Monday, June 24, 2024

An interview with Vermont’s snowboard dollar designer Justin Kunz

Headshot by Jessica Richardson. All coins courtesy US Mint.

On October 5, the US Mint announced the latest dollar coins in the American Innovation series for the year 2022 and on the list was one dedicated to Vermont. The subject matter could have gone a number of ways — maple syrup, cows, Bernie Sanders’ mittens — but thankfully the design features snowboarding! Granted, it’s not the sickest trick ever done on a snowboard, and some of the internet’s armchair quarterbacks registered their dismay in the not-so-tweaked-mellon grab. But, shit! It’s real U.S. Currency featuring snowboarding, and that’s pretty damn cool if you ask us.
Gov. Phil Scott agreed in the official press release saying, “In many ways, Vermont is the birthplace of modern snowboarding, and this coin represents Vermont’s contributions to the sport, from physical innovations in boards and bindings to the creativity and athleticism showcased by Vermonters—and others who train in the Green Mountains—in competition on the world stage.”
While we wait patiently for the temperature to drop in the Green Mountains, and the coin’s official release date to be announced, we reached out to the artist, Utah-based Justin Kunz, to learn more about how the design came to be. Once the coins are released, you will able to purchase them directly from the Mint by the roll of 25, bag of 100, or in special-edition sets. Create an account and place orders from the official website here.

Tell me about the process of getting your art selected. How long did it take? Did you submit multiple designs?

I’m a member of the Artistic Infusion Program (AIP), the United States Mint’s pool of contract artists. The Mint commissioned me to submit a design for this project late last year. I only found out about a month or two ago that my design had been selected, but it made my day!

I don’t know how many other artists were commissioned to create designs for the Vermont coin but, after some likely initial vetting by the Mint, the portfolio submitted to the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee (CCAC) for review in March featured ten different designs. I believe all of these designs would have been created by AIP artists like me, or the full-time Sculptor-Engravers who work for the Mint.

I would have liked to submit more than one design, and it would have been permitted, but due to my current schedule of commissions and teaching, I was only able to complete one that I was happy with in time for the due date. It went through an extensive review process, like most coins produced by the Mint, including a few rounds of revisions based on feedback from the Chief Engraver, manufacturing experts, legal counsel, independent reviewers like the CCAC, and liaisons from Vermont.

For example, my first draft featured steeper mountains in the background, like the ones I’m familiar with here in Utah. It also had some chunks of snow flying around the figure, to suggest movement and energy. The Vermont representatives requested gentler slopes to represent the local terrain, and the Mint advised I make a simpler, cleaner version for the sake of visual clarity on the small format of a coin. Those were wise suggestions, and I’m really happy with how it turned out.

Incidentally, one of the first coin programs I worked on as a member of the AIP several years ago was the 50 State Quarter for Utah. The theme I was given was “winter sports,” so I submitted a couple of designs featuring snowboarders—including one that was not too different from this—but the representatives from Utah ultimately decided to go with a different theme. Fast-forward to a year ago, when I was invited to submit designs for the Vermont coin, I was very excited to revisit this subject I had enjoyed so much in the past.

One of the designs not chosen for the 2022 American Innovation $1 Coin

Is this the first time your work has been featured on a coin? 

No, actually. I’ve been part of the AIP for at least twelve years now, and have had approximately 17 of my designs minted on coins and medals. The US Mint keeps a pretty current list of them under my bio on their website. It’s always very exciting whenever a new one is announced!

I love that it’s a female! Was that an intentional decision? Also, is the rider based on a real person — if so who? 

Thank you! Yes, it was definitely intentional. In general, whenever I have the option, I like to feature women in my artwork. I enjoy drawing and painting men too, of course. But in my humble opinion, we could have more women on coins than we’ve seen in the past.

The rider isn’t based on a specific person—it’s more of a generalized figure. Growing up in Utah, I witnessed some pretty remarkable ladies carving up the slopes. Mad skills that deserve respect! So this is kind of a tribute to all the ‘shredder girls’ out there. Be safe and stay awesome!

Old guys might have liked this design better, but alas, it was not chosen.

Utah is obviously a snowboard mecca! Do you snowboard yourself?  If so, where do you like to ride?

I confess I’m more comfortable on two skis. I have snowboarded several times and experienced the transcendent thrill of carving powder. But I don’t have great balance and the moment I let my guard down, I fall hard. At 6’2” it’s a long way down! A couple of knee surgeries have made me more hesitant to keep snowboarding—or even skiing, for that matter—but every year when the fresh snows arrive, I can feel the powder calling. Lately I’ve been doing physical therapy to get my knees stronger, so I can’t promise I won’t go again if I get in good enough shape.

I enjoy pretty much all the resorts around here and have been to most of them. Let me plug a few and see if any of them will send me a season pass! Brighton, Solitude, Alta and Park City tend to have the best snow in my experience. I’ve probably spent the most time at Brighton, which I think offers the best ride for the money. I have lots of great memories going there with friends. I’ve been to Deer Valley, and would certainly recommend it if you have the means, but honestly it’s a little too posh for my budget! They also host an incredible outdoor concert series in the summer months.

Sundance is practically in my backyard, and it features some great slopes. And I LOVE the restaurant there. I actually drove up to see the autumn colors just this afternoon. It’s absolutely spectacular this time of year. Some of my favorite summer hiking trails are nearby, with gorgeous waterfalls. I’m actually taking my landscape students up to paint on the Alpine Loop this week, because we are reaching the moment of ‘peak color’ right now.

A special thank you the the US Mint for NOT choosing this design.

Have you spent any time in Vermont?

No! I haven’t made it up that way yet, unfortunately—only as far as New York City and parts of Connecticut. I would love to see Vermont. The pictures are enchanting… woods, mountains, and more lovely woods! When I do get there, I’m afraid I won’t want to leave.

To see more of Justin’s work, find him on Instagram and— or his soon-to-be-launched—

This one is cool, too… maybe next time.


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