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BYU Professor gives Lady Liberty a makeover

BYU illustration professor Justin Kunz has given Lady Liberty a complete makeover while designing a new collectors' item coin for the US Mint. 

The American Liberty 2015 High Relief 24-karat Gold Coin was highly anticipated by coin collectors across the U.S. It features a re-imagined Lady Liberty meant to reflect modern sensibilities including increasing cultural diversity. Unlike previous representations, Kunz's is a woman whose features - from her physicality and dress to the items she is holding - represent an attempt to bring a contemporary sensibility to a traditional American icon.

"It was difficult to portray Lady Liberty as a modern figure," Kunz said, "I studied, sketched and finally, meditated on what Lady Liberty represents. I wanted the idea of her to be a simple visual statement expressed in an elegant way."

"I wanted her to be recognizable as Liberty. I didn't want to put her in a hoodie."

As you look at the coin, you notice Kunz's Lady Liberty has a more rounded face with smaller, less pronounced eyes, nose and ears. Her robes are more fitted with a V-neck. Instead of a crown with spikes representing the seven seas, the modern Lady Liberty is crowned with the laurel leaf representing victory. In her left hand, she holds the staff of an American flag that flows behind her and in her right hand she holds a torch meant to represent freedom.

Kunz drew upon his experience as a professional illustrator, developing drawings in graphite based on his rough sketches and photographs of two different models who posed for Liberty. He then scanned the drawings and used 2D graphics software to edit and arrange the images with typography in a circular format. At one point Kunz had Lady Liberty depicted with a drawn sword, though he was concerned reviewers might feel this pose would appear too combative.

Fifteen talented artists submitted their designs for the coin and only two were chosen, one for the obverse (front) and one for the reverse (back). The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts reviewed all of the designs and made their recommendations, but ultimately it was up to the treasury secretary to decide which design would be minted on the coin. In the end, the secretary chose Kunz's design for the obverse where his initials now reside.

"It was an exciting experience to listen in on the CCAC's meeting while they evaluated the designs," Kunz said. "When they came to my design each member of the committee seemed to understand what I was trying to communicate, which is thrilling for an artist."

Although having his design chosen for the new coin is an honor few artists can say they've achieved, it's not the first time Kunz's work has won over an audience. Kunz's designs have been featured on the following coins as well.

2008 Andrew Jackson's Liberty (reverse)

2009 Abraham Lincoln Commemorative Silver Dollar (obverse)

2014 Civil Rights Act of 1964 Commemorative Silver Dollar (obverse)

Kunz continues to work with the US Mint designing coins and medals. Next year, in 2016, a new America the Beautiful Quarter designed by Kunz with a depiction of the Shawnee National Forest will become available. It may even end up in your pocket.

"It's such a privilege to work with the US Mint," Kunz said. "My skills and creativity as an artist have grown while working with them and it's very rewarding to have my designs seen by thousands of American collectors all over the US."

The new coin, which will be limited to a mintage of 50,000 units, has an official denomination of $100, but is sold for nearly $1500. Initial inventories of the coin were sold out within the first day of its release and it's on backorder until October.

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