Who Is Phebe Hemphill?
Phebe Hemphill is a prolific American medallic sculptor and designer who has been on the sculpting-engraving staff of the United States Mint since 2006. Prior to that, she created medals, dolls, toys and figurines, including 15 years at the Franklin Mint (starting in the porcelain department then moving to the medallic division) and three years at McFarlane Toys.
Early Life and Education
She is a Pennsylvania native who lives in Philadelphia. In 1987 she graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (as did former Chief Engraver John Mercanti) and has studied under Evangelos Frudakis and Eugene Daub.
The largest influences on her work and her interest in coins and medals are from her family. Her father collected Franklin Mint coins, while her grandfather (Gibbons Gray Cornwell, Jr.) was both a collector and later in life took up bas relief sculpture. And Martha Jackson Cornwell, her great-great aunt, studied with the great American sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens in the 1890s at the Arts Students League.
While Phebe works in both traditional (creating large plaster models of coins by hand) and digital formats (using 3-D imaging software), she emphasizes the ongoing importance of traditional methods, saying: “The best reason to do traditional work now is the ability to see depth perception…Since we’re working in such shallow relief, it’s a very important and viable way to do it.”
That view is not surprising since her approach to coin and medal design is rooted in the influence of classic artists and sculptors that include not just Saint Gaudens and another American legend, Adolph A. Weinman but also Oscar Roty, the French designer best-known for his Sameuse design of a French farm girl that was an influence on Weinman’s Walking Liberty design, and other 19th-century French artists such as Jules Clement Chaplain (who with Roty helped found the Art Nouveau movement) and Jean-Baptiste Daniel-Dupuis. Another aspect of her approach is to go in person and visit sites or locations she will be depicting on coins.
Notable Phebe Hemphill Works
If you are a collector of U.S. Mint coins, you probably have seen the 2019 Apollo 11 50th anniversary moon landing commemorative coins. Phebe designed the amazing reverse design that appears on those coins, showing the image in Buzz Aldrin’s helmet visor that shows a reflection of Neil Armstrong and the lunar module on the moon’s surface.
Her long list of design credits for the U.S. Mint also include the obverse of the Sept. 11 national medal, the 2018 World War I Coast Guard medal, gold medals for Bob Dole, Jack Nicklaus and others, the 2013 5-Star Generals clad half dollar and many of the coins in the state quarter and America the Beautiful; First Spouse $10 coin; and Presidential $1 coin series.
Her sculpting credits include the Monuments Men and Code Talkers medals, many commemorative coins and First Spouse $10 gold coins and many others.
Phebe’s impressive work has been exhibited by the American Medallic Sculpture Association, National Sculpture Society and others, and she is the recipient of Renaissance Sculpture Award from the Franklin Mint and the Alez J. Ettel Grant from the National Sculpture Society.