The artwork of a Phillips-area artist could one day appear on the coins and commemorative medals manufactured by the U.S. Mint. Katelyn Arquette was one of 27 artists selected out of 437 applicants nationwide to create the art that appears on the nation’s coinage this April, making her the only current Wisconsin-based artist to be contracted with the Mint.
Arquette will have the opportunity to create designs for any of the coins released by the U.S. Mint, from commemorative coins and presidential medals and to the quarters everyone has jingling in their pockets. Already hard at work creating new designs for projects that cannot yet be disclosed, Arquette says this opportunity has been a longtime dream of hers.
“This is really a highlight of my career,” she said.
She first became interested in creating coin designs while attending college at UW-Oshkosh, where she earned a degree in graphic design. As a student, she happened across a public contest being held by the Mint for a commemorative baseball coin. Her submitted designs made it as far as the final 15 designs selected, and while her artwork ultimately wasn’t chosen, the experience opened Arquette’s mind to the possibility of one day seeing her artwork on minted on coins.
When the Mint put out a call for new artists in the fall of 2018, Arquette was quick to apply and honored at being selected. With a contract that is renewed annually, Arquette says she could hypothetically continue working for the Mint as long as the relationship was mutually beneficial.
Arquette’s fascination in what she calls the magic of creating something out of nothing came as naturally as walking. As an elementary age child, she began painting commissioned portraits for anyone who would take one, selling her art at area craft shows. With a mother who fostered her passion, Arquette continued sketching and painting her way through high school and college, landing an internship with Lands’ End and working in various commercial graphic design positions in southern Wisconsin. About six years ago, Arquette and her husband moved back home to northern Wisconsin, settling in rural Phillips.
While it is traditionally quite difficult to be successful as an artist in such a remote corner of the world, technology has made it possible for Arquette to make a living working as a freelancer from her little home studio. Arquette credits her success to a gritty perseverance that has carried her through her career.
“If you are willing to keep trying, that’s key,” said Arquette. “It’s easy to get discouraged as an artist, but if you keep at it, it pays off.”
As an artist, Arquette wears many hats, working as a graphic designer as well as creating fine art paintings — her favorite medium being the fluid expression of water color. Her artwork is created in the backdrop of her home, where she juggles caring for her two-year-old son with creating art she hopes will stand the test of time.
“This is something I absolutely love to do,” said Arquette. “I love to create, and there’s something so satisfying when you go from an idea to a tangible thing you’ve created. It’s very rewarding work.”
Working for the Mint is something of a collaborative effort, Arquette explained, with the Office of Design Management coming up with the ideas for various coins to be minted. Legislation must then be passed, after which a call is put out to all the contracted artists in order to gauge interest. After that, interested artists may submit initial designs for review and possible selection.
In order to accommodate their far-flung artists, preliminary ideas for coins and medals are pitched to the artists via phone conferences. During the calls, artists get the opportunity to hear from experts in the field and historians in order to provide background information for coming up with creative designs.
While sitting in on the phone conference, Arquette said she usually already has a sketchbook in hand, doodling ideas as they come to her.
While Arquette has yet to see her artwork stamped on the surface of one of the nation’s coins, she said it is a surreal thought to imagine that her art may someday end up in people’s pockets.
“This is a historical record of our country’s history, our current society, and our future,” said Arquette. “Long after we’re gone, what’s going to remain — that archaeologists and anthropologists are going to look at — are our coins. Our art is going to be telling the story of who we are after we are gone.”