Turning Coins Into Art

By Marisa Gay, Director of Marketing and Communications

Maya ‘25 finds art in some of the most interesting places. Learn more about her 2-year painting project that resulted in a unique gift for her grandfather.

What do you get your grandfather for his birthday? Maya '25 came up with the perfect combination of something her grandfather "Papa” was passionate about while adding her artistic talents to create a one-of-a-kind collection of state quarters. This idea began a two-year journey of learning about what makes each state unique, including its characteristics of flora and fauna, geography, and culture. Maya launched this project because her grandfather had been collecting coins for most of his life, and she knew he would love this combined with her artistic talents. She painted 51 state quarters, including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. She particularly loved painting the Puerto Rico quarter with its intricate design depicting a historic century box and the hibiscus flower. She finished the first quarter in December 2020 and the last one in March 2023.  

The joy of completing the first quarter inspired her to make it a much bigger project. In the beginning, she just started painting but soon realized that she might be missing the true colors or meaning behind something if she didn't research the history and design thoughts before painting each quarter. After studying each quarter, they began to come to life as she knew more about each state.

Maya spent hundreds of hours mixing the exact colors to paint very tediously along thin lines and embossed emblems to capture the state's characteristics and beauty. "Each coin has a story to tell," reflected Maya. She learned a lot about each state along the way. She said, “the South Dakota quarter was one of the hardest since it depicts the Mount Rushmore Monument with the faces of the U.S. Presidents.” She said faces were the hardest, but she loved those requiring intricate paint strokes and abundant color. 

The process was to drop tiny beads of acrylic paint onto a pallet and use very thin brushes to get the stroke marks just right. It is an intricate process on such a small canvas. After finishing a quarter, she would paint it with clear epoxy to seal it and increase its lifespan. Once all the coins were painted, sealed, and dried, Maya placed them in a custom-made United States collector’s display and delivered them to her grandfather.

Maya said of her grandfather, "At first, I don't think he realized I had personally painted all of the quarters. He just thought they were pretty. He was very happy when he realized I had painted them." The quarter collection is proudly displayed in her grandparents' home along the stairs so each person passing can stop and look at them at their own eye level.

Maya displayed this independent art project at Studio Day. She said it was a fulfilling project. She doesn't know what is next, but she does know it will likely be art related. She spends much of her time in the art room at Field. Her 2D Studio Teacher Jenni Helm commented, "I have always been impressed by Maya's creativity, curiosity, and work ethic. She is focused and detail-oriented, so it didn't surprise me that she could handle a project that was expansive on the one hand yet small scale on the other. The project really demonstrates her commitment to the idea and her ability to paint such intricate detail. However, I think I appreciated most how it demonstrated her love for her grandfather."