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Sept. 29, 2004

Silver Spring's own nickel man

by Varun Gulati, Page Editor
With the Pacific coastline on one side and Thomas Jefferson on the other, the new nickel will soon be released and found in the pockets of Americans throughout the nation by late summer 2005. The latest coin makeover can be attributed to Silver Spring's very own nickel man, Joe Fitzgerald, whose designs have made history. Fitzgerald is the 25th person in the United States to design the front of the coin and the 23rd to have a design on the front and back.

Getting selected

The change in the nickel's design was brought about by financial and aesthetic purposes, according to Fitzgerald. When the U.S. Mint changes a coin design, people become interested again and buy more coins, which, in turn, gives the Mint a profit.

Last year, Fitzgerald became one of approximately 306 applicants to apply to the U.S. Mint's Artistic Infusion program. Treasury Secretary John W. Snow selected the final three coin designs, of which Fitzgerald contributed two. "I was genuinely shocked when I found that they accepted my design," says Fitzgerald. He based his profile of Jefferson on Jean-Antoine Houdon's famous 1789 sculpture and his "tails" design, a view of the Pacific coastline, on Lewis and Clark's journey.

Artistic beginnings

Because he had wanted to be an artist since he was a child, Fitzgerald never planned on working as a federal employee. But after majoring in Art-Printmaking at the University of Maryland College Park, Fitzgerald landed a job doing artwork for the FDA. Later, he continued pursuing his major at the State University of New York while working at the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Fitzgerald went on to work on computer graphics and animation for the National Library of Medicine but was not yet satisfied, so he took up painting. "I felt like I needed to do something with my hands," he says. In less than nine months, Fitzgerald plans to retire from the government and focus on doing what he loves most: painting.

Fitzgerald recommends every aspiring artist to go into vinyl siding, since that is the most profitable area. However, he warns students not to pursue art for monetary purposes because, he says, it is unlikely they will receive much money for their work. "Just kidding," he adds, laughing. "Actually, if you like doing art, go for it."

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