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IU alumna creates design for 2010 Lincoln Bicentennial Penny

The artwork of Indiana University Bloomington alumna Lyndall Bass will soon make its way across the country -- and eventually, around the globe -- in wallets, purses, piggy banks and gumball machines everywhere.

Penny design

Bass created one of four designs selected for the reverse side of a 2010 Lincoln Bicentennial Penny. The new penny is being issued in recognition of the bicentennial of President Abraham Lincoln's birth and the 100th anniversary of the first issuance of the Lincoln cent.

Bass said her biggest challenge was to try and pack as much meaning as possible into a simple design while making it interesting, elegant, classic and modern all at once.

Her penny features the "One Cent" inscription on a waving scroll, which symbolizes that "money does not become true currency unless it is moving," she said. The penny also bears a shield, a metaphor for protection of the union, and has thirteen vertical stripes bound by a horizontal bar, meant to symbolize the thirteen original states joined in one compact union.

Bass also superimposed the shield and scroll over Leonardo Da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" to humanize the image and said that she found that it carried a symbolic sense of "E pluribus unum" as an expanding chest.

"It occurred to me then that President Lincoln was best commemorated this way as his enormous courage, that is, 'heart,' to endure the terrible hardships of being the nation's Civil War commander was the deciding factor in enabling us to have a united country," she said.

Lyndall Bass

Lyndall Bass

Bass originally transferred to IU from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts after three years of study, in part to work with Bonnie Sklarski, a now-retired IU professor of fine arts in painting.

"Knowing Bonnie Sklarski was a painting instructor at IU and could provide me with a broader education -- including all her early 20th-century influences from New York -- was really the deciding factor in choosing the college," she said. Sklarski became both an important mentor and a close friend in the years that followed. After receiving her BA in painting in 1984, Bass chose to pursue a graduate degree in the IU Department of Education -- specializing in Instructional Systems Technology -- from which she received an MA in 1987.

"The team-concept building methodologies I learned in the program were instrumental in navigating the 'design by committee' requirements of the U.S. Mint," she said.

Each American coin design is the product of an intense competition between the freelance artists invited to participate, with the staff sculptors, engravers and various national committees debating the merits and possible changes of each design, said Bass. The 2010 penny designs were eventually distilled to 18 finalists. Two of the four formal designs Bass submitted were among the final 18. "The design chosen had an interesting and controversial development, eventually becoming the very minimal and almost logo-like motif we will all be seeing soon," she said.

Lincoln Quotation

A quote from Lincoln in the IMU.

When Bass was a single mom putting herself through IU, she recalls taking a shortcut through the Indiana Memorial Union past a former marble fireplace that remained after a remodeling. Inscribed upon the mantle was a quote from Abraham Lincoln -- "I will study and get ready and then maybe the chance will come."

"There were many days during that difficult time that Mr. Lincoln's quote sustained me and gave me courage," she said. "My experience at IU is for me, emblazoned on the penny for this reason."

IU Professor Jamsheed Choksy (Central Eurasian Studies), who was recently elected a fellow of the American Numismatic Society, calls Bass' penny design "a monumental achievement" for an artist. "Think of all the millions of pennies that are going to be produced over the years. Literally billions of people will see this design," he said. "The basic form of coins as we know them goes back to between the 6th and 5th centuries BCE. Throughout history the images on coins in particular are used to convey the values of the society."