Dear Mr. Moy:
In its meeting of 20 May, the Commission of Fine Arts reviewed the design alternatives for two sets of commemorative coins proposed for issue in 2011, the first for the Medal of Honor and the second for the United States Army. Despite their repeatedly articulated concerns and efforts to advise the Mint in improving the artistic merit of submitted designs, the Commission members expressed their overall disappointment with the poor quality of the alternatives presented. In several instances, the Commission was unable to recommend any of the designs as artistically worthy of honoring the service and sacrifices of Americans in the armed forces.
The Commission members reiterated several recurring concerns from past reviews of the Mint's proposals. They commented that the quality of designs remains embarrassingly low, both in the often amateurish character of the artwork and in the generally poor compositions, where they noted the tendency to include an excess of design elements for these small sculptural objects. They emphasized that coins and medals should distill the subject to its essence, rather than present a confusing collage of multiple elements. The Commission also reiterated the importance of treating the obverse and reverse as a unified design, including the coordination of typefaces. In summary, they noted that the tradition of producing coins and medals has a proud history of many millennia; the U.S. Mint should approach the design process design as the creation of small pieces of sculpture to be held in the hand.
The Commission's specific recommendations for the individual coin designs were as follows:
Medal of Honor Commemorative Coin Program
Five-Dollar Gold Coin. For the obverse, the Commission recommended alternative #2, commenting that it is the simplest design; the Commission also cited alternative #3 as having some degree of simplicity and noted that the remaining alternatives were too cluttered. For the reverse, the Commission recommended alternative #1 as the least problematic, but suggested that the design be simplified to improve its legibility with a reduction of design elements. The Commission recommended that the typefaces of the obverse and reverse be coordinated to provide a greater degree of design unity to the coin.
One-Dollar Silver Coin. For the obverse, the Commission recommended alternative #3 for its simplicity. In alternative #2, the Commission members noted the design motif of the neck ribbon, a distinguishing feature of the Medal of Honor, but questioned the legibility of the ribbons as depicted. For the reverse, the Commission members did not recommend any of the alternatives, commenting that the poor quality of the artwork did not merit selection; they identified alternative #2 as the most promising of the options for the relative strength of the composition.
United States Army Commemorative Coin Program
Five-Dollar Gold Coin. For the obverse, the Commission recommended alternative #1 with the suggestion to eliminate the rocky terrain beneath the figures and to adjust the text "Liberty" so that it is not rendered illegible by the other design elements. While acknowledging the demographic inclusivity of the five figures in other alternatives, the Commission members commented that the human figures with goggles that mask the eyes are disturbing as subjects for this honorific coin. For the reverse, the Commission recommended alternative #2 for its clear distinction between the emblem of the United States Army and the inscriptions proper to the coin.
One-Dollar Silver Coin. For the obverse, the Commission made no recommendation for any of the submitted alternatives. The Commission members questioned the legibility of the figures, the multiplicity of elements, and the jarring depiction of goggles on some of the soldiers. Acknowledging the appropriateness of depicting a world map in the background, they commented that an off-center placement of this circular element is discordant as a major design feature and recommended further study of the size or placement of the map if it is retained in design alternatives. The Commission members identified alternative #5 as the design with the most potential but noted the awkward placement of the text "In God We Trust" and the eccentric location of the globe background in the composition. For the reverse, the Commission recommended alternative #4 featuring the Great Seal of the United States, commenting that this design is the only option that properly balances the proposed depiction of human figures on the obverse.
Half-Dollar Clad Coin. The Commission did not recommend any of the submitted alternatives for the obverse, commenting that the multiplicity of design elements and pictorial complexity was excessive for an object at the size of a coin. Some members offered support for alternative #1 for its relative simplicity; others offered limited support for alternative #2 but noted the compositional problems of the central frame. With their general assessment of the proposed designs as artistically naïve, the Commission members concluded that simplified alternatives for the obverse should be developed. For the reverse, the Commission recommended alternative #2 as having the strongest composition among the options.
The Commission welcomes the opportunity to review new alternatives for designs that did not merit a recommendation, as well as to work further with the Mint in improving the process for developing designs for the nation's numismatic issue. As always, the staff is available to assist you.
/s/Thomas E. Luebke, AIA
Edmund C. Moy, Director
United States Mint
801 9th Street, NW, 8th Floor
Washington, DC 20220
cc: Kaarina Budow, U.S. Mint