Jeanne Stevens-Sollman was at one of those swinging medallic art conferences that you hear so much about, where the shop talk flows like champagne and bedtime is but the faintest whisper of a suggestion.
“The dialogue can go on to 2 a.m. in the morning, just about metals, about design,” Stevens-Sollman, an artist working in Bellefonte, said.
She was doing some light grumbling about the state of the state quarters, which aside from one or two exceptions appeared to her to be entirely overwrought, a bunch of images and information smashing up against each other without much room leftover for clarity.
There must have been someone listening because a short while later Stevens-Sollman received an invitation to join the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee at the United States Mint. All of that loose change you’re constantly trying to unload on cashiers and parking meters? Stevens-Sollman and her colleagues are encouraged to think critically about every aspect.
Now in the middle of her second four-year term, she’s might be the only person in a room full mostly of historians that looks at designing a coin in the same way that a poet might approach a haiku.
“You have a small space, you have to put a lot of information in it concisely,” Stevens-Sollman said.
One of the reasons that she enjoys working metals is that they accrue intimacy. You can carry them around in your pocket or exchange them for milk. Some of the pieces that Stevens-Sollman makes in her studio are handed out by Penn State as awards.
Her work with the advisory committee takes her to Washington D.C. at least once a month. In 2015, Stevens-Sollman was part of the group that gave feedback on the mint’s first curved coin, which was made in commemoration of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The creation was named Coin of the Year.
“The money, the change in our pockets, this is what we can say is American art,” Stevens-Sollman said.