Article 5 of 7
The CCAC met by telephone in October 2017 to talk about themes and focuses for the 2020 and 2021 America the Beautiful coins. For the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller quarter, land stewardship was the prevailing concept. The important focus for this park is mankind’s management of nature. This is not a protected wilderness or a forest preserve. It’s a site devoted to deliberately and carefully planned human control of natural resources.
Eight months after that phone conference, in June 2018, we met to review the designs the Mint’s artists developed out of our conversation and from the Mint program directors’ guidance.
Because of the crucial aspect of human management of the land, in my opinion, the following designs are out simply because they lack a human element: VT-02, 04, 06, 07, 09, and, to a lesser degree (because it does show cut logs), 05.
Some of these sketches were committee favorites from an artistic viewpoint and from their potential to be beautiful coins. But they were rejected because they failed to illustrate the mission of Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller.
Design 02 does use text to try to make the connection—”People Taking Care of Places”—but the art doesn’t do enough to pull it all together. Design 07 shows human access to nature in the park’s carriage trails, but it doesn’t strongly evoke deliberate, planned management.
For me, that left VT-01 and 01A, 03, 08, and 10 open for consideration.
VT-01 and 01A make the best use of the small one-inch canvas of a U.S. quarter dollar. While the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Mansion is important to the park, in our earlier discussion we leaned toward it not really being crucial to the idea of human management of nature. At the size of a quarter dollar, the mansion would have to be a silhouette at most.
For that reason, I favored as the strongest design VT-01A, which replaces the mansion with Vermont’s Green Mountains.
The design of VT-03 I found to be a pleasing bit of symbolism with the managed land and trees being passed down from one generation to the next. I remarked that if this could be effectively translated from a flat, shaded drawing to a coin sculpture, I would support it as well. (Committee members Bob Hoge and Erik Jansen, among others, reminded the Mint’s artists to avoid relying on shading and grayscale to create their designs. Even though a finalized coin engraving can make use of sculpted depth and certain surface-finishing effects, it can’t recreate the illusion of greater depth that shading gives a flat drawing.) Mint manager of design and engraving Ron Harrigal also pointed out that hands are a challenge to portray on coins; foreshortening and similar artistic techniques, useful in drawing, can make a sculpted hand look squat or misshapen.
Design VT-08, like 01A, illustrates the idea of direct human management of nature, and throws in the bonus of a symbolic life cycle, with a seedling and a mature Norway spruce. I don’t think the girl is too small or overly detailed for the size of the coin; we’ve seen human figures this size that work well on other coins. But I think it would be a stronger contender if the words “Land Stewardship” were absent. The idea is already shown symbolically.
I spent some time in this CCAC public meeting discussing design VT-10. It shows human management of the land, but it just doesn’t get the horse right. I grew up around horses in New York, and this sketch looked off to me on several points—so I called my equestrian experts: my mom and my sister. Between them, they have about 80 years of hands-on experience breeding, raising, training, and riding horses. They both mentioned that a horse’s nostrils are usually bigger, for more air intake. The jaw looks wrong, and “The lower lip normally has just that—a lip with some ‘pouting fat’ on the bottom.” The logging harness looks wrong, as does the front left leg and its mane.
By the time I finished laying out what I didn’t like about the art, I was accused of beating a dead horse. But I wanted to analyze the apparent flaws in this design because it’s a good lesson for the Mint’s artists as they submit proposals for CCAC review: You’ll be held to a high standard for artistry. If technical details appear to be inaccurate, if the perspective is off, or if musculature and physical form aren’t true to life, your concept might have merit, but it could lose points in the committee’s voting and ranking, or be dismissed outright.
In our voting for Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park, designs VT-01A and 02 were the highest ranked, with 10 points each. VT-05 and 08 weren’t far behind, with 8 points each. A single winning vote above 13 points (more than 50 percent of the possible 24) would have established our recommendation to the secretary of the Treasury. As it was, the tied vote led us to further discussion, with VT-01A ultimately being our chosen design.
Dennis Tucker is the numismatic specialist on the U.S. Treasury Department’s 11-member Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee. He is a life member of the American Numismatic Association and publisher at Whitman Publishing.