RALPH J. MENCONI (USA, New Jersey, Union City 1915-1972 / act: Pleasantville, NY)

Clarence R. Mattic Ralph J. Menconi was a noted medal sculptor, receiving the Freedom Foundation Award, the Michelangelo Award, and awarded with the title "Sculptor of the Year" in 1970. He received the nickname "Sculptor of Presidents," because of the 36 medal series of the presidents he did for Presidential Art Medals.

Menconi was born on 17 June 1915 in Union City, NJ, the son of the monumental sculptor Raffaelo E. Menconi and Josephine Zampieri. He was raised in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY and attended nearby Scarborough School. At age 18, Ralph began the study of art at the National Academy of Design, and later at Yale University where he received a BFA in 1939. Ralph also studied at the Tiffany Foundation on Long Island before beginning military service in Europe and Africa in the Army Corps of Engineers, where he attained the rank of major and was awarded a bronze star. Apprenticing with his father, Ralph created at age 22 a bronze statue of a young goat, "Mocha," which is in the collection of the Anna Hyatt Huntington Museum in Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina. Other three dimensional works by him include a statue of Christ at the Cathedral of Nassau, Bahamas, and large busts and fountains on the campuses of Pace University in NYC and Pleasantville, NY, and DePaul University in Indiana. Beginning in 1951, Ralph and his wife Marjorie Ewen and their children Ralph II and Susan lived in Pleasantville, NY, where Ralph was very active in civic affairs, serving on the village's Board of Trustees and as Police Commissioner. He attached a studio to his early-American house in Pleasantville as a second workspace to supplement his primary studio in Manhattan. His work also includes extensive Biblical sculpture for the reredos of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pleasantville.

In the 1960s Ralph Menconi had achieved a national reputation as a master of high relief portraits. He was much in demand as a designer of medals and plaques, and his work can be found all across the United States. His wood-carved reliefs of William Green and Samuel Gompers are in the main lobby of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington, DC, and his portraits of the seven original Mercury astronauts are displayed near launch pad 4 at Cape Kennedy. His work on the door of Saint Joseph's Church in East Camden, NJ depicts the life of the saint. The state of Alaska selected him to create their statehood medal in 1959, and President-elect Richard Nixon chose Ralph to design his inaugural medal, which was featured on the cover of Time magazine on January 24, 1969. He also designed memorial medals for John F. Kennedy in 1964, and Winston Churchill in 1965. Among his more than 900 works, Ralph created medals for the National Book Award, New York University Law School, Kenyon College, Hamilton College, the Capitol Historical Society in Washington, and the New York Historical Society. Ralph was also selected to design the first official medal of the American Bicentennial Commission. § He became known in the art world as the "Sculptor of Presidents" because of an important series of medals he produced commemorating all the Presidents of the United States. Presidents Eisenhower, Johnson and Nixon sat personally for Ralph, and President Johnson also commissioned a portrait medal for his own use. Ralph's other well-known medallic series depicted every signer of the Declaration of Independence, and every state in the U.S. using heroes chosen by the states' historical societies. He also created a very popular series of medals portraying America's Apollo mission in space. At the time of his death at age 57, Ralph was nearing completion of a particularly beautiful series of medals celebrating the Great Religions of the World.

During his lifetime, Ralph Menconi received many awards. In 1941 he won the Ellen P. Speyer Award for original sculpture. He was named "Sculptor of the Year" by the American Numismatic Association in 1970, and won the Freedom Foundation Award, the Michelangelo Award, and the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement. In 1971, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Hamilton College in Clinton, NY.

Ralph Menconi died suddenly of heart disease in his hometown of Pleasantville, NY on 18 November 1972, and is buried in Raymond Hill Cemetery in Carmel, NY.

Ralph Menconi and his family spent many summer vacations on Cape Cod, where his widow Marjorie now resides. The Cape Museum of Fine Arts in Dennis, Massachusetts held a retrospective exhibition of his work in 2004.

[Megakles Rogakos 01/2010]

BOITNOTT, DAVID W. Official Presidential Inagural Medals 2001 Christian Science Monitor