W. MI native is artist behind new Maya Angelou coin

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan native is the artist behind something people across the country will have in their pockets and on their dressers.

Emily Damstra is the artist who created the image on the brand-new Maya Angelou coin.

“I was very excited. I was ecstatic,” Damstra said when she learned her art had been chosen to be on the first coin released in the American Women Quarters Program.

Now living in Canada, Damstra’s love of art started here in West Michigan nurtured by her mother and teachers at Forest Hills Northern.

“I had an excellent high school art teacher, Sue Rose, who was just an exceptional instructor and a great role model as well. And I also remember learning the fundamentals of drawing light on form from Mrs. Quigley in middle school,” Damstra said.

Specializing in detailed illustrations of nature, Damstra applied and was chosen to be part of the United States Mint Artistic Infusion program, a group of artists who produce designs for coins.

“I always start a coin design like this by doing a lot of research,” Damstra said.

Damstra re-read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” read a lot of Angelou’s poetry and reviewed a bunch of images of her.

“I was really inspired by Maya Angelou and her remarkable life. And I wanted to do a design that was uplifting like so much of her life and her political and social activism was,” Damstra said.

You’ll see that uplifting spirit in Damstra’s design including the bird and sun images from Angelou’s writing. Damstra gives credit to her parents for always supporting her dream to be an artist and has advice for anyone else who wants to go for it.

“You really do have to have a lot of self-discipline to be an artist, and of course I would recommend, practice, practice, practice,” Damstra said.

As for this special piece that will be in cash registers, purses and pockets across the nation – it’s brought the artist closer to her subject.

“I definitely feel more of a connection to her (Angelou) now,” Damstra said.

The U.S. Mint is striking the Maya Angelou coins now. The next one in the series will be Dr. Sally Ride. The series of coins will be produced through 2025.

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