Artist Lisa Issenberg has been a metalsmith for her entire career, but for the past decade, she has found her niche as a “medalsmith.”
Issenberg designs and handcrafts medals and awards for a very prestigious list of clients. Most recently, she fashioned the medals for winners of the summer X Games; this is her second year working with the X Games, but she’s also created medals for national freeskiing, snowboarding, and alpine championships, FIS World Cup events, pro cycling races, film festivals, and the American Alpine Club.
Issenberg started out as an arts student at Tufts University, after which she immersed herself in metal design and fabrication studies at San Francisco State, and then earned her master’s degree in industrial design at the Pratt Institute. Her early work included jewelry and commissioned art pieces, from benches to balustrades to kiosks to the iconic bear-resistant trash receptacles for the Town of Telluride. All of her work has a signature look—functional pieces inspired by modern design and nature.
Her business, Kiitellä, is based in Ridgway, in the same building where artist John Billings makes the Grammy awards. Kiitellä is a Finnish word meaning to thank, applaud, or praise, which is a fitting descriptor of the work she does now. Although medals and awards are not functional in the traditional sense, they do serve a purpose. Issenberg likes that these commissions come with certain requirements that she needs to fulfill while she creates each piece; she likes the challenge of combining art with purpose and intention. “It must honor the recipient and the accomplishment effectively, and the style needs to represent the brand. And essentially, it’s a gift. It’s really fun to create something for someone, and at the same time remain anonymous.”
Issenberg isn’t just inspired by nature, she also tries to honor it by incorporating recycled or sustainable materials in her work. For the summer X Games medals she was able to find and use reclaimed palm wood from a company called Lumbercycle in California. Palm wood is fibrous and acidic, and is one of the few plants that can’t be mulched for free at the landfill’s greenery. It typically ends up being processed like garbage, decomposing and producing methane. So repurposing the wood into the medals is a win-win; plus, palm trees were the theme of this summer’s event. “With the X Games theme of Palm Trees,” says Issenberg, “it was a great opportunity to incorporate reclaimed palm wood, for both its natural beauty and positive environmental impact.”