A 1,000-square-foot display exhibiting the works of former Chief
U.S. Mint Engraver Gilroy Roberts is scheduled to open to the public
for the first time at 3 p.m. Sept. 10 at Community College of Philadelphia.
The building that will hold the exhibit was once home to the third
United States Mint.
The exhibit, Gilroy Roberts: Mastering a Craft, was developed and
designed collaboratively by two Philadelphia-based firms, Habithèque
Inc. and Metcalfe Architecture & Design. The project has been in
the works for more than 16 months.
Many of the items in the exhibit are among those that were on
public display from 1991 to 2000 at the American Numismatic
Association Money Museum in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The Philadelphia exhibit has been developed as an outgrowth of the
pledge of a $1.02 million donation from the Gilroy and Lillian P.
Roberts Charitable Foundation to further educational outreach at the college.
The exhibit will include a diorama replication of Roberts’
artist’s studio that once was in the basement of his Newtown, Pa., home.
Roberts, the ninth chief engraver of the U.S. Mint, served in the
presidentially appointed chief engraver’s post from 1948 to 1964,
before leaving to direct design and production at the private Franklin Mint.
Victoria Prizzia, Habithèque Inc.’s founder and interpretive
planner, said the exhibit at 1700 Spring Garden St. will include items
from a number of sources, including examples of Roberts’ work that are
in the collection of Roberts’ son, John Roberts.
The Spring Garden Street structure served as the third
Philadelphia Mint from 1901 until the fourth Philadelphia Mint, the
current Mint facility, opened in 1969. The college acquired the
structure in 1971, and college classes were first held in the building
two years later, in September 1973. The Mint Building also houses the
studios and classrooms for the college’s Art Department.
The Roberts’ exhibition is the inaugural exhibition for the newly
designed gallery space off the former Mint’s rotunda. The gallery
space is actually part of a pedestrian corridor that will be open
during public hours, but closed off and secured after hours, Prizzia
said. All exhibit items will be in display cases behind glass, and the
Roberts’ studio diorama, although visible to the public, will be
physically inaccessible, she said.
Examples of Roberts’ work as chief engraver at the U.S. Mint,
including his signature John F. Kennedy half dollar (introduced in
1964), as well as presidential and congressional medals, are
accompanied by his work at the Franklin Mint. That latter work
includes a silver version of an 11-inch by 19.5-inch sculpture called
The Great American Eagle that was also produced in bronze.
The silver piece to be displayed is Gilroy Roberts’ proof sculpture.
The exhibit will also include three framed prints from steel
engravings from the Famous Americans Commemorative Postage Series. The
engravings from which the prints were made were executed by Roberts in
1940 for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing during his tenure there.
Tools of the trade
The Gilroy Roberts Collection includes many of Roberts’
sculpturing tools, including some homemade items; plaster models and
galvanos for coins and medals, along with some of the coins and medals
produced; sculptures and paintings; materials used for design
inspiration; coin and medal drawings; photos of the third Philadelphia
Mint from its days as a functioning production facility; and even an
engine used for engine-turned engraving.
Roberts’ contributions to the coin and medallic arts are set in
the context of his personal journey as a mechanic, engraver and
artist, Prizzia said. Set against a backdrop of his reimagined studio,
an audio tour and multimedia display tell the narrative of Roberts’
life, work and creative processes, she said.
Prizzia said the complete Roberts exhibit is expected to remain on
display for at least a year, with the Roberts Foundation having the
option to extend it longer. During the initial exhibition period,
other Roberts works will be rotated into the exhibit, Prizzia said.
The Roberts artist studio will remain on permanent display, but
after the initial exhibition period, items representing other subjects
will be available for rotation into the remaining space not occupied
by the studio, she said.
Prizzia said she served in a curatorial capacity, logging in each
piece that was received for the exhibit at the Community College of
Philadelphia. Once completed, she collaborated with Metcalfe
Architecture & Design to design the best way to display select
pieces from the collection.
Two other Philadelphia firms that worked on the exhibit
development were Greenhouse Media and Blair Brothers Music.
Greenhouse Media worked with Habithèque on the three multimedia
components included in the exhibition:
➤ The Anatomy of a Coin: 1964 Kennedy Half Dollar Interactive
Station Experience: Visitors explore the design elements of the coin
contextualized with historical information.
➤ An Introduction to Gilroy Roberts Video Experience: Visitors
learn about the life and times of Gilroy Roberts in the artist’s own words.
➤ The Art of Coining Video Experience: A looping presentation will
show a short historic video depicting the minting of U.S. coins at the
Philadelphia Mint at 1700 Spring Garden St., followed by a short
captioned sideshow of historic images from the same location. The
circa 1940 video can be seen online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBjD9N1APsw.
Blair Brothers Music worked with Habithèque on the production of a
companion audio tour that will eventually be available for download
on-site at the exhibition and through CCP’s website (www.ccp.edu), Prizzia said. The audio
tour provides additional commentary in Roberts’ own words as well as
descriptions of specific aspects of the exhibition, she said.
Once at ANA
Before Roberts’ Jan. 26, 1992, death at age 86, the Gilroy and
Lillian P. Roberts Charitable Foundation arranged for the ANA to
receive on permanent loan for extended exhibit a re-creation of his
studio containing personal sculpturing and related items. A series of
traveling exhibits also were created using items from Roberts’ collection.
The Roberts exhibit at the ANA was dedicated on the opening day of
the ANA Summer Seminar in July 1991. The ANA exhibit replicated what
Roberts’ basement office and studio looked like at the time of his death.
The exhibit was taken down in late 2000 or early 2001 while ANA
headquarters underwent extensive renovations, and was never reassembled.
Stanley Merves, a trustee for the Roberts Foundation, subsequently
arranged for the Roberts material stored at the ANA to be moved to
Temple University, intending eventual display at the Tyler School of
Art, which was under construction on Temple’s campus. The university
was presented a $500,000 gift by the Roberts Foundation in exchange
for 500-square feet of permanent exhibit space and another 500 square
feet of storage, from which items could be rotated in an out of the
However, by the time the Temple University building was completed
after four years of construction, space for the exhibit had not been
incorporated into the building’s design.
Merves was successful in 2011 in securing from Temple the return
of the $500,000 gift. Those funds originally gifted to Temple
University became the initial gift to the Community College of
Philadelphia, with the remaining $502,000 forwarded from the Roberts
Foundation to the college in multiple installments.
Since the Community College of Philadelphia’s acquisition of the
Mint Building in 1971, the facility’s rotunda has primarily been used
for receptions and art exhibitions. ■