In celebration of the 50th anniversary of our first graduates, The William States Lee College of Engineering has commissioned a commemorative medal from UNC Charlotte artist Jamie Franki. With imagery representing the mission of the Lee College of Engineering and the college’s namesake Bill Lee, the medal is a symbol of the college’s rich history and a keepsake of the 50th anniversary.
Jamie Franki, a tenured professor in the Department of Art and Art History at UNC Charlotte, has been applying his talent to the design and creation of coins and medals for the past 10 years. This line of research began with his selection by the NEA for a contract with the United States Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program.
In 2004, the Secretary of the Treasury selected one of Franki’s designs, a simple depiction of an American Bison, to be minted. It was used as the reverse for one of the four new nickels in the “Westward Journey” series commemorating the Lewis and Clark bicentennial anniversary. The American Bison nickel was released into circulation in March of 2005, with 936,000,000 being minted.
In 2005, another of Franki’s designs was selected for circulating coinage. This design depicted a rendering of Thomas Jefferson inspired by Rembrandt Peale’s 1800 life portrait. It was chosen for the obverse of the first American circulating coin featuring a forward-facing president. The Jefferson 1800 nickel was released into circulation in 2006 as America’s ongoing five-cent denomination. Billions of the forward-facing Jefferson nickels have since been struck.
In creating the two sides of the commemorative medal for the Lee College of Engineering 50th anniversary, Franki chose a collage of images representing the college’s mission for one side, and a depiction of late Duke Energy president and the college’s namesake Bill Lee for the other side.
“The image of Bill Lee is based on a photo taken at a celebration banquet towards the end of his career,” Franki said. “I selected this image, because to me it showed Mr. Lee as a master of ceremonies at an event very similar to the 50th anniversary celebration of the college. It represents a mature stage of his career, much like the stage the college has now reached in its history.”
The reverse side of the medallion utilizes a five-sided border and five words from the college’s mission statement to communicate key elements from the college’s first 50 years. The words are “create, design, build, apply and visualize.”
“The words are action verbs emanating from the mission statement that tell what the college does,” Franki said. “The plumb-bob is an engineering symbol that in this case points towards the word “visualize,” which is the centering theme for the college’s purpose.”
The other key visual element is a Palladian window such as those in Duke Centennial Hall, the home of the Lee College of Engineering. A symbol of traditional architecture, the window embodies the college’s sense of history.
“I also chose the window, because it gives a sense of letting you look into the college, so you can see what is going on,” Franki said. “A window also lets you see out, towards the world where students are heading as they start their careers.”
The art and craft of the medal
The process of making coins and medallions involves a combination of art, craft and technology. The first step is to develop and design the visual concept. In the case of Bill Lee for the 50th anniversary medallion, Franki started with a photograph from the UNC Charlotte archives. He then created a tonal sketch of the photograph to translate the information from the photo into a concept rendering of what the portrait would look like in low relief.
Based on the sketch, Franki then sculpted a 10-inch version of the image in clay. “I do the clay sculpture on glass,” he said, “which allows me a clear view of the drawn image from underneath. I work with a depth gauge and keep all of the elements below 3/8 of an inch. Figuring out the high points first, and then constructing the primary contours and angles before finding the detail shapes, is very important.”
With the clay sculpture complete, Franki then builds a border around the glass and pours in plaster to create a negative mold of the image. He sometimes carves text, logos or other elements into the negative plaster, so when it is recast the elements become raised on the positive mold.
The last step in creating the finished model is to make a positive plaster cast .This requires separated pre-treatments on the negative mold with oil soap, baby oil and mold release to ensure the plasters do not stick to each other. When the positive mold is released, Franki does whatever final sculpting is needed to produce the image he wants.
In addition to drawing and molding in clay and plaster, Franki also uses Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to design concept art and production vectors for his medal designs. For the reverse side of the 50th anniversary medallion, Franki created all the design elements digitally for approval and final production.
Once the hand sculpted and digital vectors arrive at a minting agency, craftsmen first make a high-resolution laser scan of the positive mold, creating a three-dimensional wireframe virtual rendering of the image. The rendering of the 10-inch mold is then scaled to the desired sizes for striking. Expert CNC engravers cut the fine details into steel die blocks, creating the anvil for one side of the medallion and the hammer for the other side. A press then pounds the images onto silver or bronze blank materials, prior to trimming to the exact shape.
Franki coordinates the Illustration program in the UNC Charlotte Department of Art and Art History and serves as associate chair for the department. In addition to his 25 years teaching art at the college and university level, Franki actively maintains an artistic practice in exhibition, public and private commission, visual communication design and numismatic design. Greatly influenced by the artists of the “Golden Age” of American illustration, Franki strives to create narrative artwork that is rich in detail and accessible to a wide range of people.
Franki’s artwork has been exhibited in numerous venues, including the Society of Illustrators’ Museum of American Illustration, NYC; The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA; the San Francisco Art Directors’ Club, CA; and the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, NY. He has created coins and medals for a variety of national organizations and competitions.
For more on artist Jamie Franki, see https://studentunion.uncc.edu/franki .