50-State Quarters: Credit Where Credit Is Due
State Quarter Artists Speak Out About Contest Rules
By Leon Worden
"A special, special thank-you to Garrett Burke, who is the one that came up with the spectacular design," Schwarzenegger told the crowd that gathered for the unveiling in January. "Again," the governor repeated, with then-U.S. Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore at his side, "let’s give him a big hand for his design."
Garrett Burke’s initials do not appear on any U.S. coin, including the California quarter, and they probably never will.
Nancy Miller was upset when nobody mentioned her husband’s name during the ceremony, and if you view the official write-up of the event on the Mint’s Web site, it’s as if he wasn’t even there.
But the Mint didn’t copy Butler’s name into its age-old annals of coin artists. In fact, like every other state quarter issued since 1999, those half-billion Florida coins credit someone other than the original designer as their creator.
Because it didn’t actually solicit finished "art" from the general public, the Mint says. It merely solicited "concepts" from the various state governors, to be executed by the Mint’s in-house sculptor-engravers. How the governors decide what should go on their state quarter, and whether they encourage their citizens to submit drawings at all, is up to them.
"Some states have chosen to publicize [the identity of] their artists, some haven’t," said Mint spokesman Michael White.
At the end of the day, the Mint sculptor-engravers who mold the plaster models are the people who get their initials on the coins and their names in the record books.
"There’s always an issue of managing expectations," said Mint attorney Jean Gentry. "When [a state] has artwork developed for a quarter, there’s always the possibility" that people will get the idea that the original concept artist will be credited as the coin artist.
If this approach seems bizarre, or if it seems disingenuous toward hundreds of professional artists and thousands of "regular folks" who entered state-quarter design competitions, or if it seems Machiavellian on the part of government sculptors who get to take credit for coins that depict other people’s concepts, it has been called all of those things.
"The Mint engravers hijacked the state quarter program to get their initials on the coins," said Paul Jackson, whose concept was selected by then-Gov. Bob Holden and his wife, Lori Hauser Holden, for the 2003 Missouri quarter. Jackson, 37, is an accomplished watercolorist whose art hangs in the state capitol and the governor’s mansion.
"I’m ticked off that 3,300 people [in Missouri] were given a false promise that led to a contest you couldn’t win," he said. "Why would [outside artists] want to turn in their work if they’re basically a mill to steal from?"
Gentry said outside artists with winning designs know the rules going in, and agree to them in writing.
"Any artist who participates in this program [signs] the same standard release," she said. "In that release it states that ‘I waive all moral rights,’ which means they are waiving any and all claims for attribution [or] credit. If they do not want to participate because they are concerned they will not get the kind of credit that they think they deserve, then that’s the obvious answer: They don’t participate."
Jackson is the most vocal critic among the uncredited state coin artists but not the only one.
"What upsets me the most," said Daniel Miller of Texas, "[is some of the] Mint artists. I mean, they deserve some credit for taking a two-dimensional design and sculpting it into clay. That’s an art. But it upsets me that they’re selling their signatures to coin collectors and making good money doing it."
ICG told The Associated Press that its "Signature Series" coin artists are paid a signing bonus and a percentage of each sale for a total amount "in the thousands." Cousins and Rogers were neither the first nor the last. Today ICG is marketing coins encapsulated with the signature of Elizabeth Jones, the Mint’s last chief engraver (from 1981 to 1990). There is no dispute, however, than Jones designed these coins.
It’s not as if the Mint has never put outside artists’ initials on coins, even when a Mint sculptor executed their designs. In 1973-74, the Treasury Department conducted one of the most celebrated coin design competitions in history. It invited the entire nation, from school children to professional artists, to submit designs for the reverses of the Washington quarter, Kennedy half-dollar and Eisenhower dollar in celebration of America’s 200th birthday.
Eventually, 12 semifinalists were thinned down to three: Jack L. Ahr’s Colonial drummer boy for the quarter, Seth G. Huntington’s Independence Hall for the half dollar and Dennis R. Williams’ Liberty Bell superimposed on the moon for the dollar coin. Each got $5,000, oodles of publicity and his initials on the coins.
In 2001, Ahr, Huntington and Williams got together for a 25th reunion. The guest of honor was the "Bicentennial president," Gerald R. Ford. The Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS), a grading industry leader, encapsulated the four men’s autographs with silver proof versions of the coins. The three-piece "Presidential" set sells for $1,250 today; the "Artist Reunion" set, without Ford’s autograph, goes for $500.
A more recent example of "outsider" attribution: New Mexico sculptor Glenna Goodacre submitted the winning design for the Sacagawea dollar coin obverse. Released in 2000, the coin bears her initials, "GG."
The Mint paid Goodacre in the form of 5,000 specially produced Sacagawea dollars with a prooflike finish. ICG encapsulated all 5,000. She sold 3,000 for $200 each and kept the rest. There is speculation among some hobbyists that Goodacre’s profitable marketing of these coins has made the Mint even more wary of crediting outside artists with coin designs.
"That was an exception," said Gloria Eskridge, chief of sales and marketing for the Mint. "She actually did the sculpt on that [coin]. On all the quarters, our engravers do the sculpting."
The legislation that created the 50-state quarter program gave Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin sole authority to establish the design selection and approval process. It authorized him to include "participation by state officials, artists from the states, engravers of the United States Mint and members of the general public," as he saw fit. It didn’t specify who should get credit on the coins.
A 1997 feasibility study by the accountancy firm of Coopers and Lybrand (later part of PricewaterhouseCoopers) contemplated different design methodologies the company felt were consistent with the legislation.
"First, the federal government can control the design process and receive consultation and advice from state officials on preferred content," the firm said in reporting its findings. "Second, states can control the entire process with less initial involvement from the Department of the Treasury."
Federal control, whether using Mint artists or conducting a centralized, nationwide design contest, would ensure "coinable" designs but might give the appearance of too much federal intrusion into a "state" coin program, the study concluded.
A state-run process, on the other hand, would give people "more sense of ownership [in] the overall program, which would further generate excitement." The downside: Judging could be cumbersome and some designs might be "unsuitable for the nation’s coinage."
Rubin decided to empower (and obligate) the states, rather than have design concepts start with Mint artists or with a centralized design competition
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