US Coins

Gary Marks All About The Art

Oct. 8 will be Gary Marks’ last Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee meeting as a member. Marks’ tenure as chairman ended with the May 27 selection of CCAC member Mary Lannin as the new chairman.

Marks’ departure from the CCAC will allow him to devote more time to his self-taught avocation of medallic art. Marks carried his artistic passion to his service on the CCAC.

A dedicated numismatist for more than 40 years, Marks was first appointed to the CCAC in 2007 by Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. as one of three members of the 11-person advisory panel appointed to represent the interests of the general public.

Marks was appointed to a second four-year term in 2011 by Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. Marks was first designated as CCAC chairman in March 2010 by Geithner and has been reappointed annually since by Geithner and his successor, Jack Lew.

Currently the city manager of Lebanon in his home state of Oregon, Marks has managed cities in Montana, Idaho, and Oregon over the past 23 years.

While working as the city manager for Whitefish, Mont., Marks served as a commissioner for the 2007 Montana Quarter Design Selection Commission, executive director of the Whitefish Centennial Medallion Commission, and chairman of the Whitefish Bronze Sculpture Committee.

Young numismatist

Marks said he became enamored with coins in 1973 when his mother gave him her blue Whitman coin folder partially filled with Lincoln cents from her childhood.

“Coin collecting fascinates and interests me because it involves the confluence of history, art, the challenge of gathering multi-year sets and the investment aspects of rarity and precious metals,” Marks said.

Until he recently sold them, Marks for 14 years had focused his collecting on U.S. half dollars from 1818 to 1891 and on assembling a complete collection of half dollars from 1892 to the present. Marks said he now just focuses his attention on coins and medals with special design aesthetics.

No formal art training

Self-taught with no formal artistic education, Marks has been interested in different art media since his youth. Marks created his first medallic design in 2004 and has expressed his artist talents with vigor since 2010.

Marks works in three different media — colorful abstracts in oil paint on canvas, medallic designs, and large-sized wall sculptures constructed with layered Masonite board.

“Major themes of my art are freedom of the human spirit and breaking free and living free from the forces or influences that would oppress and prevent us from becoming all that God created us to be,” Marks said. “In the medallic medium, this naturally translates to images of liberty personified, celebrating the beauty of freedom and, in a nationalistic sense, celebrating our freedom and the exceptionalism of America.

“I also enjoy creating images for clients or from my own inspiration that affirm life and celebrate and/or commemorate people, places or events.”

“Medallic art should be focused on art with text being a minimal contributor,” Marks said. “My experience is that the coins and medals that are considered attractive and beautiful — and those that are remembered — are generally those that successfully convey a visual message or feeling in an attractive, artistic manner. Text has its proper role to play, but I always try to minimize its use in my medallic creations in favor of the art. Whether I am developing a design myself or evaluating designs as a member of the CCAC my motto is, ‘It’s all about the art.’ ”

Marks considers himself a medallic art designer. He has had his designs sculptured by Heidi Wastweet, a sculptor member of the CCAC.

When first appointed, Marks simply wanted to be a part of recommending designs for the nation’s coins and medals. Once on the committee, Marks said, he became interested in finding ways to improve design quality.

Serving as chairman

When the opportunity presented itself in 2010 to become CCAC chairman and help direct that effort, Marks jumped at the chance.

Marks spearheaded the committee’s efforts to investigate the Mint’s design processes, culminating in the comprehensive 2011 report, A Blueprint for Advancing Artistic Creativity and Excellence in United States Coin and Medals

The report recommended and the Mint implemented several suggestions:

??Moving responsibility for the design process out of the Mint’s Sales and Marketing Department and to an interdisciplinary group led by an art director.

??Improving the physical working environment of the Mint’s staff artists and engravers and expanding the Artistic Infusion Program by bringing new artists into the program based on creative and innovative capabilities.

??Involving the CCAC and the Commission of Fine Arts in design processes in a more comprehensive manner, beginning with providing advice on thematic concepts through to final design recommendations.

“The result has been designs that have generally shown improved compositions, increased and more effective use of symbolic images and better eye appeal,” Marks said. “More recently, the CCAC has recommended and encouraged the Mint to develop an annual Art Medals Program. The program would give artists new opportunities to create innovative and forward-thinking designs without the restrictions often placed on statutorily mandated coin and medal programs.

“In response to this effort, the Mint will release the 2015 American Liberty Coin and Medal Program this summer.

“The program will feature a one-ounce Liberty-themed gold coin and a one-ounce silver medal (bearing the same design as the gold coin) struck on a large, silver American Eagle planchet. This program represents what I hope will become an ongoing series of numismatic products featuring modern Liberty designs and other free-form artistic medals.”

During his tenure on the CCAC, the committee’s mission has been expanded well beyond just reviewing and recommending proposed coin and medal designs for final approval by the Treasury secretary or designee.

Through reforms implemented by the Blueprint and related initiatives, the CCAC’s scope now incorporates helping to develop design themes as a first step in the design process, representation at meetings to advise artists on themes for design projects, providing recommendations to the Mint on potential numismatic products and programs, providing feedback on current and future Mint programs, and involvement in the selection of new Artistic Infusion Program artists, Marks said.

Marks said he has appreciated the opportunity to serve alongside individuals on the CCAC who are as passionate about the nation’s coins and medal designs as he is.

“The Art Medals Program the CCAC has recommended and the Mint is beginning to implement with the 2015 American Liberty Coin and Medal holds great promise for moving American medallic arts forward,” Marks said. “If the numismatic community’s response to the 2015 program is strong in terms of sales, I think the Mint will offer other such coin and medal programs in the future.

“We have also recently seen the addition of several new artists to the Artistic Infusion Program. These new artists are only now beginning to get their artistic feet on the ground with various coin and medal design projects. I expect many spectacular and creative designs from this group in the future.

“Also working in favor of design excellence are several individuals who have assumed key staff positions at the Mint in recent years. These are people who I know from firsthand experience are motivated toward continuous improvements in the designs of the nation’s coins and medals.” Marks believes he is leaving behind a strong artistic legacy.

“I hope collectors and the public will remember my pursuit of design excellence for our nation’s coins and medals,” Marks said. “I brought my firm belief in America’s founding principles to every CCAC meeting and those principles inspired me to serve to the best of my ability. My highest desire has been that the designs on America’s coins and medals would be beautiful, inspirational and worthy of our great nation.”

The next time the Mint issues a call for artists for the Artistic Infusion Program, Marks said he might consider submitting an application.

“After years of reviewing and recommending the designs of other artists, it would be a great honor to contribute my own work for the Mint’s consideration,” Marks said. 

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