The following is an excerpt written by AIP designer Barbara Fox from the Guide Book of Washington Quarters, 2nd edition
From 1932 to 1999, our quarters all looked the same. The dates changed every year, but George Washington’s profile remained stoically on one side, and an eagle gracefully lifted his wings on the reverse. In 1999, the United States Mint began a program of State quarters—five new designs a year— and suddenly lots of us Americans became coin collectors. All we needed was to rummage through the change in our pocket, purse, or coin jar. These interesting little bas-relief sculptures representing the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five territories became the most successful coin program in the nation’s history. Since 2010, the America the Beautiful quarter program has continued this tradition, minting five new quarters each year featuring a national park or memorial in each state, district, and territory. Fortunately for me, I have been able to contribute some designs to this elegant program, as a coin designer for the Artistic Infusion Program at the United States Mint.
One of the best parts about being a coin designer is the research required to illustrate a person, place, or event. I love being a student, and I learn so much about the history, geology, and natural characteristics of my assignment. The minute details can be the most fascinating. Every element of a coin design must be accurate, historically or otherwise; so, the uniforms, the window frames, the brocade on a dress, the rocks and trees, and the hairstyles of the era all must be researched. Mistakes are made, of course, but a contingent of committee members, designers, and Smithsonian experts check each submission for accuracy. I can’t tell you how many times I have “flipped” a preliminary drawing of a gentleman to see how a reverse composition would work, and forgot to make sure the coat buttoned on the correct side. And the frizzen! A design with an old rifle was repeatedly rejected by the Smithsonian historians because the frizzen (also called the “steel”) of the rifle was not right. Fortunately, some friends who are Revolutionary War re-enactors allowed me to photograph their reproduction rifles. They explained and demonstrated the workings of the rifle, so I came away from that lesson with an appreciation for beautiful old flintlocks, and (once I had drawn the frizzen correctly) a winning design.
Right now [early summer 2017—Editor], I am working on a design for an America the Beautiful quarter. I won’t identify it, but it is somewhere I’ve never been, and don’t have the time to travel to, unfortunately. The Internet is a boon for research, so I Google and read about all aspects of the place. I’ve learned to get a feeling for the “essence” of the site. Sometimes, a national park is not adequately represented by a building or natural feature, but the history or emotional context about the place tells a more powerful story. Themes like war, slavery, immigration, ecology, or wilderness can sometimes be expressed more powerfully in a symbolic way. The designer’s job is to convey this information on this less-than-one-inch round format. We do it with the anticipation that each quarter will be admired as a compelling design, and will spark interest in the story behind the art.
After becoming an artist for the AIP, I began subscribing to a few coin magazines, and I learned that there are a lot of different subsets of coin collecting. I learned that coin collectors are a serious group. Coin collecting can be a hobby, or it can be a passion. David Bowers’s writing for Coin World has given me a thoughtful background to the world of coins. I have not become a collector myself, but I appreciate the passion, and those of you who focus on quarters will, I hope, appreciate the passion that the designer puts into their work, to produce the most beautiful, the most interesting, and the most accurate image they can. Kudos to the U.S. Mint, the coin experts, and to the many coin collectors who recognize the significance of these tiny works of art.
Barbara Fox—a graduate of the University of California, Davis—works as a fine artist and illustrator. Her paintings are exhibited and collected internationally, have received numerous awards, and have been selected for publication in fine art magazines and books.
She teaches her watercolor painting technique in classes and workshops around the country. Design and illustration clients include Timex, Disney, American Greetings, and the Franklin Mint.
As an AIP designer, Fox has 11 coin-design credits to her name, five medal credits, and six First Spouse coin and medal credits.