With permission, we're republishing excerpts of former U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Don Everhart series published by CoinWeek beginning in April 2018.
Fresh out of college in 1973, I made a decision that would change the course of my life forever – and I didn't even know it at the time!
Back then I was more concerned about staying alive than deciding what my career path would be. I had a Bachelors Degree in Fine Arts Painting, and my vague plan was to be an illustrator (doing album covers, I hoped).
I had taken a job as a paste-up artist at a ticket and label manufacturing company in Northeast Philadelphia and had moved five times in the past year, so things were a little unsettled, to say the least.
I had higher aspirations than being a paste-up artist, however, and one day decided to play hooky and take my student portfolio to the gallery district on South Street to see if I could get a
The first gallery I walked into was owned by a husband-and-wife team. Rita reviewed my portfolio and kindly informed me that there were no openings at the moment. She did, however, inform me that she also worked at a company in the suburbs of Philly and they were looking for an artist to do paste-up for their advertising plan–basically the same thing I was doing at the label company. I was enticed by the possible $1,000 increase in my annual salary and jumped at the chance because, even though paste up was what I was already doing, in those days $1,000 was a lot of money for a young, inexperienced artist. Plus it got me out of the city.
So, I scheduled an interview at The Franklin Mint.
I was hired for the job and moved yet again to Media, Pennsylvania, about a 10-minute drive from my new place of employment.
Things were fine for about a year when the little, ever-present voice in my head said to me,
This is not what you were meant to do with your life. I wanted to do art, not production work for advertising. Now, I thought, time to move again.
During breaks and at lunchtime I would wander over to the sculpting department and look at the bas-reliefs that were being produced by the artists. The sculptors at The Franklin Mint were held in high regard. In the 1970s the Mint was rolling, its stock splitting every six months or so. I decided that while I had my foot in the door I should try out, as the mint was in need of more sculptors at the time.
At one point, there were 37 sculptors employed full time at The Franklin Mint!
My first tryout piece was
The Charioteer of the Delphi, a classic Greek figure. It took me three weeks to finish. After that, I was given yet another Greek masterpiece (a bust of Poseidon) and another three weeks. But both were accepted and I embarked on my third tryout piece, which was a scene with Gugliermo Marconi working on his radio telegraph system.
While working on this project I was hired as a Franklin Mint sculptor!
I learned the process that the other sculptors were using and would start a sculpt in plastilene, and when I was satisfied with the basics, I would make a plaster cast from it. This became the negative, which I worked on until I was satisfied with it. Then I would seal it and cast a positive plaster from that. I would add finishing touches and complete the sculpt at this point.
I remained at The Franklin Mint for the next five years, working as a sculptor and learning my new craft. I had never sculpted before in my life but the low relief was, for me, fairly easy to adapt to, as it is basically illustration with a bit of relief thrown in. If one has a good knowledge of drawing and a feel for volume, then one can adapt to the requirements of relief sculpture without too much of a problem. A lot of the artists were former illustrators and helped me in my progress to master the art. Once I learned the basics of relief sculpting I became very proficient at it, and was producing between 50 and 60 finished plasters a year. My three-week timetable to finish a sculpt became three days. I always consider my Franklin Mint years as my
I call bas-relief sculpting
painting with light. I position my light source above the plaster on a somewhat vertical drawing board. With this set up, using my sculpting tools, I can angle the clay to catch light or cut it away to be in shadow, working to get a good contrast between the light and shadow areas.
But around 1980 that little voice in my head was at it again. It kept saying,
Why don't you go freelance and work at home?
After a lot of soul searching I took the plunge. I handed in my resignation in March of 1980 and embarked on my new freelance career.
During the years from 1980 to when I began my time at the United States Mint I worked on quite a variety of projects, not just coins and medals.
You can see more of Don's sculpture and design work on his website:
Wayne Homren, Editor
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