BYU professor designs a new coin for a new century

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Mark A. Philbrick
Justin Kunz design was selected for the ‘American Liberty 2015 High Relief 24-karat Gold Coin’.          (Mark A. Philbrick)

Assistant professor of the BYU Department of Design Justin Kunz created a modernized version of Lady Liberty for the United States Mint.

His idea was to bring back the icon of lady liberty, which has appeared on U.S. coins in past centuries.

The project was part of the Artistic Infusion Program Assignment, of which Kunz has been a part of since 2004, with a break during his graduate studies. The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee emphasized creating a modern Liberty that reflects the nation’s diversity. Artists proposed their own versions of lady liberty to the CCAC, consisting of 9 members, who then selected the winner for the American Liberty 2015 High Relief 24-karat Gold Coin.

With this assignment to recreate a new image of Lady Liberty, Kunz went to work studying women’s evening gowns in order to create a more elegant but modern dynamic to the classic icon. Kunz commented on his desire to add modern sensibility without taking away from traditional values and opinions.

The image Kunz designed displayed a younger Lady Liberty, dressed in a Grecian robe, having been transformed to look more like an evening gown. The women also carries key images: the torch of freedom in her right hand and the flag in her left. It was Kunz’s desire to capture an optimistic view of society and portray the nation as one with greater hope.

“I also wanted the word ‘liberty’ to be large on the coin because it is one of the most important things for our country,” Kunz said. “I then added the ‘In God We Trust’ because I’m a large advocate of how much we need Him.”

Mark A. Philbrick
The U.S. Mint selected this image of Lady Liberty for their new coin, designed by Justin Kunz. (Mark A. Philbrick)

Kunz also had a desire to keep his version of Lady Liberty racially obscure so that all U.S. citizens could have a chance to relate to her and feel a part of the freedom of this country which she celebrates.

“I tried to embrace an image that acknowledged diversity,” Kunz said.  “I wanted her to either be multi-ethnical or racially obscure, depending on how someone viewed the image.”

Kunz’s colleagues commented on his work with positive views.

Robert Barrett, BYU Department of Design professor, said the coin is very well designed.

“Justin uses the traditional ‘tried and true’ method of completing several sketches and studies before settling in on the final version,” Barrett said. “The process gives him perspective and a chance to edit his ideas which is foundational to arriving at the best solution.”

Thaylene Rogers, Controller of Technology Transfer Operations in the BYU Design Department, also praised Barrett’s design.

“I think it is beautiful,” Rogers said.

Lady Liberty has been a widely used symbol of the nation’s values in the past. Kunz said he feels liberty is one of the most important values in America.

“It is important that we don’t lose fundamental values that make us unique as a nation,” Kunz said. “Liberty, the fact that we can govern ourselves, truly is something worth remembering.”

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