With permission, we've been republishing excerpts of former U.S. Mint Sculptor-Engraver Don Everhart series published by CoinWeek beginning in April 2018. Here's the final segment. What great experiences! Thanks for sharing these with the hobby.
Barack Obama (2009-2017)
During almost the entire Obama Administration, the engravers did not hear any news about a potential Presidential Medal. It is a tradition that goes all the way back to George Washington; would this be a gap in the succession of Presidential Medals?
Finally, in late 2015 we got approval from The White House to proceed with designs for President Obama's first and second administrations. The two medals were to be struck with a total of four sides to be designed, considering obverses and reverses.
My obverse was a traditional left facing profile of Barack Obama with the words
Barack Obama in an arc around the rim of the medal.
The two reverse designs were the same basic format as each other, featuring a 50-star border with either an image of The White House or the Presidential Seal, along with his signature and the date of each inauguration.
I worked hard on these designs and the many others I submitted that weren't chosen. I worked weekends in addition to my regular hours at the Philadelphia Mint. I even gave up a multi-day bike trip one weekend with my cycling buddies to work on these medal designs! If you know me, then you know it's serious when I decide to work rather than ride with my friends.
We sent the designs over to the White House and waited to hear back.
One afternoon I was driving home from work and my phone rang. It was April Stafford, head of the Program Development Department at headquarters in Washington, DC. She told me that the White House had decided and selected my second-term obverse and both of my first- and second-term reverses! It's hard to concentrate on driving when you get news like this. Luckily for me I was only a mile away from home.
The first-term obverse design was beautifully drawn by Richard Masters, a long time Artistic Infusion Program artist. Phebe Hempill sculpted a stunning portrait of the president, looking upward and to the right. My traditional left-facing profile of President Obama was the choice for the second term.
It was a challenge to portray him a bit more aged than he was in the first term (my reference showed him younger), but I managed to capture him looking appropriately older. How do you convey graying hair in a sculpture?
Rhett Jeppson, Acting Director of the United States Mint at the time, relayed to me that we were to be at the White House on January 17, 2016 to meet the president in the Oval Office to present to him his medals.
Rhett, his Chief of Staff Elisa Basnight, and his aide Justin Gradek–together with Phebe and myself–arrived at the White House on a rainy and gloomy Tuesday afternoon. After waiting outside the White House grounds in a pouring rain, followed by a long walk, we arrived at the West Wing entrance, guarded by a most decorated Marine. We were soaked by the time we finally got indoors. But no one was complaining.
We waited first in a receiving room for about 40 minutes, making small talk and brimming with anticipation. Finally an aide came in and told us it was time to meet the president. She took us to a small anteroom adjacent to the Oval Office where we waited for about 10 more minutes. Suddenly, the door swung open and President Obama himself gave us a hearty
We filed in with handshakes from the Commander-in-Chief one at a time. Also in attendance was the Secretary of the Treasury, Jack Lew, and Sarah Bloom Raskin, the Deputy Secretary of the Treasury.
I was impressed by how the man held himself, with grace and intelligence. He was obviously very fit. He was quite a bit taller than I am and I looked up when we were shaking hands. He had a real presence about him.
Phebe and I gave the president details on the process and production of his medals. He said several times how much he liked them. We posed for several photos by White House Photographer Pete Souza, then left after a visit of about 20 minutes or so.
It had stopped raining by the time we left the White House and the five of us went our separate ways. But I am sure none of us will ever forget that day!
In 2007 Congress authorized Public Law 111-44 under the New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act to recognize the 40th anniversary of the first human landing on the moon by the crew of Apollo 11. We began designs for this CGM sometime afterwards, with the goal of presenting the medal in a ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in November of 2011.
The medals were to honor the three Apollo 11 astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins. Also, Mercury astronaut John Glenn was to be honored by the gold medal.
Mint engravers, along with the Artistic Infusion Program artists, were asked to prepare designs to commemorate the event.
Both sides of the medal were designed by Joel Iskowitz, with portraits of the three Apollo astronauts and John Glenn of the Mercury missions on the obverse. The reverse depicted the Apollo 11 capsule in orbit and the lunar LEM in the process of landing on the lunar surface. Phebe Hempill sculpted the obverse and I sculpted the reverse design.
Phebe, Joel and I were all invited to the ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington on Wednesday, November 16, 2011. It was a beautiful ceremony, with speeches by President Bush, Speaker of the House John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Neil Armstrong. The event, like most other CGM ceremonies, lasted about an hour.
After the chaplin of the Capitol finished the event with a prayer, the attendees began filing out of the Rotunda. The three of us were beginning to make our exit when we walked past a roped-off area with a Capitol aide standing there directing people out of the building. As we were walking past her she asked us if we were attending the post-ceremony reception. We didn't know anything about a reception but I looked around to Phebe and Joel and managed to reply with a somewhat unconvincing
Yes. She then ushered us past the barriers toward the room where the reception was being held. I am not sure to this day if she knew that we were the artists involved in the creation of the medal.
The room was bustling with groups of people chatting, drinking and eating hors d'oeuvre. I spotted several of the astronauts immediately. Joel, Phebe and I soon found ourselves in conversations with several of them. I met John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, Gene Cernan and Tom Stafford. What I remember most was shaking hands with Neil Armstrong and John Glenn and thinking, I can't believe I am actually meeting these American heroes!
On July 20, 1969, as a college student on a warm summer night, I sat with my parents, eyes glued to a small black-and-white TV as the Apollo Lunar module descended and landed on the moon's surface. A few hours later we watched as Neil Armstrong stepped off the ladder and left man's first footprints on another world. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that some day in the future, I would be working as a sculptor for the United States Mint and shaking hands with the first man to step on the moon!
Five years after that momentous event, I would walk into a gallery in Philadelphia with my student portfolio with the rather humble goal of securing a one-man gallery show and my life and career path would change completely.
To read the complete original article, see:
Don Everhart: My Career in Coins, Part 3 – Historic Figures & Heads of State
To read the earlier E-Sylum article, see:
Don Everhart's Career in Coins, Part 8
Wayne Homren, Editor
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