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CoinWeek Podcast #80: Artist Wins International Competition with Lincoln Portrait Made of Pennies

CoinWeek Podcast - Lincoln Cent - Richard Schlatter - Artprize

By CoinWeek News Staff ….
A portrait of Abraham Lincoln made out of 24,500 pennies has won over $200,000 in prizes at the ninth annual ArtPrize international art competition. Richard Schlatter, a 73-year-old artist, illustrator and former ad executive from Battle Creek, Michigan, created the piece, which he titled “A. Lincoln” after the way in which the 16th president wrote his signature.

The yearly art event, based out of Grand Rapids, Michigan, ran from September 20 through October 8, with art displayed at various businesses and venues downtown. Category and Grand Prize winners were announced on Friday, October 6.

Richard Schlatter appears on this week’s episode of the CoinWeek Podcast.

The Work

“A. Lincoln” is a 96-square-foot (eight feet wide by 12 feet tall) portrait of the 16th President of the United States, consisting of 24,500 pennies and five pounds of glue that altogether weighs approximately 400 pounds. Each year of the coin series is represented, from 1909 through 2017, and each cent is unaltered in any way. Schlatter stated that he sorted through tens of thousands of pennies to get the colors he needed–including 1,681 steel cents produced during World War II to conserve copper for the war effort that eventually became Lincoln’s shirt.

Richard Schlatter stands next to his mammoth Lincoln portraitDisplayed in the Pantlind lobby of the Amway Grand Plaza Hilton, the surfaces of the individual coins produce an optically variable effect as the image changes depending on the location of the viewer.

According to the artist, it took about 315 hours to finish the work. Schlatter began the project on Lincoln’s birthday (February 12) and installed the final pieces on the day that Lincoln died (April 15) – both, apparently, being entirely coincidental.

“A. Lincoln” won the Public Vote grand Prize of $200,000, as well as the $12,500 Public Vote Prize in the two-dimensional art category.

Speaking on the public Grand Prize vote, ArtPrize’s Executive Director Christian Gaines made the following statement on the organization’s website:

“The public has chosen work that is large scale, iconic and familiar, and one that reflects qualities that are widely admired – patience, skill and considerable labor … Though this work depicts an image we’ve seen before in myriad ways, when we see it at this epic scale we’re invited to stop and reflect on our 16th president who set in motion the abolition of slavery in the United States.”

The artist, who has designed fonts and illustrated children’s books, has said that he made the portrait of Lincoln to use as an educational tool, outlining his thoughts in a brochure he created explaining the work. Schlatter believes that “A. Lincoln” has a special resonance in today’s polarized political culture. He will donate a portion of his grand prize money to a Battle Creek women’s shelter.

As for the portrait itself, Schlatter has received inquiries from interested parties, including one from someone who would donate it to a museum dedicated to the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln.

Richard Schlatter (left) joins crowd at ArtPrize


ArtPrize was founded in 2009 by Amway heir Rick DeVos, son of current U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and grandson of the company’s founder Richard. The annual event is free and open to the public, with businesses and organizations around downtown Grand Rapids temporarily hosting art exhibits every fall. According to their website, over 500,000 people visit the various entries in the contest each year. Originally funded by the DeVos Foundation, ArtPrize became a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in 2011.

The contest awards $500,000 in cash prizes: a $200,000 grand prize for the winner of the public vote; a $200,000 grand prize for the winner of a three-member jury vote; and $100,000 total for the winners of both the public and juried votes in each category. The four categories include two-dimensional, three-dimensional, time-based and installation art. Entries are then displayed around Grand Rapids by participating venues for over 19 days.

1,346 artists from 47 countries and 41 states entered the competition this year. A preliminary round of voting whittled the field down to 20 selections in both the public and juried pools, and a second round runs through the final week of the event, ultimately selecing the winners.

More than 384,000 public votes from show attendees had been cast since ArtPrize opened on September 20. Public Vote awards were first added to the event in 2014.

And in case you’re interested, the 2017 Jury Prize for two-dimensional art went to “Sofia Draws Every Day: Years, 2, 3 and 4” by Sofia Ramirez Hernandez. The Jury Grand Prize went to “The Heartside Community Meal”, an installation piece by Seitu Jones of St. Paul, Minnesota.

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Coinweek is the top independent online media source for rare coin and currency news, with analysis and information contributed by leading experts across the numismatic spectrum.

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