I have appreciated the “Mohawk Ironworkers” reverse on the 2015 Native American dollar since I first saw it in March, but I’ve admittedly grown fonder of it this past week, after I received the 2015 Coin & Currency Set in the mail.
The design and execution of the image are great to begin with, but the enhanced Uncirculated finish adds something here, emphasizing the busy density of the New York cityscape against the shining emptiness of the open sky. I don’t believe that an enhanced Uncirculated finish automatically makes a coin more desirable; I just know that in the case of the new Sacagawea dollar, I keep returning day after day to take another look.
The U.S. Mint produces so many good designs—and some that are not so good—that it’s easy to overlook an image like this, as if it’s simply par for the course. Every once in a while, though, I catch myself slowly gaining in appreciation for a design that I initially found to be above-average, but not exciting. At this point, I’m downright enthusiastic about the Mohawk Ironworker design, from its vertigo-inducing evocation of high-rise construction, to the clever way the figure holds the coin’s rim to step into the world of the image.
This made me curious about the people who made this design happen, and about the work they’ve done for the mint in the past. The Mohawk Ironworker image is the product of a collaboration between two artists–one a relative newcomer to U.S. coinage, and the other a seasoned veteran with dozens of high-profile designs to her credit.
Ronald D. Sanders, designer of the Mohawk Ironworkers image, made his debut for the U.S. Mint in 2012 and showed promise with his 2013 obverse for the Yankton Sioux Tribe issue of the Code Talkers Recognition Congressional Medals Program. That design showcases his keen eye for detail and a mastery of perspective that lends a three-dimensional realism to the drawing.
Sanders’s sense of intricacy and movement was again apparent on the America the Beautiful Great Basin quarter issued the same year.
Following up on that design, he provided the intriguing composition for the Homestead National Monument ATB quarter, which possesses a still-life simplicity that is nonetheless rendered with intricacy and vitality.
The sculptor of the Mohawk Ironworkers design was Phebe Hempill, who has quite literally had her hand in some of the most memorable coin and medal images to come out of the U.S. Mint since she began there in 2006. Like Ronald Sanders, she has a talent for intricate designs, but as a sculptor she shines in her rendering of surfaces, whether she is depicting the rocky gorges of the Grand Canyon, distant treetops in the Shenandoah Valley or the life-like tone of Liberty’s arm as she holds a stylized torch on the 2015 American Liberty High Relief gold coin. In 2010, she helped get the America the Beautiful series off to a strong start by sculpting the designs for Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Mount Hood National Forest.
The Shenandoah ATB quarter allowed her to emphasize contrasting surfaces to create a dynamic image: the craggy rocks give way to distant treetops, with the placid mountain ridges on the horizon.
Her most high-profile image this year has no doubt been the obverse of the American Liberty HR coin, with its clean, classical fabrics and realistic personification of Liberty.