Yesterday, the highly anticipated 2017 Ellis Island National Park quarter made its debut at the America the Beautiful quarter launch and coin exchange on Ellis Island, New Jersey. The quarter’s reverse design owes its beauty to fine artist Barbara Fox, who has designed the reverse images of five of the America the Beautiful Program quarters since 2011. Some of her previous designs include the Glacier National Park reverse of 2011, the Acadia National Park reverse of 2012, and the Saratoga National Historical Park reverse of 2015. While Fox was responsible for creating the designs of several of the most recent America the Beautiful quarters, the work of sculpting her design for the Ellis Island quarter was the domain of U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill. Thanks to the combined expertise of these two artists, we are now able to enjoy the Ellis Island America the Beautiful quarters of 2017.
Barbara Fox earned her BFA in fine and studio arts from the University of California, Davis, and currently works as an illustrator with her own studio. Her previous clients include the likes of Disney, the Franklin Mint, and Timex. Fox also imparts her techniques to the next generation by working as a teacher in watercolor painting all over the country. A designer in the Mint’s Artists Infusion Program (AIP), she has worked on multiple high-profile numismatic projects such as the Code Talkers Recognition Congressional Medals Program, the 5-Star Generals Commemorative Coin Program, and the First Spouse Gold Coin and Medal Program. Fox currently lives in upstate New York and continues to be an active contributor to the designs of many numismatic and artistic projects.
Ellis Island lies partly in New York, partly in New Jersey. Speaking with her local newspaper, the Little Valley Post-Journal, Fox pointed out that the main building is in the New York section; for the quarter, she chose the hospital building, which is in the New Jersey section. “These people were leaving everything they knew behind,” she told the newspaper:
Chances were they would never go back to their country. They were making a whole new life in a place they had never been before… They didn’t speak the language and didn’t know the customs. Chances are they knew nothing about the U.S. except what they had been told. They used to call Ellis Island the “Island of Hope” and “Island of Tears” because people were very hopeful about coming to the United States.
Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill perfected her craft of engraving at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, where she studied with EvAngelos Frudakis. In 2006, she joined the U.S. Mint’s sculptor-engravers team, whereas before she had demonstrated a wide range of ability in various freelancing art projects ranging from medallions to toys. An interview with Hemphill about her work on the 2017 Ellis Island Quarters is available here.
While the finished product of the 2017 Ellis Island Quarters is the collective result of the toil of many people, the two who carry the lead torches are undoubtedly Barbara Fox and Phebe Hemphill. If you are interested in taking in Fox’s work first-hand at her Ellicottville art studio, she can be reached at her e-mail or by phone 699-4145. To learn more about the many numismatic projects credited to Phebe Hemphill, you can visit the website of the U.S. Mint.