Renata Gordon: The New American Gold Eagle Sculptor

The American Gold Eagle is a 22-karat gold coin originally designed by Miley Busiek that made its first appearance in 1986. 2021 marked the 35th anniversary of the beloved series and the first year of issue of a brand new reverse design, dubbed the Type-2 Gold Eagle, which was designed by Jennie Norris.  The Gold Eagle  came … Continued

The American Gold Eagle is a 22-karat gold coin originally designed by Miley Busiek that made its first appearance in 1986. 2021 marked the 35th anniversary of the beloved series and the first year of issue of a brand new reverse design, dubbed the Type-2 Gold Eagle, which was designed by Jennie Norris.  The Gold Eagle  came a year after a 1985 law, known as the Gold Bullion Act, that permitted the minting of gold coins in different sizes for public use and collection. This law came about partially in response to South Africa’s apartheid, which was a policy that enforced racial segregation and oppression toward Blacks.

At the time, U.S. citizens who wanted to collect gold coins had to purchase them from Canada or South Africa. Due to apartheid, however, President Ronald Reagan signed the Gold Bullion Act of 1985 banning the importing of South Africa’s popular gold coin known as the Krugerrand.  The new law opened the doors for the U.S. to join the gold coin competition. Although Jennie Norris designed the recently debuted Type-2 reverse for the American Gold Eagle, Renata Gordon is the one who sculpted it. So, who is Renata Gordon? Why is her work so pivotal?

Renata Gordon is a skilled sculptor-engraver for the United States Mint, where her responsibilities include sculpting new coin and medal designs. She also carves designs created and submitted by other artists, of which she sculpted the American Gold Eagle design by Jennie Norris.

In 2010, Renata Gordon graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts. Though she is a talented painter, having completed murals and portraits, sculpting is her specialty. Three months after graduating, she acquired a position in the sculptor-engraving department at the United States Mint, where she currently submits new coin and medal designs.

Renata Gordon has contributed many works. Although she is most famous for the American Gold Eagle, she is well known for other projects, too. She has contributed to projects that include the 2018 World War I Centennial Silver Medal for the Navy, thirteen designs for the Code Talkers Medal Program, several America the Beautiful Quarters, First Spouse, and other commemorative figures.

Renata Gordon was inspired to produce the reverse of the First Spouses Betty Ford piece, which depicts a woman climbing a spiral staircase. The design reflects Betty Ford’s advocacy for addiction recovery, women’s rights, and breast cancer awareness. Renata Gordon also sculpted other notable figures on the reverse of the Mark Twain Commemorative Silver Dollar, celebrating the iconic American author and his literary works. The coin depicts characters from his books like Jim and Huck from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the frog from The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, and the knight and horse from A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.

The role of a sculptor-engraver at the United States Mint is to sculpt coin designs. More particularly, they are responsible for bringing coin designers’ visions to life. Although the sculptor-engraver has the freedom to deviate from the draft, if they choose, their work should still align with the coin designer’s vision. Taking the coin artist’s drafts and translating them into a physical form is challenging, so the sculptor-engraver will collaborate and work closely with the designer to ensure their vision matches the outcome.

The sculptor-engraver will sculpt their designs into clay, wax, or digital models to create thin and highly detailed reliefs. As easy as it may sound, the sculptor-engraver must consider how the light will reflect off their designs, including the level of detail and precision that must go into it. Sometimes, sculptors are required to sculpt within 60,000ths of an inch or more. The sculptor works with large plate designs, which are a dozen times bigger than the coin they are designing. The size helps them achieve a high level of detail and makes it easier to scale down to a smaller size on a computer once a design is ready.  

When the U.S. Mint selects their sculptor-engraver, they look for highly trained and skilled artists in three-dimensional sculpting. At one point in U.S. history, becoming a sculptor-engraver for the U.S. Mint was a lifelong position. Today, the U.S. Mint contracts or hires skilled American artists to work with staff members and submit coin designs or models. When there is an opening or public competition, the Mint selects candidates by application. Sometimes, though, the Mint will extend a personal invitation to the artist. The United States Mint does employ a team of sculptor-engravers based out of the Philadelphia Mint who bring these stunning designs to life.

With a deep background in medallic artistry, Renata Gordon’s skills and works demonstrate the level of professionalism an applying artist needs to qualify for a sculptor-engraver position. The amount of work she has performed also shows how much knowledge one must have in history and culture. They also must know how to evoke the sentiment behind historical figures and events.

The coin design process is a tedious one. First, Congress has to pass legislation that authorizes the Mint to create new coins and medals with a design or purpose in mind. Once legislation is passed by Congress, the Mint will begin the design process, adhering to any sizing requirements or rules laid out by Congress. However, the Mint may include additional design requirements before artists start drafting coin designs.

The Mint and authorized stakeholders, named by Congress, will review these drafts and send feedback to the artists for revision. If approved by both the Mint and stakeholders, the drafts will be sent to a committee. The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) and the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts (CFA) make up this committee and are a team of expert artists. They select the final designs with input from stakeholders or other professionals. Upon selection, the committee will submit their suggestions to the Secretary of the Treasury, who will choose the final design.

After a final design is chosen and approved, artists can finally sculpt the coin either digitally or into clay, wax, or plaster. Eventually, the physical design gets transferred or carved into steel hubs and dies, which are stamps used to make the coins. The Mint will first do a test strike to ensure the images are clear, with no errors. If no errors or issues are detected, the Mint will proceed to produce the coins for public distribution. If a coin design is found to have any flaws at any point, it will be sent back to the designer to be revised.

Once again, collectors will be able to experience Jennie Norris and Renata Gordon’s work up close with the new Type-2 American Gold Eagle release that debuted mid-2021. The reverse of this coin features a  new design, including some enhancements intended to improve its security against counterfeiting like a reeded gap security device which appears on the 1 ounce Type-2 Gold Eagle. The Type-2 design’s debut comes as we mark the 35th anniversary of the first issuance of the 1986 American Gold Eagle.

Lastly, we want to address why Renata Gordon’s work is so pivotal. The number of steps it takes for a coin design to reach production shows how strict and thorough the process is. Renata Gordon’s work on the American Gold Eagle reveals the amount of attention to detail is required to have a design receive approval for minting. Her work is important because her unique skills and talents show that she understands what it takes to create something as popular as the American Gold Eagle and why she is qualified to be a part of the new design for the Type-2 American Gold Eagle.

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