An ancient quarter-mile-long display of sacred public art has been memorialized in an image the size of a quarter.
That took some doing, said Richard Masters, an Iowa native who designed the image on the soon-to-be released Effigy Mounds National Monument quarter.
“It was a real challenge to depict some of the mounds with a sense of the scale of their natural setting with the sky and distant trees,” said Masters, who has designed many commemorative coins and medals, from in his New York City studio.
The design on the “tails” side of the coin depicts Masters’ stylized and condensed aerial view of mounds in the Marching Bears Group, while the “heads” side, as with all others issued through the program, features the 1932 portrait of George Washington by John Flanagan.
The Effigy Mounds National Monument quarter — the first of 2017 and the 36th in the U.S. Mint America the Beautiful Quarters Program — will be available to the public on Feb. 7.
The U.S. Mint and the National Park Service will launch the new quarter at 10 a.m. Feb. 7, at the Allamakee Community School District High School in Waukon. The Kerndt Brothers Bank will then make the coins available to the public with a one-roll minimum ($10 value) and a 10-roll maximum ($100 value) per person at the coin exchange.
“It’s a neat thing, an honor. We like to think it’s an excellent way to increase awareness and pique curiosity,” said Jim Nepstad, superintendent of the national monument near Marquette, in northeast Iowa.
Nepstad, who worked with Masters and others on a design that went through more than 10 revisions, said it is unusual for the coin designer to be from the same state as the commemorated national park.
Masters, who recently retired from the art faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, grew up in Iowa and lived in the state 34 years. He earned a master’s of fine arts degree at the University of Iowa in 1990.
Masters, who had never visited Effigy Mounds until 2015, said he was “blown away” by his first glimpse of the Marching Bears Group, a set of 10 bear mounds and three bird mounds stretching a quarter mile atop a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River.
His Iowa background and his admiration for the works of Iowa artist Grant Wood, he said, proved helpful in the creation of his design.
Masters said he was inspired by Wood’s painting “Young Corn” in his creation of “a landscape that speaks of Iowa and the rural values that Iowans connect with.”
Nepstad said the site’s tribal partners also participated in the image selection process.
Johnathan Buffalo, historic preservation director for the Sac and Fox of the Mississippi in Iowa, said the coin depicts ancient ruins with deep spiritual significance for the descendants of the builders.
“We built them of earth, which is very easy to erase. They have to be protected. Otherwise they would be gone,” he said.
Effigy Mounds National Monument, established as a national site on Oct. 25, 1949, protects more than 200 mounds, including more than 30 animal- or bird-shaped “effigy” mounds for which the park is named. It is considered a sacred landscape by members of many modern-day tribes whose ancestors once lived here.
For much of the 21st century, Effigy Mounds has been plagued by controversy stemming from National Park Service mismanagement.
Officials still are trying to resolve the illegal and artifact-damaging construction of trails, boardwalks and other structures under the tenure of former superintendent Phyllis Ewing.
Another former superintendent, Thomas Munson, pleaded guilty last summer to stealing the bones of ancient native Americans from museum holdings — presumably to avoid returning them to tribes as required under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.