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  March 15, 2004

UConn Student Chosen To Submit
New Coin Design

Amy Mortensen took the call from her brother, Greg, in late November, as she was settling in to study for final exams. He had just noticed an advertisement in the magazine Coin World, announcing a nationwide competition for artists interested in redesigning coins for the U.S. Mint.

"He was really excited," Mortensen remembered. "He said 'Forget your finals! This is a chance for immortality!'"

Image: Amy Mortensen's proposed coin design.

Amy Mortensen's proposed new design for the Maryland quarter.

Amy Mortensen

Amy Mortensen, a senior majoring in photo illustration, makes a sketch from one of her photos. Mortensen is one of two dozen artists selected nationwide by the U.S. Mint to help redesign some of the country's coins.

Photo by Melissa Arbo

In mid-February, Mortensen, a 10th-semester senior majoring in photographic illustration, took a step toward that immortality, when she was named one of 24 designers for the U.S. Mint's Artistic Fusion program.

"They called me on my cell phone, which was really weird, to say I had been selected," Mortensen said in an interview. "I didn't give them that number, and I usually don't answer if it's a number I don't recognize. But this was a 202 area code (Washington, D.C.), so I thought I'd better answer.

"It was really exciting," she said. "And the woman from the Mint who called to tell me I had been selected was just as excited as I was, and that made it even better."

Several weeks later, Mortensen and her cohorts received their first assignment: prepare a new design for the back of the nickel, based on Native Americans and the Lewis and Clark expedition. Mortensen said she planned to spend much of spring break, which began March 8, researching the voyages of Lewis and Clark.

The two dozen potential designers, a mix of professional "master designers" and "associate designers," who are all students, receive an honorarium of $1,000 for each assignment accepted, $500 for the associates.

If Mortensen's design is chosen to grace the back of America's 2005 nickel, she will receive another $500 and her initials will accompany the design.

Michael White, a spokesman for the U.S. Mint, said a new design for the nickel is long overdue.

"For years, people have noticed that, while we have these great icons (on American coins), they have become really static. We thought we needed some new, creative designs," he said.

"People don't often think about it, but the nickel we use today has been in circulation since 1938, the penny since 1909, the quarter - until the new issue - since 1932," White said. "Besides the dollar coin, the youngest coin design is the half dollar, and that's been in use since 1964."

Building on the recent changes to the front and back of the quarter, Mint officials decided to begin work on other coins, including commemorative coins. Mortensen and her colleagues also will be asked to submit designs for them.

Mortensen will graduate in May with a bachelor of fine arts degree in photo illustration and a minor in art history.

She was selected for the team based on a portfolio of her work; an essay describing her background and giving reasons she was qualified for the job; and a redesign she submitted for the back side of the Maryland quarter.

Mortensen's quarter depicts a large crab, with the Maryland state seal embossed on its back. The crab's claws are spread in a manner that closely resembles the American Eagle and the banner it holds on the United States Seal. But, instead of holding a quiver of arrows and an olive branch, as the Eagle does, Mortensen's crab holds a leaf from a White Oak and a bouquet of Black Eyed Susans - Maryland's state tree and flower.

Her next design may boast something else on the back - the initials A.M.M.

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