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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.