Next month, the United States Mint will release into circulation the fifth coin in their American Women Quarters series—the Anna May Wong quarter. I confess that, when I received the assignment to design this coin, I had never heard of Anna May Wong. It was such a delight to learn about this amazing woman, America’s first Chinese-American movie star, who broke barriers and achieved success through hard work and perseverance. I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to amplify her legacy through this coin design.
Movie theater marquees from the 1930s inspired the design, with an Art Deco style typeface announcing the “theater” (USA) and the star’s name. Many lightbulbs frame the close-up of Anna May Wong’s face, showcasing the features that helped make her so compelling and memorable—her characteristic smoothly sculpted hairdo; her narrow, expressive eyebrows; and her distinctive eyes and lips. Omitted from the design are her neck and shoulders, leaving the attention solely on her face and hand. Anna May Wong was often photographed with her hand or hands glamorously posed near her face. With her chin resting on her hand and one finger casually directing attention to her name, this pose might suggest she has been waiting for the kind of recognition that being on a United States coin might finally bring.
One of the challenges of creating designs for this series of quarters is that the legislation prescribes “No head and shoulders portrait or bust of any person, living or dead…may be included in the design on the reverse…” (Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020, Section 6). Therefore, if my design includes a person, it must not be a “head and shoulders portrait or bust.” In the Maya Angelou quarter, I adhered to this requirement by showing more of the figure than just her head and shoulders, while in this Anna May Wong design, I took care to show less of the figure than her head and shoulders. It’s fun seeing how other artists handle the guidelines, which are not unique to the American Women Quarters. Artist Donna Weaver had a creative solution in her depiction of Annie Jump Cannon on the Delaware American Innovation dollar, showing a silhouette of the figure instead of a traditional portrait or bust. Artist Chris Costello included just a face and hands in his rendering of Sequoyah for the 2017 Native American dollar. Ensuring that coin designs meet the requirements of the relevant legislation is one way the United States Mint’s legal department is involved in the coin design process.