Reflecting on his work with coinage during a 2015 interview, Joel Iskowitz said, “it’s very gratifying to think that my art work has such wide reach, though a majority don’t know who I am and don’t even know that it’s an artist that creates these miniature works of art.” This quotation reveals a great deal about the philosophy of a man who is a giant figure in the creation of recent American coinage, even if he is known only to a small numismatic circle. Designing coinage, he attests, is a high honor, and coins must be of the highest artistic quality.

2013 American Eagle Platinum One Ounce Proof Coin Reverse

2011 American Eagle Platinum One Ounce Proof Coin Reverse

Joel Iskowitz joined the U.S. Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program as a designer in 2005. Having created over 50 U.S. coinage and medal designs issued in the last decade, he is the most prolific U.S. coinage designer of the recent era. Iskowitz had a long career as an artist before entering numismatics. Beginning in the 1970’s as an illustrator, he created album covers and postage stamps-over 2,000 designs for 40 countries. He had also completed work for NASA and the Air Force Art Program.

Iskowitz is a realist narrative artist. The function of his art, he stated during a 2014 symposium, is “to distill and advance the [subject’s] story.” To achieve this, he relies on a detailed process. He begins all his numismatic work in the same way: by reading and re-reading the authorizing Congressional legislation. He seeks to understand and internalize the rationale why an honor is being conferred and the breadth of his subject’s accomplishments.

Next, Iskowitz seeks to make a first hand connection with his subject. That may involve travel to a location being depicted or meeting with individuals connected to an event. He visits the National Archives to examine images and documents. This process he describes succinctly: “Research, research and more research before ever lifting a pencil.”

For Iskowitz, every detail must be correct. Artistic license comes in the form of montage, assembling the elements of the composition, but each rendering must be precise and exact. For example, when creating the New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal, which honors Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins and John Glenn, the artist considered every detail. A portion of the medal’s reverse shows the

Friendship 7 capsule orbiting above the earth. To capture this accurately, Iskowitz exhaustively examined images from John Glenn’s mission notes to correctly capture the direction of its orbit and its orientation. The medal received recognition from the International Design Awards.