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Classic US Commemorative Coins: Quick Bit #36 - A Modern Artist's Story

 
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 Posted 10/14/2021  07:21 am Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
I recently came across this story as told by Jamie Wyeth, the designer of the obverse of the 1995 Special Olympics silver dollar - the design depicts a left-facing Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics. The article thus centers around a modern US commemorative coin vs. one from the classic era, but it provides some insight into a design whose aesthetics often gets criticized and I thought folks might be interested.

A letter from Jamie...

As a painter, I have undertaken a few portrait commissions. The following describes one of the more hilarious of what I call "portrait commission moments." A moment that I shared with Eunice.

In 1995 I was asked to create a likeness of Eunice Shriver to be used as "the face" of a U.S. silver dollar commemorating the Special Olympics World Games. After several posing sessions in the Washington DC Special Olympic offices, I completed what we thought was a reasonable likeness. I delivered the drawing to the U.S. mint for their sculptors to render it onto the coin. A week later, I was summoned to the mint to approve the "sculpt." To my horror, they had turned my rendering of Eunice into a pre-pubescent Shirley Temple. Gone was Eunice's age acquired character; lines and wrinkles were miraculously erased. Distressed, I called Eunice. Her response, after gales of laughter, "put those lines and wrinkles back in - they were hard won!" Although the image on the coin still looks a bit like Betty Crocker, I will forever be indebted to Eunice and her reality check.


I'm not sure I concur with the "Betty Crocker" analogy, but it's evident that US Mint Sculptor-Engraver T. James Ferrell updated the coin's obverse "sculpt" to reflect a more accurate circa-1995 Eunice Kennedy Shriver. It does make me wonder, however, if the Mint's de-aging of Wyeth's original drawing was more an effort to reflect Eunice as she appeared circa-1968 (when the first Special Olympic Games were held in Chicago, IL) vs. any attempt to deceive anyone about her 1995 appearance or "beautify" the coin.

As a coin being issued to celebrate the founder of the Special Olympics, I can understand the Mint's potential desire to have a portrait that reflects Kennedy's appearance at the time of the organization's launch vs. 27 years later. There is no argument that Eunice had a more youthful appearance in the mid-1960s vs. mid-1990s! (We all would have!)

1995 Special Olympics Silver Dollar



Note: The above story can be found on the One Woman's Vision web site: http://34.233.32.240/letters/letter/53.




Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
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 Posted 10/14/2021  10:58 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add jbuck to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
That is very interesting! There have been no shortage of posts declaring this as one of the least attractive coin designs. I wonder how it would have ranked had the original "sculpt" prevailed.

I have to admit, the more I stare at the coin the more "okay" it looks. I have come to like the reverse, for sure.
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 Posted 10/14/2021  4:29 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add nickelsearcher to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Good information commems. Even with this explanation from Mr. Wyeth, I still judge this to be one of the least attractive coin designs.
Take a look at my other hobby ... http://www.jk-dk.art
Too many hobbies .... too much work .... not enough time.
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 Posted 10/14/2021  10:45 pm  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
@jbuck: I think if a coin design's overall balance and execution is considered vs. whether or not the primary subject presented is attractive, the merits of the design can be better appreciated. On this coin, the design's balance works, its subject is simply not the most attractive woman. I will say, however, the portrait on the coin is accurate for a circa-1995 Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

@nickelsearcher: I can't argue - we all know what we like and don't like!

I think it's a similar situation to the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin. Many criticize its appearance as well. Susan B. was not very attractive at the age depicted on the coin and there was only so much Frank Gasparro could do!

IMO, there's only so much that can be done with a design if a coin's model is not attractive. For example, the obverse of much of the coinage of King George III is not generally considered attractive. The King wasn't a handsome man - especially as he grew older - and this fact was reflected in the (accurate) portrait that appears on much of the British coinage of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
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 Posted Yesterday   11:30 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add jbuck to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Well said.

And for the record, I never felt the SBA was ugly. I was just sad to see Ike go.
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 Posted Today  1H 33M ago  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add fortcollins to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
I can still remember my dad railing about the Franklin half dollars, calling them "those hippie coins."

Moving from coins to currency for a moment, the portrait of Andrew Jackson is downright scary. When the portrait was enlarged for the Series 1996 notes, it definitely didn't help matters.
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