‘Every coin tells a unique story,’ says long-time designer

Coin designer Tony Bianco, who has worked on more than 100 coins for the Royal Canadian Mint, joined retired architect Robert Browne to discuss the “art of money” at the Carmichael Art History Lecture at the Orillia Museum of Art and History (OMAH) on May 8.

The lecture began with Browne giving a loving tribute to his late wife, Qennefer Browne, the only child of Canadian sculptors Emanuel Hahn and Elizabeth Wyn Wood and the person who initiated the Carmichael Art History Lecture more than a decade ago. Browne then showed “The Life of Emanuel Hahn,” a black-and-white film produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) in the 1950s.

The film, which featured a young and vibrant Qennefer providing insight into her parents’ personal and professional life, was recovered and restored by what was then known as the Canadian Numismatic Association after the CBC discarded it. It displays Hahn’s affection for the outdoors and his country in works, including those of geese, beaver, moose, Inuit children and explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson.

Attendees heard Hahn, who designed several iconic Canadian coins, including the 25-cent caribou, 10-cent Bluenose, 1935 silver dollar and 1939 “Royal Visit” dollar, was a high school dropout before becoming a renowned sculptor.

Hahn also designed several Canadian postage stamps dealing with wildlife, memorials, monuments and utilitarian headstones. His study of an Indigenous warrior is displayed at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa.

Hahn’s wife – Qennefer’s mother – was a renowned sculptor in her own right and is also immortalized in one of his works displayed at the National Art Gallery.

COIN DESIGN

“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

The lore is Ernest Hemingway used this phrase to win a bet with his friends to see who could write the best six-word story.

Bianco shared this analogy to explain his measure of noteworthy design to the attentive audience, adding all artists are storytellers, and if a story is well told or resonates with people, they will appreciate it.

He also showed how art is limited by its frame – or in the case of a coin, by the restrictions of a small piece of metal – and critiqued examples of his own Canadian coins, explaining how some issues successfully told a story while a few others failed to resonate with him.

Referring to the film, Bianco demonstrated how coin production has changed from when he started designing coins 20 years ago, when coins were still made in the tradition of Hahn’s era, with the artist working with master metal engravers to create the coins.

Today, AutoCAD designers and technology advancements have replaced those master engravers.

Bianco concluded the lecture with some examples of the advancements in Canadian coin production and the state of Canadian coins today.

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