Sunday
Sep112011

Enough Pocket Change to lose your pants

Earlier I wrote about large ice cream cone sculptures that will be a public art project to identify our town as the “Ice Cream Capital of the World. ” About 30 sculptures will be installed permanently on the sidewalk near each sponsoring business. My sponsor was a local bank, and their 3-person “Ice Cream Cone Review Committee”and I agreed on a money theme.

One day a pickup pulling a flat trailer with ten white ice cream cones bolted to it drove up to my curb. One ice cream cone was removed and hefted into my garage. The cone was not really heavy, but it was very awkward, and top heavy. I was able to give it a bear hug and move it myself if I didn't care to see where I was going. I first put bricks on the base to keep it from tipping over, and eventually mounted the cone on a wood platform with casters.

The plan was to have the dip of ice cream made up of various coins. It was clear that the coins would need to be enlarged by at least 300-400% in order to finish it in my lifetime. By the time I realized I should have enlarged them more than I did, I was committed. I was too far to start over.

It took a number of weeks to paint the cone in my garage during the worst heat and humidity of the summer. I could steel myself to paint in out in the heat one day, but couldn’t face going out again the next day.

A benefit of painting in my garage with the doors open was that neighbors would stop by to visit, and check my progress - especially in the evening when I needed the lights on.

I had no concept of how long it would take to paint enough detailed coins to cover the dip of ice cream. How many times would I need to letter “United States of America,” or “E Pluribus Unum?” Out of curiosity I measured the dip from one side over the top to the other, and found it was 59 inches. It was a bit disheartening to realize how long it took to paint a single line of coins to span that distance!

I tried to choose coins that had something to do with our state and region, such as an Iowa Quarter. I next added quarters for all the states that border Iowa  – and painted Nebraska’s Chimney Rock, the St. Louis Arch, a loon in a Minnesota lake, the head of a Wisconsin Jersey milk cow and a fat round of cheese, and the four faces on Mount Rushmore. I painted some of those things several times.

Painting the same coins repeatedly was really monotonous, so I was excited to discover an array of coins about the Corps of Discovery which came through this area. Those naturally led to including the Sacajawea gold dollar. Lewis and Clark met the native Sioux Indians in this area, so adding the Indian head and buffalo nickels seemed appropriate.

The many different portraits of Thomas Jefferson that appear on nickels surprised me, and relieved the boredom of painting the same things over and over.

Most of the pennies in my small jar were wheat pennies with a portrait of Abraham Lincoln on the other side. I wanted more copper color on the dip of ice cream, but just thinking of painting that same penny again and again made my eyes start to cross. A friend told me there were four “new” pennies which I found on the internet, happy for some variety.

Soon I chose to incorporate more half dollars and silver dollars because they were larger, and filled up space faster. My friend Michael observed that I might have thrown myself “under the bus” by painting the elaborate details of so many coins. Smart man. He had a point.

I painted multiple portraits of JFK, Ben Franklin, and George Washington, and Roosevelt. The Liberty Bell, two different images of eagles, and the Statue of Liberty are all represented.

I considered creating a coin with another president – the bank president. But there have been several different bank presidents since I’ve lived here. Since I will always be the artist, I painted a self-portrait on a coin. One morning, anxious to show off my own coin, I suggested that my gym partner step in to see progress. She said, “I didn’t know there was a Harry Potter coin!” Hmmmm…..I do have spiked hair and dark rimmed reading glasses, but I don’t think I look like Harry. Maybe 7AM is a challenge for her.

I searched for still more different coins to paint and found a Susan B. Anthony silver dollar and a commemorative Boy Scout coin that was never in circulation. 

Near the end I found another Corps of Discovery coin with the words “Ocean in View! O! The joy!”  I was still in my sweltering garage rather than in view of the Pacific Ocean, but my sentiment was nearly the same as I added the last few brush strokes to the sculpture, “End in Sight! O! The Joy!”

The next day I made the call to have someone move the ice cream cone to a local industry where it will be clear-coated in preparation for installation. But I started wondering, “Just how many detailed coins did I paint on this project?” That evening I took an array of colored Post-It notes to my garage and started applying 10 yellow, 10 blue, 10 pink, 10 violet, 10 yellow with a dot, 10 blue with a dot, and so on. By the time I had marked every coin with a sticky piece of paper, I had counted 133 coins. If you had a real coin in your pocket for each of those I painted on the dip of ice cream, I think your pants would drop! Before that happens I suggest you start a savings account at the bank.

“First National Bank Saver? You’ll love this flavor!”