Local Artist Designs New Jersey’s Ellis Island National Park Quarter

barb fox

LITTLE VALLEY — The United States Mint will recognize local artist Barbara Fox for her most recent design featured on the 2017 Ellis Island National Park Quarter at the America the Beautiful Quarter Launch and Coin Exchange on Ellis Island, Jersey City, N.J., on Wednesday.

The Little Valley artist is a master designer for the United States (U.S.) Mint and has been part of its “artistic infusion program” since 2007. Sculpted by U.S. Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill, Fox’s design depicts an immigrant family approaching Ellis Island with a mixture of hope for a new life and uncertainty. The design is featured on the reverse side of the new Ellis Island quarter.

This is Fox’s fifth quarter design chosen to be minted and her 21st coin or medal designed for the Mint. In the past, she has designed four other quarters for the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program including Cumberland Gap National Historical Park in 2016, Saratoga National Historical Park Quarter in 2015, Acadia National Park in 2012, and Glacier National Park in 2011.

To begin, Fox does a pencil sketch of the quarter design on an 8-inch round palette. Then she scans it into her computer where she can move the design elements around for the best layout. Using Adobe Photoshop, she adds the appropriate lettering to look like the finished product before it gets shrunk down to quarter- size. She said both the artist’s initials and the engravers initials are on the quarter at the bottom of the design.

According to Fox, the artists in the program get an assignment several times a year and they have the option to take it or turn it down. If they accept, they’re required to do at least one design for the coin, then the committees choose which ones they like best.

“Once we get an assignment, we have just three weeks to come up with an idea and work out the design, then get the finished art submitted by the deadline,” she said. “After that, several committees of 20 to 25 people review the designs and we make multiple revisions for months. It can take as long as a year before they make a decision on which design they like. The final decision on the design of any issued U.S. Mint coin is made by the Secretary of the Treasury.”

Fox said she has never visited Ellis Island, but she will be attending the launch. Through her research, she found that Ellis Island was the largest and most active immigration station in the United States where approximately 12 million immigrants were processed from 1892 to 1954.

In her original design, Fox featured a man, a woman and a little boy with the Ellis Island Immigration Building in the background, but she changed that building to the hospital when she discovered the immigration building was located on the New York side of the island.

“When I began researching, I didn’t know that half of Ellis Island belongs to New Jersey and half to New York,” she said. “This is New Jersey’s quarter and, unfortunately, the big main administration building that all the immigrants went through is located on the New York side, so I featured the hospital building that is on the New Jersey side.”

Fox wanted to not just show the building in her design, but she also wanted to show her emotional feeling about it, which was transferred to her design. She said her design is busy with details, but she thinks people will like it because it really tells the story about the island and the experience of being an immigrant.

“These people were leaving everything they knew behind and chances were they would never go back to their country. They were making a whole new life in a place they had never been before,” she said. “They didn’t speak the language and didn’t know the customs. Chances are they knew nothing about the U.S. except what they had been told. They used to call Ellis Island the ‘Island of Hope’ and ‘Island of Tears’ because people were very hopeful about coming to the United States.”

According to Fox, by 2021, the U.S. Mint’s America the Beautiful Quarters® Program will release a total of 56 quarters depicting locations around the U.S. that are known for their natural beauty or historical significance.

Fox said the work is very challenging but at the same time it’s also rewarding, and she plans to work for the Mint for as long as they’ll keep her on.

“I love designing for the Mint and the people I work with there are wonderful,” she said. “I’m thrilled every year when they send me the contract to renew.”

Fox works as a fine artist and illustrator from both her Mill Street studio, in Ellicottville, and her home studio, in the Little Valley area. She is a member of the Cattaraugus County Arts Council.

Anyone interested in visiting Fox’s Ellicottville art studio should call 699-4145 or email her at bfoxart@yahoo.com for an appointment. To learn more about Fox and her fine art, visit her website at bfoxfineart.com. For a detailed listing of her coin design credits, visit the U.S. Mint website at usmint.gov.