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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: 1939 New York World's Fair Medal, 1939
Date: 1939
Medium: Bronze
Dimensions: Image: x 2.5 in.; x 6.35 cm
Credit Line: Gift of Janet Marqusee, Class of 1952, and John E. Marqusee, Class of 1951, for the Frank and Rosa Rhodes Collection
Object Number: 94.007.114
This medal commemorates the 1938 World’s Fair, held in New York’s Flushing Meadows.

This medal was made by the Robbins Company in Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Julio Kilenyi (1885-1959) was born in Hungary and first studied at the Royal Academy of Art in Budapest before continuing his studies in Germany and France. Working in Europe and later in South America, Kilenyi developed a reputation as a portrait sculptor. He came to the United States around 1918, specializing in medallic art. He went on to enjoy a successful career.

Medallic art is a type of small-scale sculpture. The tradition of making medals is rooted in the portrait medal tradition that became popular in the Renaissance. The process of striking medals began in the 17th century when it surpassed the older method of casting. Striking is a method where a metal die (with a design in relief) is essentially stamped, with great force, onto a blank piece of metal. This technique can rapidly produce multiple copies. The invention of the engraving machine for die sinking and casting in the 19th century allowed artists to concentrate on medal designs rather than the actual engraving and cutting of the die. The pantograph machine allowed artists to render medals in a larger size in wax, clay or plaster before reducing and engraving them later mechanically. Two dies are made for each medal, one for each side (unless the medal has only one side.)

The front of the medal depicts the exposition’s centerpiece: the Trylon and Perisphere, a 700 foot spire and 200 foot orb, designed by the architectural firm Harrison and Foulihoux. The massive forms were as wide as a city block and were connected by a large ramp referred to as the Helicline. Those attending the exposition could ride up inside the Trylon upon the world’s largest escalator. The forms reflected the emphasis on purity embodied by industrial designers of the day. They were deemed ‘perfect’ and were therefore the only structures in the fair permitted to be painted pure white.

Three posters by the Grinnell Lithography Co., Inc. in the museum’s collection show the Trylon and Perisphere at the World’s Fair. To see them, search for object numbers 78.057.015, 78.057.016, and 78.057.017 in the keyword search box.

The theme of the Fair of 1939 was ‘The World of Tomorrow.’ It took place during a period of intense international anxiety during World War II, but the exhibits provided hope for the future. It featured exhibits of streamlined and modern designs by industrial designers, who considered themselves social theorists. According to some, the Fair helped shape and define the commercial, cultural, and political climate of post-World War II America and the World.

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.