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Masters designs Nebraska quarter

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh art professor leans on Midwestern roots, historical research to come up with image for Nebraska quarter.

Rick Masters is a Midwesterner, born and bred.

And that Midwest-ern upbringing has served him well in his career as an artist, helping Masters come up with the design that will be featured on the 2006 Nebraska state quarter.

?It?s still kind of sinking in,? said Masters, an associate professor of art and graphic design at the University of Wisconsin?Oshkosh. ?It?s something I?ve dreamed of for a long time. It?s a one-in-a-million kind of thing. I always thought these kinds of things always happen to other people, not me.?

But it did, and for a kid who collected coins while growing up in Souix City, Iowa, a city near the Iowa-Nebraska border, it?s quite an honor.

Masters is the only Midwestern artist in the U.S. Mint?s Artistic Infusion Program. He applied for admission to the program in November 2003, when the Mint sent out a call for applicants.

He found out about the recruiting plea in Numismatic News.

?I was one of the lucky 18, out of the 300 who applied,? said Masters. ?I think they did most of their advertising on the East Coast. Being a subscriber to Numismatic News, that?s where I found out about the application process.?

Applicants were required to have either taught art or worked as a professional artist for five years.

Masters was excited to be selected.

?I was one of those typical kids who started out with those blue Whitman folders,? said Masters. ?Coin collecting was a big phenomenon during the 1960s. I had a paper route, so I was seeing a lot of coins. I remember the transition from silver to clad.?

Masters lapsed as a collector until the boom in silver and gold prices.

?I became an NN subscriber in 1982 and my interest in the hobby took off,? said Masters.

After joining the AIP, Masters and the other artists were assigned to work on the 2005 nickels that were part of the Westward Journey Nickel Series.

Then, in the fall of 2004, the artists were divided into groups of five to come up with designs for the 2006 state quarters. They were asked if they had any preferences. Immediately, Masters said he wanted to work on the Nebraska design.

He talked about how the assignment came about.

?The Mint modified the state quarter process a while back and asked that states not submit artwork for the quarters, but use narratives instead,? said Masters. ?Those narratives are fairly descriptive about what they want, and Chimney Rock was one thing they?d picked.?

Along with Chimney Rock, the state wanted a covered wagon carrying pioneers.

?I worked off some historic photographs,? said Masters. ?I read about Chimney Rock as well, and in the 20th century, Chimney Rock lost a part of its spire. Because of the pioneer family, it had to be a 19th century image, so I wanted it to look like it did in the 19th century.?

Masters submitted variations of the same theme. Two of Masters? designs were among the four finalists presented to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman.
?It was the same subject matter, but it was kind of like rearranging the stage,? said Masters. ?There were just different compositions.?

While Masters kept Chimney Rock in the same place, he moved the positions of the pioneer family and their wagon.

The final design shows the ox-drawn wagon in the lefthand corner with the sun shining directly behind it.

It came as a surprise to Masters when his design was picked.

?I was not that optimistic,? said Masters. ?I had an old professor at the University of Iowa who said that if you get selected into the final round of a contest, don?t expect to win. It?s a matter of luck because you?re always at the mercy of the judges, so I didn?t get too worked up about it.?

That changed when his depiction was selected.

?It?s been an incredible experience working with the Mint,? said Masters, who is currently on sabbatical and working on projects that aren?t related to numismatics. ?I went out there for two symposiums and the Mint was just a first-class organization.?