Search for design that depicts Iowa's effigy mounds confounds

The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee supported option No. 9, left, when it met this week to discuss designs for an Iowa quarter featuring the effigy mounds. A panel Thursday preferred Nos. 13, center, and 14.

WASHINGTON — Maybe it's time for Jack Lew to just flip a coin.

After months of delay, the U.S. Treasury secretary now has two very different design recommendations on his desk for a new quarter honoring Iowa's effigy mounds.

Figuring out what to engrave on a piece of nickel and copper less than 1 inch in diameter hardly seems like the biggest dilemma facing the nation.

But picking an image for this particular currency has bedeviled two federal panels charged with reviewing new coins.

Both boards turned up their noses at an initial batch of proposed designs last year and asked for more options to represent the Effigy Mounds National Monument in northeast Iowa.

The monument features more than 200 American Indian ceremonial and burial mounds, many shaped like animals such as bears and birds.

When the Commission of

Fine Arts met Thursday to review 27 potential designs, several members commented on the difficulty of representing the low-rise earthworks in a realistic fashion on a quarter.

"It's not there yet and I'm not sure it's possible," commission member Elizabeth Meyer said as she looked over the proposals.

Her comment echoed concerns expressed earlier in the week by members of the Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, which also reviews new coin designs.

That committee ultimately threw its support behind option No. 9, the design preferred by the site superintendent. That design features a realistic portrayal of the mounds, with some trees in the background.

Thursday, however, the fine arts commission rejected that design and went another way.

Meyer, a dean and professor of landscape architecture at the University of Virginia School of Architecture, proposed backing Nos. 13 or 14. Both show diagrams of the mound shapes rather than a realistic depiction.

On a voice vote, the commission approved her motion to recommend either of those two designs.

Now the recommendations of both panels go to the secretary, who will make a final decision later this year. The quarters are expected to be released in early 2017.

Iowa's quarter is part of the "America the Beautiful" series now being released in sets of five per year. The 56 quarters in the series honor a national park or site in each state, Washington, D.C., and the territories.

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