Medallic sculptors are artists with extensive training and experience in sculpture and are typically very accomplished in drawing and painting. They are the people who bring to life the beautiful coin designs created usually by another artist in the form of drawings and drafts and work closely with those artists.
Doing this work for the U.S. Mint is incredibly challenging because of the large volume of coins and medals the Mint produces and its highly exacting standards. It also requires deep knowledge of anatomy and form, familiarity with American history and culture, and past U.S. coins and medals designs.
For over a decade, medallic sculptor Renata Gordon has been working at the Philadelphia Mint. Here, she works alongside other permanent Mint staff, mostly sculpting the designs of her colleagues, including outside artists who are part of the Artistic Infusion Program.
Last year, Gordon became more widely known within the numismatic community when it was announced that she had been selected for the important task of sculpting the bold new reverse by Jennie Norris that has appeared on American Gold Eagles since the middle of 2021.
Of this major and very prestigious project, she noted: “It was my intent to give this piece the spirit of an eagle in its facial expression, and overall.”
Renata Gordon’s Artistic Roots
Gordon is from New Jersey, and she became interested in art at the tender age of one and a half when she started to draw and sculpt small objects out of clay. As she said in a 2019 interview: “I’ve always known art would be my profession. I was a sculpture major in college, but I also drew a lot, so I really think I struck gold with this job—pun intended.”
She is also an accomplished and gifted painter who has created public and private murals and portraits, and she has written and illustrated a book of poetry for children.
She graduated in December 2010 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture from the University of the Arts in Pennsylvania. Not long after that, she obtained an internship with the U.S. Mint, where she studied coin and medal design and traditional and digital sculpture. She also worked on sculpting many of the Code Talker Bronze Medals during this period, which she found interesting because it dealt with the subject of Native American culture, nature scenes, and the important role this group played in the war.
Crafting a Remarkable Legacy at the U.S. Mint
In March 2011, she was offered a full-time position at the Mint as a sculptor-engraver. Over the years, she has sculpted an impressive list of coins and medals such as those for the America the Beautiful Quarter Program, the $10 First Spouse Gold Coins, congressional gold medals, the American Innovation Dollars, and many commemoratives such as the common reverse for the 2018 Breast Cancer Awareness coins, the 2019 American Legion common obverse, the 2020 Mayflower Silver Medal, 2020 End of World War II 75th Anniversary Gold Coin and Silver Medal and many others.
She loves her work for the Mint, saying: “I love the fact that I use my sculpting and drawing skills and that it is such a challenge—I love the scale of the work and the history of medallic art, or what I’ve learned of it. And I also like the process of refining something.”
Working at the Mint has taught her the importance of having the right tools for her work. “Everything we have here is modified [to make it work best for Mint projects and the type of work being done]—from the desktop easel to all the sculpting tools in our entire process. I think that’s necessary when you are doing something unique.”
She added that it is important to remember that what she and her colleagues do at the Mint “is in the realm of fine art” and that she has been able to grow as an artist and as a person as a result of her years spent creating sculpts for so many U.S. coins and medals. Furthermore, she also says that her colleagues at the Mint are some of the best in the world in their fields, and that has helped propel her work more than it would have if her colleagues were not so talented.
Inspiration and Precision Behind Renata Gordon’s Work
There is no doubt that the work Gordon does at the Mint is highly demanding, sometimes requiring her to sculpt within 60,000ths of an inch while working on a design that has been transferred to a large plate that is several dozen times the size of the coin so that she can achieve the necessary level of detail and relief.
For inspiration for her work, Gordon looks to older works like French medallic art and writings on different subjects she works on. One of her favorite projects was the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Quarter for the America the Beautiful series. It involved creating a sculpture based on another artist’s drawing, studying it very closely, and imagining it in relief before trying to model it in clay.
Her place in the annals of American numismatics is assured because she has worked on so many projects for the Mint, including especially her sculpting of the new American Gold Eagle reverse that is being struck on millions of gold coins and that will continue to be used for a long time since designs can only be changed every 25 years unless authorized by the Congress.