An Early Olympic Winner

June 16, 1995|By Christina Asquith | Christina Asquith,Sun Staff Writer

When William Krawczewicz was in elementary school, he would get into hot water for doodling in his notebook during history class. Twenty years later, he has drawn his way into history.

The 29-year-old artist from Crofton has been chosen to design three coins -- two silver and one gold -- for the Olympics in Atlanta next summer.

For Mr. Krawczewicz, a soft-spoken man with shaggy brown hair, the victory means more than his initials -- WJK -- on hundreds of thousands of coins. It is more than the $4,500 prize. It is the culmination of a lifelong love for art and a pursuit of excellence.

"For as long as I can remember, I've always had a pencil in my hand or I've tried to build something creative," he said, sitting in his unadorned office at the U.S. Mint in Washington. "It's very rewarding. I never imagined myself in this position."

Commemorative coins are created to honor a person, gain publicity for an event and raise money. Only a handful of the coins is issued each year, and they must be authorized by Congress. Last year, the government raised $89.8 million from the coins, $24.1 million of which went to various groups that lobbied Congress for their cause.

For Mr. Krawczewicz, who designs advertising brochures and annual reports for the Mint, life took an unexpected turn three years ago when a flier about a national competition to design commemorative coins circulated in his office.

He decided to enter and spent evenings and lunch hours the next three months studying his subject, James Madison. He researched history books at the Library of Congress to find out what kind of clothes Madison wore. He visited Madison's Montpelier estate and interviewed tour guides there.

"I knew that [Madison] was a very serious and very intelligent, as well as well-spoken, and I tried to portray that," he said.

Mr. Krawczewicz won, and thousands of silver coins now bear the chiseled cheekbones, furrowed brow and fine upper lip lines that he sketched.

In 1993, he entered the national competition to design the 1994 World Cup Soccer coin. Again, he won.

For this year's competition, officials from the Mint invited him to enter.

Mr. Krawczewicz grew up in New Carrollton, the youngest in a family of four, and son of a design patent examiner and a housewife.

At the University of Maryland, he studied advertising design and fine arts.

His first job was examining design patents at the Department of Commerce, like his father. But after a few years, in search of something more creatively challenging, he took his portfolio to a local job fair, where he nearly missed his path to success.

"There was a huge line to get in," he recalled. "I almost turned around to go home."

Instead, he showed his portfolio to recruiters at the Mint's booth and was called in for an interview and finally offered a job.

His latest project required Mr. Krawczewicz to "capture the excitement of the Olympics" on an inch-diameter coin. His first step was to research everything from Greek literature to issues of Sports Illustrated.

The result was a design for a silver coin displaying two finely drawn, muscular hands, each clasping the each other at the wrist. The second design, depicting two olive branches surrounding the six Olympic rings, torch and stars, will go on the back of the gold coin. The third design is a goggled swimmer emerging from water with his mouth agape and arms taut. The silver coins will be sold for $12 and $30, the gold coin for more than $200.

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