A renaissance is not a renaissance without a band of artists producing artistic splendor under someone's patronage. The director of the U.S. Mint, Henrietta Holsman Fore, knows that. That's why she plans to invite artists this fall to join in the "renaissance of coin design and collecting" she says U.S. coins are currently enjoying.
At the World's Fair of Money at the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday, Fore and the Mint shared details of plans for the first formal program for artists not employed by the Mint to design U.S. coins and medals.
"[The program] is historic, and we think a really great way to bring in fresh art," Fore said.
The Mint's Artistic Infusion Program, scheduled to get under way this fall, will pay 20 professional artists and 20 art students to design both commemorative coins and medals and coins for circulation, including all but a few of the 2005-2008 releases in its popular state quarters line.
By adding a new pool of artists to the Mint's coin design process, the director is hoping to enrich the artistry of American coins, as well as to gain new design ideas. "It's a new century," Fore said. "We'd like to review designs" of all U.S. coins.
According to Fore, the 50 State Quarters Program, which is placing new designs on the back of the standard U.S. 25-cent piece, has been hugely successful but taxing on the half-dozen U.S. Mint engravers. Fore estimates that 130 million people are collecting the state quarters. "We mint 400 million [of each new state quarter] in less than a 10-week time period."
Applications for the artist program will be accepted and reviewed sometime this fall. The 40 artists will be selected by a panel of the National Endowment of the Arts and based on an assigned drawing all applicants will submit as a standard of comparison.
"We would like to gather a pool of artists who are really focused on coinage and their designs," Fore said. She pointed out that the mints of other countries often provide patronage to schools that teach coin artistry, and sees the new program as a way for the U.S. Mint to do likewise.
Involving college students is a way of "ensuring a legacy of artistry in coin design," she said.
Artists in the program will be required to submit at least one coin design a year. Their contracts are renewable, and their payment will be based on the number of designs submitted.
The Artistic Infusion program resulted from discussions last year with governors' offices, coin advisory committees and artists involved with the 50 State Quarters Program, as the Mint neared the halfway point in producing coins commemorating each of the 50 states.
While the program initially is limited to ideas and designs for coins and medals, the Mint is seeking artists who have engraving experience, and may eventually allow artists to sculpt and engrave the designs themselves. For now, the Mint will keep its custom of putting the final engravers' initials on the coin.
"We will continue to keep looking at this as the program moves along," Fore said.
The infusion of artists into the design process also coincides with a change in the designing process for the state quarters. For the first 25 coins, the Mint asked state governors to select a design. Most have either run a statewide contest or have commissioned an artist to create a design. However, the U.S. Mint has not completely replicated any of the winning designs on any of the state quarters it has minted so far.
"It's a collaborative process," Fore said. Mint engravers have always been entitled to also submit designs and revisions, and even with the new program, engravers will submit designs.
The collaborative effort of design changes and engraver alterations of the state-selected designs has not gone over smoothly in all states. The Missouri coin, the next scheduled for release (on Aug. 10), created contention between the Mint and the artist whose design was selected by Missourians.
Artist Paul Jackson's concept of including the St. Louis Arch and representing the Lewis and Clark expedition in a small boat were incorporated into the final quarter design, but his design was altered greatly. In protest, Jackson has posted his grievances on his Web site, discussed it with reporters and even made a protest trip to Washington.
The Mint has since changed the wording of its guidelines for winning entries from "design" to "concept."
"That way," according to Gloria C. Eskridge, associate director for sales marketing at the Mint, "the artist is not tied into creating what won on a Web site."