Staples Students Buck Centuries Of Tradition

Harriet Tubman notwithstanding — in 2020 — US paper currency has long been filled with old white guys.

You or I can’t do anything about that. But Carla Eichler’s Advanced Design and Technology students can.

Every year, the Staples High School art class creates posters for events like the Candlelight concert, library programs and more. They also study packaging and marketing concepts.

But the most creative part of the course is a major project, which changes each time. This year, Eichler asked her class to redesign the dollar bill.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler's class.

Gabe Holm (foreground) and Ben Matteson, hard at work in Carla Eichler’s class.

It was not easy. First the students studied the history of American currency. Then they looked at other countries’ money.

They realized that, by comparison, ours is dull — in both color and content. While some nations celebrate their cultures and values, ours honors (it bears repeating) old white guys.

Eichler’s assignment had certain requirements. New designs must incorporate traditional elements, like the Federal reserve seal. But other than that, the sky — literally — was the limit.

Some students kept familiar characteristics: the flag, the eagle, even the green and gray color palette.

Others changed colors, iconography and themes.

Senior Gabe Holm took the “sky’s the limit” charge seriously. The front side of his design — which cleverly rises vertically — shows an astronaut floating in space. The reverse side includes the Apollo 11 rocket blasting off for the moon, and Neil Armstrong’s famous “one small step…” speech.

“My philosophy was to honor achievements, rather than people,” Gabe says. “That avoids any controversy over gender or race. And the moon landing is one of America’s greatest achievements.”

gabe-holm-dollar-redesign-space

Sophomore Ben Matteson wanted a person of color on his bill. He chose Martin Luther King — “a man who changed America. He made a big impact on what our country is today.”

Ben chose one of King’s lesser-known quotes for the front. The back shows the Lincoln Memorial. It was the site of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech — while also honoring a president who had an enormous impact on equal rights.

ben-matteson-dollar-redesign-mlk

Jacob Stanford selected a white guy for his bill — but one of far more recent vintage, to “modernize” our currency. John F. Kennedy is “iconic,” the sophomore says. He then found an iconic color photo of the president, his finger jabbing at a press conference, but made it black-and-white.

Jacob juxtaposed JFK in front of the New York City skyline — a city he calls “the most iconic place in America.” But on the back of his design — in place of the usual Washington buildings and monuments — he offers a nod to traditionalism: a soaring eagle.

jacob-stanford-dollar-redesign-jfk

Perhaps the most intriguing departure from the same-old same-old came from Alyssa Domenico. The senior — born in China, adopted by American parents — wanted to portray this nation’s diversity and multiculturalism.

She researched Ellis Island, and studied the languages we speak here today. The result: a beautiful design incorporating the storied immigration center, the Statue of Liberty, American flags on the front and back — and “one dollar,” rendered in over a dozen languages.

alyssa-domenico-dollar-redesign-immigration

As part of the assignment students wrote artist statements, reflecting why and how they chose their designs. They also critiqued each other’s work, and used that feedback in their revisions.

This is Eichler’s 12th year teaching Advanced Design and Technology. Many of her students have gone on to careers in graphic arts, marketing, art education and animation.

Perhaps others will one day actually redesign our U.S. currency.

We sure need it.

12 responses to “Staples Students Buck Centuries Of Tradition

  1. Ms. Eichler was one of my daughter’s favorite teachers at Staples and inspires her students every day and with every new assignment. This one is truly interesting and intriguing. Carla – thank you for all you do and the way in which you do it!

  2. Wendy Crowther

    Though it’s rare that I wish I was in H.S. again, this is one of those times. Art classes were great at Staples back in my day, but today…wow. Great assignment. Great story.

  3. The bills designed are beautiful. I would like to point out that setting up a new country, leading a constitutional convention, being elected first president, etc. are acievements, even if they were achieved by old white guys!

  4. Dave Feliciano

    And again no woman, Lady Liberty doesn’t count, she was French. Though I truly love and respect the gift and her place in our Harbour and coins. A serial womanizing president, who got us into Vietnam War, and had his opus ghost written. REALLY? Perhaps true history is not at Westport’s Staples High School? Great graphics and design. Money in Europe is of different colour and sizes so visually impaired can discern the difference in denominations. Is it better to be a white hipster using, ghetto reference to “Benjamin’s”. Those old white guys were wonderfully accomplished bunch, even the slave owning, and slave bedding guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence, for those of revionist history. No micro printing, hologram see through parts, many of the practical reasons, of what must be done to prevent forgery. Good exercise, too bad no young women appear or mentioned in the article, just being “snarky”

  5. Ms. Eichler was a definite fav of my son- He took all the classes she taught.
    We are so fortunate to have teachers that inspire !!

  6. Enda RS Alvarez

    Great piece! Wonderful designs.

  7. Wow! This is impressive. I admire Ms. Eichler for encouraging the students to think not only about design and functionality, but about creating something personal that resonates with the designer as well as the user.

  8. Beautiful money designs. No more Green Backs. I like the astronaut with the almost stars of David in the back.

  9. Mark J. Marcus

    These are truly unique and innovative designs. But I think Americans need to be very cautious about changing the portraits and designs of our paper currency notes and coinage. Yes, it is true that there are many old white men, but Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton and others represent the very best of our American historical figures. We need to be mindful of the fact that dictatorial regimes often change the portraits on their currency to one picturing the current strong man. The designs are great, but I would rather stay with Washington, Lincoln and Hamilton.

  10. I can honestly say that no teacher throughout my four years at Staples had a greater impact on me than Ms. Eichler. Suffice to say I’m not surprised that she would think of such a relevant and important project. As a teacher, she uses her extensive knowledge of design to encourage and inspire students to be creative and break boundaries. She teaches students the importance of design for aesthetic and functional purposes, but also, more importantly, how design can be used to make positive change and empower people (including the designer themselves). During my senior internship with Ms. Eichler last year, I was able to constantly witness how she serves as a great role model to all her students in her actions and kindness. She is one of the main reasons why I love graphic design and have continued to pursue my passion in college. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been in her class and I’m sure her current students feel the same. Thank you, Ms. Eichler. And thank you to all the teachers that go above and beyond to ensure that every student finds his or her passion.

  11. Luisa Francoeur

    Just beautiful! For anyone who has seen currency from other countries, these are superior. Wouldn’t it be terrific if the government would take notice and incorporate some of the design elements on our paper money.