PUBLISHED: 2:34 PM on Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Juneauites head coin commission

Juneau could have significant influence on the design for 25-cent piece that will bear an Alaska image on its "tail" side when it goes into circulation in 2008. Two Juneau artists are heading the commission that will help design and choose the Alaskan image that will appear on the coin as part of the "50 State Commemorative Coin Program." A third local is among the statewide membership.

Mark Vinsel, a painter with a degree in industrial design and president of the Juneau Artists Co-op, and famed watercolorist Rie Munoz were appointed as chairman and vice chair, respectively, of the Alaska Commemorative Coin Commission by Gov. Frank Murkowski, June 10. Nicole Hartman, marketing manager for True North Federal Credit Union, is a member of the commission that also includes James L. Evenson of Kenai, Richard Hanscom of Fairbanks, Bryant Hopkins of Fairbanks, Beverly Macy of Barrow, Stanley A. Mead of Anchorage, Stacie Stevens of Anchorage, Josephine E. Stiles of Nome and Jinx (Patricia) Whitaker of Fairbanks.

Five new "state" quarters have been minted each year since the program began in 1998 in the order that states entered the union. Alaska's coin will be unveiled in coordination with its 50th statehood anniversary celebration.

In June the 11-member committee was organizing its plans to conduct the statewide "concept selection" competition process required by state and federal laws. "I think there'll be something coming out either the end of the summer or in the fall" by way of instructions for public participation, said Vinsel, the executive director of the United Fishermen of Alaska.

Unlike most design competitions, no single person's artistry will be chosen for Alaska's quarter and the US Mint will produce the original artwork in the multi-stage process.

The first round calls for the Alaska Commission to pick three to five "narrative design concepts," in other words, descriptions of a coin face rather than images.

"The narrative must explain why the concept is emblematic of the state and what the concept represents to the state's citizens. A narrative that merely describes a particular design is not acceptable," the US Mint warns on its commemorative coin web page.

Working with a state-appointed liaison, who has not yet been named, the US Mint produces artwork for each concept "focusing on aesthetic beauty, historical accuracy, appropriateness and coinability," according to the web page. The federal Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and the US Commission of Fine Arts review and make recommendations on the five designs, which the US Mint can change accordingly.

The Secretary of the Treasury, who has ultimate control of the entire process, then reviews the candidate designs. Those he or she approves are returned to the governor who makes a final selection with the advice of the state commission, but it must be finally confirmed by the Treasury Secretary.

Federal criteria say state flags or seals are not considered suitable for designs. Noting that coins have a commercial life span of at least 30 years, it adds that "priority consideration will be given to designs that are enduring representations of the state.

Process aside, Vinsel said Alaska's imagery, and the opportunity to review at least 35 other previously-issued state quarters should allow it to produce a truly artistic work.

"We have a great flag. We have the best history. I think we can have the best quarter," he said.

Munoz, recommended for the committee by First Lady Nancy Murkowski, said the descriptive, rather than productive nature of the process was new to her, but she emphasized that simplicity and avoidance of "clutter" should be a guiding principle of the project.

"I think that would work fairly well. If the rest of this committee has the same idea I have, we could just do something very simple: a profile of somebody or a flower. We could, for instance, say the state flower, not a bouquet or a vase but a simple flower," Munoz suggested.

She pointed to Canada's "Loonie" dollar piece, with the image of a loon, is a good example of a simple, representative coin.

"We might put on the Northern Lights, somebody panning for gold, Mt. McKinley, the Alaska flag, a salmon, but you just can't put all those ideas on a coin and have it look appropriate," she warned.

Apart from his job running the state's largest seafood industry trade group, Vinsel said a salmon is one of many images to consider.

"I think the trick will be to come up with a quarter that is worthy as a representation of the beauty of Alaska, but I think there's a place for the fish and I've talked with people who'd love to see Mt. Denali, Native culture, Native heritage, our beautiful scenery. There are a whole bunch of beautiful icons of this state, but I think there's nothing more beautiful than a fresh salmon jumping in a wild environment," he said.

A long time watercolor painter, more recently working in oriental inks, Vinsel spent a year as an art student at San Francisco State University then shifted to mechanical engineering and finally industrial design, in which he earned his degree in 1985.

"After a certain point I was interested in graduating rather than just taking classes. That (industrial design) was a degree program that I could get full credit for both of those," he explained.

"Ultimately this is an industrial design," he noted of the coin project.

Somewhat surprised to be named chairman of the state commission, Vinsel said he was excited by the state coin project from the moment the Alaska Legislature adopted the bill creating the commission in 2004, "I had to be the first person to put my name in. When it passed, I had my name in for the commission, I'm pretty sure, later that afternoon," he said.

Hartman's path to the committee began as she saw the coins of other states.

"That's how I got interested in it because we sell the state quarters here," she said. "I kept wondering what ours is going to be like and when the opportunity came up to apply I jumped at it," she said.

As True North's marketing chief she oversees all the credit union's graphic designs as well as its promotional activities. Like Vinsel, Hartman sees a wealth of beauty befitting the historic effort.

"We've got everything from natural resources to so many different Native tribe designs and our history here," she said, "The biggest challenge we're gong to face is figuring out how we're going to incorporate all the aspects of Alaska into that little space. We have one of the largest challenges of all the 50 states because of our vastness."

Ed. Note: For more information about the coin commission and their work, look online at

Alaska Commemorative Coin Commission Home Page:

Commemorative Coin Commission Enabling Legislation, HB 467 (2004):

The U.S. Mint 50 State Quarters Program home page:

State Quarters Designs: