Bronze portrait medal of John Gartner, by Michael Meszaros. It was found in the ruins of John's home in Mt Macedon after the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 1983, badly damaged but still recognisable.

Michael Meszaros followed in the footsteps of his father Andor to become a professional artist and leading medallist. This was his first commission, at the age of 14, from family friend and well-known collector, John Gartner. Michael Meszaros worked on the piece in his father's studio after school and while he was away, Andor would make small changes to the modelling. Michael accused him of 'fiddling' with the work, but Andor always vigorously denied it. Several years later Andor created a companion piece, a portrait of John's wife Zelma.

John Gartner and his wife Zelma were both collectors and their house in Mt Macedon held many valuable objects, including medals by both Andor and Michael. The house and its contents were destroyed by the Ash Wednesday bushfires of 16 February 1983, and the Gartner's barely escaped with their lives. This medal was one of the few recognisable pieces retrieved from the ashes of the fire. It was given to Michael Meszaros after the fires and lay in his studio for 28 years before being donated to the museum.

Physical Description

Round bronze medal featuring head of a man in left profile. Capital letters around the upper edge are fire-damaged but still legible.

Obverse Description

Irregular fire-damaged section of medal.

Reverse Description

Irregular fire-damaged section of medal.


John and Zelma Gartner were well-known collectors in the fields of numismatics, philately and the decorative arts. When their house in Mt Macdeon burned on Ash Wednesday, the loss of their collections was a blow not only to themselves but to the fields in which they were known. This fragment, retrieved from the ashes of the house, signifies the loss of valuable objects both personal and cultural in many people's homes. The fact that it was returned to the artist, who kept it for 28 years before donating it, is a testament to the enduring connection that people forge with objects, even when those objects are changed or destroyed.

For over half a century, sculptors Andor (1900-1973) and Michael (1945- ) Meszaros have created medals that reflect the high points of life in Australia. From major awards and portraits of eminent Australians to artwork celebrating popular culture and the natural world, these objects illuminate our culture and history. Grounded in a centuries-old European art tradition, the medals create connections across disciplines and link such diverse subjects as scientific advances, religious themes, sport, the performing arts and motherhood. Through their public and private commissions and their personal artworks, the Meszaros sculptors have defined the modern Australian medal.

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