A native of Tucson, Arizona since 1976, Jennie Norris is a graphic designer, illustrator and artist with twenty years of experience in her field who is at heart a lover of nature and wildlife and of the Arizona Sonoran Desert. Her work has also been inspired by rustic architecture and Hispanic and Native American cultures. Since 2012 she has been a graphic design at the University of Arizona where she creates custom signage and works in product development and design for a range of clients.
In July 2019 she was selected to join the prestigious Artistic Infusion Program of the United States Mint – a group of talented artists, sculptors and engravers who work on a contract basis with the medallic and engraving staff of the U.S. Mint, including Chief Engraver Joseph Menna who oversees this work, to create designs for U.S. coins and have them sculpted into medallic works of art that are struck in large numbers.
Gold Eagle reverse
Remarkably, her very first design for a U.S. coin was chosen only a little over a year after she joined the AIP and was unveiled in October 2020 to be the new reverse design of the iconic American Gold Eagle issued on all versions of that coin since mid-2021.
That design was changed for the first time since 1986 partly to mark the 35th anniversary of this iconic gold coin and also to undertake a refreshing of the obverse design to make it more closely resemble the artistic vision of its creator, the great American sculptor and coin design Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The changes also included adding both overt and covert security features necessary in a period when counterfeiting is on the rise.
She said that when she joined the AIP and learned of the competition to select the new reverse for American God Eagle coins she saw “an opportunity to bring my own appreciation and experience of nature, and raptors in particular, to a very important coin.”
Her design was selected by Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin from a group of over 30 other American eagle designs by other artists that could be used for either the American Gold Eagle or American Silver Eagle based on recommendations from the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee and Commission on Fine Arts. But while the CCAC recommended Jennie’s design for the Silver Eagle, the Secretary instead chose it for the Gold Eagle.
For an artist who only recently made the transition from primarily creating graphite, liquid graphite and watercolor works of fauna and flora to designing coins to have her first design be one for a coin of such historic significance that will continue to appear on Gold Eagles for at least the next 25 years is amazing.
Because of a law from 1890 that still applies to our coinage, the designs of each side can only be changed once every 25 years unless Congress authorizes a new design.
It is also a testament to the way her extensive work as an artist combined with her incredible passion for the natural world and her prior volunteer work for several years as a raptor handler enabled her to produce such an intricate, powerful and unique design of the national bird – the American bald eagle, which is the best-known coinage motif in American numismatics besides Lady Liberty.
Norris’ eagle vs. the others
Jennie’s eagle reverse design is totally different from the way the bird has appeared not just on the American Gold Eagle type 1 reverse design used from 1986 to 2021 created by Miley Busiek that is known as the family of eagles but also all the other eagles of American coins going back to the 1790s such as flying eagles, heraldic eagles and others.
Busiek’s design was also a first in that it depicted not a single eagle but a family of them with the male flying above carrying a branch an olive branch he was bringing back to a nest with the female and several hatchlings. She created this design to inspire hope in younger generations and focus on the importance of family.
Norris’s design with a close-up, left-facing profile of just the head of the eagle provides a very realistic image that focuses on its strong beak and fierce gaze. It also features thick and dense plumage shown in beautiful detail appearing around the bird’s head. This type of eagle-head motif is more reminiscent of some of the designs that have appeared in recent years on coins issued by countries like Australia with its Wedge-Tailed Eagle series.
As she noted when the U.S. Mint unveiled the designs in October 2020, the eagle’s gaze is both intense and impenetrable, adding: “The American Eagle is such a noble bird. I was hoping to capture the intensity of his stare through the close cropping. His gaze speaks of pride and wisdom passed down through generations of time.”
Those features of her stunning eagle portrait also make it a very suitable numismatic symbol for a strong and powerful United States as it confronts a wide range of challenges.
Jennie recently also created her first design for a world coin for the Pegasus 1-ounce silver bullion piece issued for Saint Helena that shows the mythological creature on the coin’s reverse.
Jennie spends lots of time outdoors to observe and appreciate nature and wildlife while gathering reference and inspiration for her work as an artist and illustrator. She donates a portion of her earnings to wildlife conservation charities and also donates some of her work to auction or resale to support such causes.
Her work has appeared in various publications and has been exhibited at juried exhibitions as well as group and solo art shows, which has resulted in her earning numerous awards for her art.
In December 2020 she signed an exclusive deal with NGC to hand sign certification labels for NGC-graded examples of American Gold Eagles, which are popular with collectors of this longstanding series.