved line indicated their orbit.
Rev: Two symbolic figures float and rotate in space, representing the freedom of traveling in space and shedding the shackles of Earth.

Comments: Presented to astronauts and cosmonauts who participated in the joint mission. Although in reality the United States spaceship was significantly larger, Soviet authorities ordered Shagin to place it in the background, a perspective that makes the craft appear to be the same size. Soviet authorities demanded that the figure at top be identified as the Soviet cosmonaut.

9. Decembrists
Date: 1975 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum and tombac (copper/zinc) Mintage: unknown

Obv: Overlapping profile busts of the five aristocrats Pestel, Rileev, Destuj, Muraviev and Kachovski involved in the conspiracy to depose Czar Alexander I. At top, several bells represent The Bell, and anti-czarist publication from London. At bottom, broken ironworks on an embankment and the destruction of the czarist's eagle. Below the fifth bust, the Leningrad mintmark, and in small numerals the letters 1975 and "Shagin."

Rev: A large band with incuse inscription, "Lenin says in 1825 Russians saw for the first time revolutionary movement against czars." At top, various street lamps as seen on Leningrad's many bridges; at bottom, abandoned military items, including a drum and cannonballs.

Comments: Commemorates 150th anniversary of the 1825 attempt to overthrow the czar.

9A. Decembrists
Date: 1989 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum and tombac (copper/zinc) Mintage: unknown

Obv: Identical to # 9, but without date.
Rev: A building in Moscow and entrance to Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg, with the date 1989. Artist unknown.

Comments: Struck 10 years after Shagin's departure from the Mint for n exhibit in Leningrad and Moscow.

10. Michelangelo
Date: 1989 Size: 65mm
Composition: anodized aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: Three-quarter bust of Michelangelo (1475-1564), adapted from a self-portrait among the murals in the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. At right, vertical inscription "Michelangelo", and dates of his birth and death. Below, 1976, mintmark and "Shagin."
Rev: Two hands, adapted from Sistine Chapel murals. At top, pointing hand of the Cretor; at bottom, and of Adam. Between, quote from Michelangelo: "I will stnd up against the darkness." At 9 o'clock, a "closed" shell, symbolizing darkness; at 3 o'clock, an "open" shell, representing enlightenment.

Comments: Commemorates 500th anniversary of Michelangelo's birth.

11. Ernst Tellman
Date: 1976 Size: 65mm
Composition: anodized aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: A right-facing bust of Ernst Tellman (1886-1994) in workman's cap. At top and bottom, his first and last names. At left, the date of his birth, 1886; at right, the date of his death 1944. At 9 o'clock, mintmark and "Shagin."
Rev: Within s square, a hanging drape and a quote from Tellman: "My entire life was spent in service of the working class.

Comments: Commemorates Ernst Tellman, a German Jew and communist who died following his imprisonment by the Nazis in 1934-44.

12. Peter the Great
Date: 1976 Size: 65mm
Composition: anodized aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: Three-quarter bust of Peter I wearing a laurel wreath. In small letters at 7 o'clock, "Shagin", 1976 and mintmark.
Rev: Equestrian statue of Peter the Great, modeled after a seldom-seen monument in a park in St. Petersburg. Inscription, "Equestrian Monument of Peter the First by Carlo Rastrelli."

13. 60th Anniversary of the Revolution
Date: 1977 Size: 65mm
Composition: aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: A revolutionary figure advancing while holding a flag, surrounded by images of destruction, including the Winter Palace at the figures feet and, at 4 o'clock, the tower of Alexander II.
Rev: Cubist design with the date 1917 and several slogans, including "Land for the People" and "Power to the Soviets."

14. S.P. Koroljev
Date: 1976 Size: 65mm
Composition: anodized aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: Three-quarter portrait of S.P. Koroljev (1906-66), and his name.
Rev: Hands of a draftsman with a ruler and tool, working on a blueprint.

Comments: Honors the chief engineer of the Soviet Union's space program.

15. A.A. Blagonravov
Date: 1977 Size: 65mm
Composition: bronze and aluminum Mintage: unknown

Obv: Three-quarter portrait of A.A. Blagonravov (1894-1975). At left, a facsimile signature. Around the perimeter, his name and dates of his birth and death. Below his chin, mintmark.
Rev: Intertwined numerals 4 and 0, with Blagonravov's name and "Academy of Science Research of the Soviet Union.

Comments: Private commission from the Academy of Industrial Machinery to commemorate its 40th anniversary. Blagonravov was director of the academy, which was responsible for the Soviet Union's military and industrial development.

15A. A.A. Blagonravov
Date: 1987 Size: 65mm
Composition: tombac (copper/zinc) Mintage: unknown

Obv: Identical to # 15.
Rev: Identical to # 15, but with a large numeral 50 instead of 40.

Comments: Commemorates 50th anniversary of the Academy of Industrial Machinery.

15B. A.A. Blagonravov
Date: 1987 Size: 65mm
Composition: tombac (copper/zinc) Mintage: unknown

Obv: Identical to # 15.
Rev: At center, industrial gears, atoms, etc.

16. Titian
Date: 1977 Size: 65mm
Composition: bronze Mintage: unknown

Obv: Left-facing bust of Italian artist Titan (1487-1576), adapted from a self-portrait. Vertically, at left, dates of his birth and death, and his name. At 3 o'clock, 1977, mintmark, and "Shagin" in very tiny letters.
Rev: Artist's hands holding brushes and a canvas, which shows Titian's "Winged Lion" of Venice.

Comments: Commemorates 400th anniversary of Titan's death.

17. Diego Rivera
Date: 1977 Size: 65mm
Composition: bronze Mintage: 3 trial pieces

Obv: Three-quarter bust of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera (1886-1957), based on self- portrait. At top, his name.
Rev: Two hands with a small flower.

18. David Alfaro Siqueiros
Date: 1977 Size: 65mm
Composition: tombac (copper/zinc) Mintage: 3 trial pieces

Obv: Three-quarter bust of Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros (1896-1974), based on self-portrait.
Rev. Two hands, with one raised in a fist.

At the American Numismatic Association's 99th Anniversary Convention in Settle in 1990, Alex Shagin received the Association's prestigious Numismatic Art Award for Excellence in Medallic Sculpture.

Sources

Robinson, D.V. Monograms, Initials and Mintmarks in the Soviet Medallic Art, 1917-1981. St. Petersburg: Bank Pictrovsky Pub., 1994.
Shagin, Alex. Personal interviews, 1995-1996.
"Soviet Commemorative Medals." Various articles in Soviet Collector, Nos. 11-18 (1974-80).





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