‘It embodies the spirit of the landscape’

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Edmore Green, tribal chair of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska, was one of several featured speakers at the launch of the “America the Beautiful” coin honoring Effigy Mounds National Monument on Feb. 7. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

“We’ve been making coins for 225 years, and now we have another one,” said Marc Landry, superintendent of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. The Effigy Mounds quarter was the 36th in the “America the Beautiful” coin program.

Many of the mounds created over 2,000 years ago are now gone, said Effigy Mounds Superintendent Jim Nepstad, “but thankfully, many were preserved in places like Effigy Mounds.” Nepstad spoke at the coin launch held Feb. 7, in Waukon.

Effigy Mounds quarter launched

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

“We’ve been making coins for 225 years, and now we have another one.”

Marc Landry, superintendent of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia, was one of several featured speakers at the launch of the “America the Beautiful” coin honoring Effigy Mounds National Monument on Feb. 7. Over 1,000 people packed the gym at Waukon High School for the event.

Effigy Mounds is the 36th quarter featured in the “America the Beautiful” program, a 12-year initiative to honor 56 national parks and other national sites. Each year, the public will see five new national sites depicted on the reverses (tails sides) of the “America the Beautiful” quarters issued in the order in which the sites were first established. The Effigy Mounds quarter was the first released in 2017.

Through programs like this, Landry said, the U.S. Mint “connects Americans, through coins, to our most treasured places.”

Created in 1949, Effigy Mounds National Monument, located three miles north of Marquette, preserves over 200 prehistoric American Indian burial and ceremonial mounds, including some in the shape of animals.

“The mounds have an ability to invoke a sense of awe and wonder of the work and skill involved,” said Effigy Mounds Superintendent Jim Nepstad at the coin launch. “Imagine sculpting a 100-foot-long bear—that’s several dump trucks of earth. They repeated that thousands of times over the years.”

“Many mounds are gone,” Nepstad added, “but thankfully, some were preserved in places like Effigy Mounds. We’re here to honor their work.”

The reverse side of the Effigy Mounds quarter depicts an aerial view of mounds in the Marching Bear Group. According to Landry, it “embodies the spirit of the landscape.”

The design was the brainchild of Richard Masters, an Iowa native and artist, who is a member of the Artistic Infusion Program (AIP), a group of independent professional artists who assist the U.S. Mint in creating new designs for coins and medals.

As part of that group, Masters, who was also on-hand at the ceremony last week, said he was invited to submit a design for the Effigy Mounds quarter.

“I was fortunate to receive Iowa, my native state,” he said. “It feels good, especially given the subject matter of Iowa’s Effigy Mounds National Monument.”

Masters said artists are generally given about one month to produce the first drafts of their designs for an assignment.

“From there, the designs go through many stages of a reviewing process to assess concerns such as coinability, historical accuracy and overall aesthetics,” he explained. 

He noted the educational aspect is one of his favorite parts about being a member of the AIP.

“Because each assignment requires a significant amount of research, I have learned so much more about the history of our country—people, institutions, historical landmarks and various organizations who have contributed so much to what we Americans cherish about our nation,” he detailed. “In this light, having a design eventually selected to be featured on a coin or medal is really a bonus.”

Sculpting the design was a challenge for sculptor-engraver Renata Gordon.

“It was basically a huge, flat plain with some slightly elevated mounds. I wanted it to look natural,” she said in a video released by the U.S. Mint. “It took me awhile just to get the right angle so that it would appear as if the mounds were coming right above the ground. And yet, there was this whole nice slip of land coming toward the viewer.”

Those gathered at the coin launch hope this quarter will foster a deeper appreciation and understanding of Effigy Mounds and the early mound builders, while also encouraging more people to visit the monument.

“This will help people understand the essence of Effigy Mounds,” stated Edmore Green, tribal chair of the Sac and Fox Nation of Missouri in Kansas and Nebraska. 

“The mounds were built 2,000 years ago by my relatives,” he shared. “We were not discovered. We were always here. People are going to know we’ve always stood here.”

Peggy Whitson, an Iowa native and astronaut and biochemistry researcher for NASA, sent a recorded message from the International Space Station, which was shared at the event. She recalled studying Iowa history in fifth grade and wondering what the mound builders thought, and the sense of wonder they felt, as they constructed the mounds.

“The effigy mound builders were inspired to think about things bigger than themselves, and the mounds, to this day, continue to have the same effect on those who are lucky enough to visit this amazing site,” Whitson remarked. “We can now be frequently reminded not only of the past and those who built the impressive monuments, but each time we take an Effigy Mounds quarter out of a pocket or receive it in change, we will be reminded of those bigger picture questions of life and the universe that lies beyond the horizon.”

Representatives were in attendance from the offices of Senators Charles Grassley and Joni Ernst, as well as Congressman Rod Blum. They each invoked a similar sentiment.

“Effigy Mounds may not be as well-known nationally as many of the more famous units of the National Park System,” Grassley said in a letter. “The national exposure this new quarter will provide will help many more Americans discover the fascinating history and natural beauty of Effigy Mounds National Monument.”

Landry agreed, noting, “Millions will see it and want to learn more.”

He encouraged those at the event to cherish the day and the quarters. All children in attendance received a free quarter, while adults were able to purchase them from Kerndt Brothers Savings Bank.

“You’re some of the first in the country to receive this quarter,” he said. “Save it and pass it along to your children and tell them about this day.”

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